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Minister Phelan's Second Stage Speech on the Local Government Bill 2018

Published on Thursday, 15 Nov 2018
John Paul Phelan TD

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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The primary purpose of this Bill is to alter the boundary between Cork City and Cork County Councils and to provide for the boundary alteration arrangements and consequential matters.  This revised boundary was proposed by the Cork Implementation Oversight Group, following from the report of an Expert Advisory Group in April 2017, which recommended extending the Cork City area rather than merging the local authorities as proposed in the 2015 Cork Local Government Committee majority report.   This boundary is being altered by way of primary legislation in the absence of clear evidence of agreement between the two local authorities under the existing procedures for amending boundaries.  It is also because the scale of the boundary alteration is very significant, involving the transfer of 147km² occupied by about 80,000 residents from within the administrative area of the County Council to the administrative area of the City Council. 

Key urban parts of the immediate hinterland of Cork City will form part of the City Council area, allowing potential for further development within a new City Council boundary, while also incentivising higher density development and reducing the risk of sprawl. The extended City area includes Ballincollig, Carrigrohane, Blarney, Glanmire, and Cork airport, but not Carrigtohill, Passage West, Monkstown, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline, and the more rural parts of the City hinterland.  The population of the city will increase from 125,657 to 205,000 and the Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework contains a targeted rate of growth for Cork city of at least 105,000 more people by 2040.  The scale of the boundary alteration meant that it was not possible to include a map of the transferring area in a schedule to the Bill, which had been the original intention.  In order to be adequately legible, the hard copy of the map had to be produced in size A0 (which is 841 x 1189 mm) which is why it had to be deposited at my offices in the Custom House with a physical copy laid before the House. 

The main elements of the Bill involve provision for:

  • the revised boundary, which is indicated by hatching on the above-mentioned deposited map that was laid before the House, which will take effect on a transfer day appointed by Ministerial order (and that will be fixed to coincide with the new councils coming into office after the local elections in the middle of next year);
  • statutory status, powers and functions of an Oversight Committee to oversee the boundary alteration implementation process, including provision for an Implementation Plan to be produced by the Committee, which the local authorities will be required to comply with in implementing the boundary alteration;
  • a range of specific arrangements to be made jointly between the local authorities in relation to the relevant area being transferred, including matters such as transfer of assets and liabilities, transitional provisions relating to local authority financial functions (which will largely remain with the County Council until 1 January 2020), the performance of functions in the transferred area, transfer of staff and related superannuation arrangements;
  • an overall financial settlement between the City Council and the County Council arising from the boundary alteration, to be agreed jointly by the local authorities in accordance with the Implementation Plan, with default provision for the settlement to be arranged by the Minister, if necessary;
  • the financial settlement will have two components: an annual payment for a period of 10 years from the City Council to the County Council that is linked to the consumer price index to offset the financial loss that will be incurred by the County Council, and any other agreed adjustments of varying amounts that might arise from year to year from the financial implications of the various specific arrangements to be made between the authorities under the legislation;
  • duties of the relevant local authorities and their employees relating to the implementation of the boundary alteration, including regular reports to the Oversight Committee;
  • provision for Ministerial regulations and directions in relation to the boundary alteration;
  • consequential provisions arising from the boundary alteration in relation to the holding of local elections to Cork City Council and Cork County Council in 2019;
  • other matters consequential on the boundary alteration, including continuance of contracts and legal proceedings, application of development plans and local areas plans, requirements relating to planning applications and development contribution schemes, application of bye-laws in the relevant areas, continuation in force of leases, licences, permissions, etc., granted by Cork County Council in respect of the relevant areas, provision for necessary data sharing, and transitional arrangements in relation to valuations for rating purposes.

This legislation will need to be enacted this year to enable all necessary action to be completed in time for the local elections in mid-2019.  While the boundary alteration and transfer of local authority jurisdiction will take full legal effect in mid-2019, the legislation will provide appropriate flexibility in relation to operational arrangements so that transfer of practical responsibility for certain functions can proceed on a more gradual basis, if necessary, to allow time for organisational changes to be completed.  However, it Is expected that the transfer arrangements will proceed quickly once the legislation is enacted and that this will not be a drawn-out process.  Responsibility for the detailed planning and implementation of the reorganisation involved will rest primarily with the local authorities, subject to guidance and oversight by the Oversight Committee and compliance with the Implementation Plan.  I’d like to acknowledge the enormous work that the Cork Implementation Oversight Group, along with the two Chief Executives and key members of their teams, have put into teasing out the various implications and arrangements that a boundary change on this scale entails.

While the majority of the Bill’s provisions relate to the Cork boundary alteration, in line with the Government decision in relation to local government arrangements in Galway, the Bill also provides for the appointment of a single chief executive with dual responsibility for both Galway City and County Councils, who will be empowered to implement administrative integration through delegation of executive functions under the Local Government Acts.  This approach, which was recommended by the Galway Expert Advisory Group and is similar to the management arrangements put in place in Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford ahead of the mergers of Councils in those areas, will see two separate elected councils being retained for the 2019 local elections and at the same time facilitate the decision in principle to merge the two authorities by 2021.

The Bill also contains provisions to copper-fasten the status of cities and counties by repealing the existing power to alter boundaries by Ministerial Order, save where agreed by the relevant local authorities.

Some further provisions, including ones relating to the holding of plebiscites to consider the proposal for directly elected mayors for Cork City, Limerick, Galway City and County and Waterford and joint structures to facilitate local area and forward planning for urban areas that span county boundaries, will be brought forward at Committee Stage.  Amendments relating to the placenames provisions of the local government code and a small amendment to the Local Government Act in relation to long-term absence of Councillors due to maternity leave may also be brought forward if the urgency of progressing this Bill permits.   I also propose to bring forward a number of amendments to the main provisions dealing with the Cork boundary alteration following consultation by my Department with the Cork Implementation Oversight Group and comments received from the Cork local authorities since the Bill was published.

I will now go through the main provisions of the Bill in detail.  The Bill is set out in 5 Parts made up of 32 sections with an associated Schedule.  Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with title, collective citations and commencement.  It also provides for interpretation of key terms, regulations, orders and directions as well as a technical provision for expenses. 

Part 2 alters the boundary between the county and city of Cork as indicated on the deposited map with effect from the day that is appointed by the Minister (intended to be a week after the local elections are held in mid-2019 when the new councils take office).  The Part goes on to deal with a number of consequential matters, including the transfer of staff, land and buildings, property other than land, the transfer of rights and responsibilities, the continuation of leases, licences and permissions, the financial settlement that the transfer will require between the two authorities and the preparation of maps of the new local authority administrative areas that will apply after the transfer day. 

Any land and buildings in the transferring area owned by the County Council will automatically vest in the City Council with effect from the transfer day, apart from any exceptions that might be agreed between the two local authorities before that day. 

When it comes to staff and non-land property, the two local authorities will need to jointly agree and designate the property and the staff numbers and grades that should transfer.  The usual safeguarding of employment terms and conditions will apply to the transferring staff of the County Council. 

All rights and liabilities attaching to anything that transfers to the City Council will automatically also transfer.  There are also provisions to establish the Cork Boundary Alteration Oversight Committee to assist the two councils in performing their functions under the legislation and a key part of this will be an Implementation Plan that the Committee will be required to prepare. 

The final sections in this Part deal with arrangements between the two authorities for the performance of functions in the transferring area and the obligations on the councils and their staff to facilitate compliance with the legislation. 

A boundary alteration on this scale generates a lot of work for the local authorities involved and the Cork Implementation Oversight Group, which the Bill establishes on a statutory basis as the Oversight Committee, was set up just over a year ago to engage with the two authorities and oversee the implementation process.  I have already provided financial support in the region of €1.2m in 2018 to Cork City Council and Cork County Council and intend to make similar allocations next year towards additional staffing requirements to carry out the significant work required to prepare for and implement the reorganisation of both administrative areas.  As well as preparing the Implementation Plan, the Oversight Committee will be able to provide advice and recommended solutions to any stumbling blocks that arise in agreeing the terms of the financial settlement that should apply or what staff posts and property should be designated for transfer. 

Part 3 contains other consequential provisions, such as data sharing requiring the County Council to give the City Council all the information, including personal information, which the City Council might require for the purpose of performing functions in relation to the relevant area. 

For the local financial year 2019, the Bill provides that the relevant area remains part of the rating area of the County Council until 31 December 2019 and the County Council’s budget and the Municipal Districts’ schedules of works for 2019 continue to apply for the rest of the year as if the boundary alteration had not happened.  The City Council will, however, during 2019 set the municipal rate and decide any variation in the local property tax rate for 2020.  This means that the basis on which the 2019 budgets were prepared will remain valid for the year. 

The Bill provides that the registers of electors to be used by the two Cork authorities for the 2019 elections will be based on the post boundary alteration position so that the electors in the relevant areas can participate in the election of the Councillors that will represent them when the boundary changes a week after the election.  Interim polling district and polling place arrangements to cater for the new administrative areas are also provided for.   

It is intended that Development Plans, Local Area Plans (and also Local Economic and Community Plans as a Committee Stage amendment) relating to the relevant area will continue to apply after the transfer day until such time as Cork City Council makes replacement plans or variations.  

When it comes to planning, the Bill provides that the County Council will complete any planning enforcement proceedings commenced before the transfer day and conclude any planning application cases already underway at that time, while the City Council will be responsible for new enforcement proceedings that arise after the transfer day.  The City Council’s development contribution schemes will apply to the relevant area and the transferred development contributions applicable to infrastructure projects in the relevant area will continue to be ring-fenced for infrastructure and facilities in that area. 

The remainder of this Part provides for the interim continued applicability of any rules, regulations or by-laws applicable to the relevant area, together with a general saver for acts and instruments done before the transfer day and for arrears of rates, rents and housing loan repayments continuing to be collectible by the County Council. 

Part 4 deals with amendments to the Local Government Acts of 2001 and 1991 and an amendment to the Valuation Act that will mean the City Council will not be able to request a revaluation of the transferred properties on the basis of the boundary alteration.  The 2001 Act amendments are consequential to the boundary alteration and the amendments to Part V of the 1991 Act are to provide that future boundary alterations can be effected by Ministerial order only where the local authorities concerned are in agreement.  This will mean that boundary alterations in future will require to be effected through primary legislation where the change is not something that the two authorities agree should happen.  However, where they are in complete agreement about the need for a change to the boundary, the quick and simple procedure for effecting the change by way of an order under the 1991 Act will continue to be available.  The Committee Stage amendment providing for joint structures to facilitate local area planning for urban areas that span county boundaries that I mentioned earlier will provide an alternative way of ensuring the appropriate future development of towns and cities that straddle two local authority areas without changing the local authority boundaries.

Part 5 of the Bill amends the Local Government Act 2001 by inserting a section to provide for a single chief executive with dual responsibility for Galway City Council and Galway County Council.  This will facilitate administrative integration of the two local authorities in advance of the merger recommended by the Expert Advisory Group.  Similar dual management arrangements were put in place in Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford ahead of the mergers of Councils in those areas and worked very well.  This approach, which was recommended by the Galway Expert Advisory Group, will see two separate elected councils being retained for the 2019 local elections and at the same time facilitate the decision in principle that has been taken to merge the two authority areas by 2021.

Finally, I would like to signal to the House that I will, as I mentioned earlier, be bringing forward several amendments at Committee Stage, which I hope will be taken before the end of the month. Chief among these will be amendments related to plebiscites for directly elected mayors and to committees for cross boundary urban areas.  Other Committee Stage amendments that I will be proposing to sections of the Bill dealing with the boundary alteration mainly arise from the consultation with the Cork Oversight Group and comments received from the two Cork authorities that I referred to.

I commend the Bill to the House.

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