It is proposed to discuss Supplementary Estimate No. 26 and Motion No. 4 on today's Order Paper with Vote 26.
Estimates, 1971-72. - Vote 26: Local Government.
Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £13,762,000 chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú de Mhárta, 1972, le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Oifig an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, a chuimsíonn deontais do na húdaráis áitiúla, deontais agus costais eile i dtaca le tithíocht, agus scéimeanna agus deontais ilghnéitheacha, lena n-áirítear deontais-i-gcabhair.
Muna bhfuil aon rud ina choinne, beartaím go bpléifear freisin an Meastachán Foirlíontach de £500,000 a bheidh ag teastáil ó mo Roinnse chun an scéim Feabhsúchán Áitiúla leathnú. Scéim é seo de dheontaisí i leith costaisí tógála nó feabhsaithe bóithre cóiríochta agus bóithre portaigh, draenacha, agus eile, ar mhaithe le grúpaí feirmeóirí i gcoitinne.
Taispeánann an tairiscint, maraon leis an Meastachán Foirlíontach, go bhfuil méadú thar £2 mhilliún, ar Vhóta na Roinne i gcóir na bliana dar críoch an 31ú Márta seo chaithte, agus na meastachain bhreise a rith an Dáil i gcaitheamh na bliana sin d'aireamh. Taobh amuigh den Meastachán Foirlíontach, is iad na deontaisí agus foirdheontaisí i gcabhair le tithíocht is mó is cúis leis an ardú i gcaiteachas na Roinne agus tá méadú tábhachtach freisin i bhfoirdheontaisí ar ghlasíocaíochtaí le haghaidh córacha uisce agus séarachais. Cruthú ar dóigh é sin—dá mbeadh a leithéid de dhith—ar an dul chun cinn atá saothraithe ag polasaithe an Rialtais maidir leis na gníomhaíochtaí tábhachta sin.
Cuirfidh mé na sonraí i dtaobh na gcláranna sin ós bhur gcomhair ar ball beag agus is suntasach an scéal a léiríonn siad. Mar shompla, i gcaitheamh na ndeich mbliana dar críoch an 31ú Márta, 1971, tógadh breis is 100,000 tithe nua agus deisíodh amuigh is istigh ar 90,000 tithe a bhí ann cheana féin. D'íocadh deontas nó foirdheontas as ucht na hoibre sin i ngach cás, nach mór.
Níl aon agó ná go bhfuil a lán le déanamh againn fós sul a mbeidh an clár formartha is feabhsaithe ar a bhfuil beartaithe ag an Rialtas curtha i gcrích, ach táimíd sásta go bhfuil tosach maith déanta againn. Táimíd tar éis a thaispeáint do chách go bhfuil an toil agus an misneach againn agus, fós, go bhfuil muinín againn go bhfuil taca na tíre linn ins an obair fiúntach sin agus go bhfuil an dícheall is an dúthracht ionainn chun gach constaic, dá mhéid, a sharú is a chur as an slí. Ba cheart go mbeadh bród ar gach saoránach as a bhfuil déanta go nuige seo i gcúrsaí tithe is geilleagar i rialtas áitiúil agus astu sin uile a raibh cúram na hoibre sin orthu—go háirithe na húdaráis áitiúla.
Ní léiríonn an Meastachán i leith mo Roinn-se an caiteachas iomlán ar sheirbhísí rialtais áitiúil. Caithfear soláthar breise a dhéanamh le haghaidh dáiliúchán caipitil neamh-vótála chomh maith le dáiliúcháin an Ród-Chiste agus caiteachas ioncaim na núdarás áitiúla ó rátaí agus ó foinnsí ilghnéitheacha. Caithfear an deóntas talmhaíochta a thabhairt san áireamh freisin.
Tugann méid airgead na n-íocóir cánach agus rátaí a chaithtear ar sheirbhísí rialtais áitiúil le fios do chách an tábhacht atá ag baint leis na seirbhísí sin i gcúrsaí geilleagair agus san eacnamaíocht náisiúnta. Tá sé de dhualgas orainn freisin bheith cinnte go riartar na seirbhísí éagsúla go h-éifeachtúil, agus go bhfaightear cúiteamh ar an gcaiteachas. Ón lá a cheapadh mé mar Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, bhíodh athbhreithniú á dhéanamh agam ar na príomh-réimsí caiteachais, d'fhonn bheith cinnte go bhfuil aidhmeanna agus cuspóirí dea-rialacháin áitiúil á mbaint amach. Tuigim go maith nach féidir na cuspóirí uilig ba mhaith linn a chur i ngníomh a shroisint láithreach. Riartar seirbhísi na n-údarás áitiúil tré chláracha fad- tréimhseacha, a dteastaíonn pleanáil agus ullmhúcháin uatha. D'fhéadfaí a rá go bhfuil fíor-ghá le h-aistriú treise anseo agus ansiúd in ionad seirbhísí nua a thosnú nó na seirbhísí atá ann anois a thréigint. Níl aon dul as seo, má tá rialtas áitiúil le dul chun cinn.
Athraíonn riar na ndaoine, agus caithfidh seirbhísí rialtais áitiúil riar a gcúis a thabhairt dóibh. Caithfidh sinn freisin athraithe sa teicneolaíocht a chur san áireamh, go háirithe toisc an oiread sin teicneolaíochta a bheith i gceist sna seirbhísí atá faoi chúram rialtais áitiúil. Caithfear smaoineamh freisin ar theicníochta nua-bhainisteoireachta. Cuirim an-bheim ar theicníocht bhainisteoireachta a fheabhsú, agus tá a fhios agam go dtuigeann na bainisteoirí agus na cumainn fhóirne an tábhacht atá ag dul le leas a bhaint as na módhanna nua-aimsire bainisteoireachta.
Ina measc seo, tá boiséadadh cláreagrach, ar a bhfuil roinnt ullmhúchán tosnaithe cheana i mo Roinn-se. Tá súil agam go gcuirfidh an córas nua seo feabhas leis an gcineál eolais atá ar fáil do bhainisteoireacht agus do bhaill, agus go mbeidh de toradh aige ná dáiliúchán níos fearr d'airgead i riarachán áitiúil. Sé a bheidh i gceist sa chóras seo ar ball na miontuairisc ar chuspóirí agus forbairt cláracht chun iad seo a bhaint amach. Caithfear freisin cúntaisí a athriaradh chun meastachán caiteachais thar tréimhse áirithe agus costaisí níos cruinne gníomhaíochta faoi leith a theaspáint. Ní gá dom béim a chur ar thábhacht an saghas córais seo i riaracháin áitiúil, lenar bhain caiteachas a bhí níos mó ná £150 milliúin sa bhlian 1970-71, agus fostaíocht do bhreis is 52,500 daoine ar sholáthar oibreacha agus seirbhísí (agus seirbhísí sláintíochta san aireamh). De bhárr seo, tá an seirbhís áitiúil ar cheann des na fostóirí agus caiteoirí airgid is mó sa tir.
I mí Feabhra fhoilsíodh Páipéar Bán maidir le hatheagrú rialtais áitiúil. Léirítear sa Pháipéar tairiscintí an Rialtais chun an chóras rialtais áitiúil a atheagrú agus tugtar le fios ann na modhanna atá beartaithe chun an chóras a athrú agus a fheabhsú. Foilsíodh an Páipéar chun caoi a thabhairt don phobal i gcoitinne, agus go háirithe dóibh siúd a bhfuil baint díreach acu le rialtas áitiúil, na tairiscintí seo a scrúdú agus a phlé. Tugtar cuireadh sa Pháipéar do gach éinne a bhfuil suim aige sa cheist a thuairimí faoi na tairiscintí a nochtadh. Breithneófar go cúramach aon tuairimí a sholáthrófar agus cuirfear san áireamh iad sara ndéanfar aon bhreith chinnte.
Tá athraithe móra tagaithe ar an saol uile le blianta beaga anuas. Tá athrú mór freisin tagaithe ar dhualgaisí na n-údarás áitiúla agus tá na seirbhísí a chuireann siad ar fáil níos tábhachtaí ná mar bhí riamh cheana. Tuigim go maith go bhfuil meas mór ag morán daoine ar an gcóras rialtais áitiúil atá againn faoi láthair. Ní ceart go mbeimís bogásach asainn féin, áfach, ag féachaint ar na hathraithe móra atá tagaithe ar an saol ó bunaíodh an córas sin i rith na naoú aoise déag. Larraim ar gach éinne, dá bhrí sin, na tairiscintí atá sa Pháipéar Bán a scrúdú go mion agus a dtuairimí a chur chugam a luaithe is féidir. Nuair a bheidh na tuairimí seo againn, beidh sé de dhualgas orainn breith cinnte a dhéanamh ar pé athraithe ba cheart a dhéanamh chun go mbeidh an córas rialtais áitiúil in ann freastal go héifeachtach ar riachtanais an lae inniu.
Tá fonn ar an Rialtas gach ní is féidir a dhéanamh chun aitheantas cuí a thabhairt d'ionad speisialta na Gaeltachta in eagrú agus i riaradh rialtais áitiúil. Dá bhrí sin, leagadh amach tairiscintí ar leith sa Pháipéar Bán maidir le hatheagrú rialtais áitiúil sa Ghaeltacht. Is é aidhm atá leis na tairiscintí seo ná tuilleadh freagrachta a thabhairt do phobal na Gaeltachta i ngnóthaí riaracháin a bhaineann leo féin. Is é atá i gceist sna tairiscintí féin ná—
(a) toghlimistéir áitiúla ar leith a leagadh amach do cheantair Ghaeltachta.
(b) a chur ar chumas an phobail sna ceantair sin ionadaithe a thoghadh, agus
(c) cumhachtaí agus feidhmeanna de chuid na gcomhairlí contae a thabhairt do na hionadaithe sin.
Táim ag súil go dtiocfaidh de na socruithe sin gur fearr a bhrostófar le forbairt na Gaeltachta agus na Gaeilge araon agus gur fearr a chothófar muinín phobhal na Gaeltachta astu féin.
I feel it is appropriate that in moving these Estimates I should briefly review the Government's achievements in relation to housing. These achievements merit mention. In replying on the 24th March to the debate on a Supplementary Estimate for my Department, I reviewed briefly the achievements in housing of recent years. I mentioned that during the ten years to 31st March, 1970, we had built 98,000 houses and had reconstructed a further 93,000 with the aid of grants, at a total cost of £469 million, including £92 million spent in subsidies from central and local taxation. The 191,000 houses built or reconstructed represent more than a quarter of all the houses now in the country. In 1970-71 we spent approximately £72 million on providing and reconstructing houses and a further £14.8 million, approximately, in subsidies from taxation.
At present, we are building at the rate of five houses for every two built in the opening years of the decade. Approximately 13,700 new dwellings were built in 1970-71 despite the serious setback caused by the long cement strike. About 41,000 houses were built in the last three years—a greater number in such a period than ever before in our history as a State.
The review of housing needs contained in the White Paper, Housing in the Seventies, showed that, mainly on account of demographic changes, a continuation of the upward trend in output will be essential in coming years. The level of need projected in the paper for the mid-1970s is 15,000 to 17,000 houses a year, but the paper made it clear that the projections would not be regarded as limiting the level of building and that, in so far as the economy could afford it, any higher level of output found necessary would be sought.
The pattern of increasing building output is reflected in increasing expenditure. Of the £377 million spent from all sources on house-building and reconstruction during the 1960s, private sources provided £184 million and £193 million was provided through the public capital programme. The total expenditure on providing and reconstructing houses is now running at an annual rate almost four times that a decade ago. Expenditure on subsidies is more than twice the corresponding level for the early 1960s.
While the growth in housing output has been most striking in the private sector—reflecting the increased prosperity which enables more people to provide their own houses—building by local authorities has also been maintained at a satisfactory level. During the year which ended on 31st March, 1971, local authorities completed 3,875 houses as compared with 4,706 in 1969-70. The cement strike severely retarded progress last year, only 2,451 dwellings having been completed by the 31st January, 1971. The momentum of production is, however, well on the way to full recovery and the total number of dwellings in progress, in tender and at various stages of planning at 31st March, 1971, was 27,304, as compared with 26,433 at the end of March, 1970.
The cost of building is, undoubtedly, the major factor inhibiting an expansion of the local authority housing programme. Over a period of less than three years the cost of constructing an average local authority house increased by nearly 30 per cent. This escalation of costs has got to be halted; otherwise output can never hope to overtake needs. The House will be aware from statements which I have made in recent months that measures have been taken to offset the rise in building costs as far as practicable and to secure maximum feasible economies in construction. The cutting of standards of accommodation, amenity and construction is a negative way of cost saving and is ultimately self-defeating. For many years, because of the rapid rise in building costs, our housing standards have not been getting the steady degree of improvement which we would have liked. All that could be done to reduce costs without jettisoning acceptable standards has largely been done and local authorities have co-operated in securing economies which, although individually slight, cumulatively have been quite significant, amounting to as much as £200 a house in some cases. These economies, however, have proved relatively ineffective against the pace of increase in costs.
The national economy cannot support an increase in capital costs for local authority houses which is completely out of line with the growth rate of the economy. This is the basis on which I have had to demand cuts in unit housing costs to give more dwellings for the amount of money which can be provided. Cost savings can be achieved, for example, by increasing efficiency in building methods, by reasonable increases in the densities of housing schemes, by finding new and cheaper methods and materials of construction. I intend to deal more fully with the matter later in this statement.
The view was expressed in the White Papers on Housing, published in 1964 and 1969, that the introduction into the local authority housing programme of a guaranteed annual demand, leading to relatively long-term contracts, would bring about substantial cost economies through more efficient organisation, management and production. Bearing this in mind, I decided some months ago to develop a special project for low-cost housing which would evaluate in practical terms what could be done in this direction.
Last August, by public advertisement, I invited manufacturers and contractors to submit to me proposals for dwellings which would offer significant economies in cost on the basis of guaranteed orders over a period of years. The invitation was advertised extensively in the national papers and in the leading Irish and British trade journals. My idea in advertising was to give contractors and manufacturers the opportunity to propose the type of house—and possibly a model lay-out —which they could provide most economically. An outline performance specification was prepared for the project to ensure that proposals would at least measure up to minimum standards. I made it clear that I was prepared to consider proposals for dwellings either of traditional construction or prefabricated and for dwellings produced by rationalised traditional construction. In order to encourage a wider knowledge and use of modular co-ordination it was stipulated that designs should preferably be based on the 100mm. module.
Interested firms were asked to quote on the basis of guaranteed orders of 100 dwellings, or multiples of 100 dwellings, each year over a period of three to five years, either to the proposer's own design or to the supplied outline plans. As a result of the advertisement I received about 90 proposals, including 25 from Great Britain and four from Northern Ireland. After preliminary examination, it was clear that about 50 of these proposals could be regarded as firm offers. These embraced a wide variety of housing methods, ranging from traditional forms of construction to complete prefabrication. After a full appraisal, a preliminary short-list has been prepared of the proposals offering the best prospect of cost economies. Additions will be made to this list from time to time according as other viable proposals are agreed with further firms. The short-list to date comprises five firms who are prepared to work on a national basis but who require relatively large-scale schemes, seven firms who are willing to take on smaller schemes on a national, regional or local basis, and eight other firms whose operations are suited to providing dwellings in rural areas—either singly or in small groups.
Nine out of the 12 of the largest firms short-listed so far are proposing to use traditional or semi-traditional forms of construction. At present, therefore, it appears that all but a small amount of building immediately envisaged under the programme will be carried out by these methods. When the preliminaries have been completed, the initiative for progress with the low-cost project will be governed by the degree of co-operation forthcoming from local housing authorities. The authorities were informed at an early stage through their city and county managers about the project and their co-operation was requested. If we are to get real benefit from the enterprise their fullest co-operation will, of course, be essential. I am confident that they will come forward with a sufficient aggregate demand to ensure the success of the project over the next three or four years.
I have also had consultations with representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and I am confident of their help and co-operation in this project. The services of the National Building Agency will be available to co-ordinate the demand in various areas and enter into general contracts with the selected firms on behalf of local authorities which so desire. As I am anxious to get houses built under the low-cost project as soon as possible, I have already made special arrangements, with the ready co-operation of the housing authorities, to get pilot schemes under way in the coming months, in Counties Clare, and Dublin, and in Galway and Dublin cities, using some of the firms whose proposals particularly suited the available sites.
While the project should secure significant cost savings, it is evident that, in itself, it cannot provide the complete solution to the problem of high costs of building. In inviting building interests to put before me proposals for low-cost housing I had hoped that some radical new ideas might be forthcoming. As I mentioned, one of my aims in launching the project was to encourage proposals for buildings with a probable life span shorter than that accepted for traditional housing, provided that proportionate savings in costs could be anticipated. The response in this respect has been disappointing, possibly because a reduction in the probable life span of building seems, in the eyes of builders, to imply an undue lowering of standards and increased difficulties, first in obtaining a satisfactory finish to houses and subsequently in remedying any defects arising. I still remain open to consider any proposals in this general context which offer prospects of satisfactory dwelling units at a fair level of cost.
During the next 12 months we will come to the end of the first statutory period under the Housing Act, 1966, for the measurement of housing needs and the preparation of building programmes. While a systematic measurement of housing needs and the preparation of building programmes by housing authorities is necessary, the fact is that the ultimate controlling factor in regard to the size of the housing programme must be the amount of capital resources which can be made available and the value for money we can obtain in terms of dwelling units for this investment. The question of allocating capital on an estimated basis over a period of years to maintain an effective programme is being examined as a matter of urgency.
There have been important developments in the past year or so in regard to the provision of housing as a support to industry. Arrangements for housing industrial workers have been discussed by my Department, the Department of Industry and Commerce, the Industrial Development Authority and the National Building Agency. The subsidy from my Department, made available under the Housing Act, 1970, for the provision of housing for key workers coming into an area for new or expanding industry has provided the basis for arrangements which, I hope, will become an effective service to industry.
These new arrangements visualise that housing needs for new or expanding industry in an area should be assessed by the Industrial Development Authority in close consultation with the local housing authority. When estimates of these needs have been agreed, my Department takes the initiative in co-ordinating the activities of the various bodies concerned to enable the National Building Agency, out of the special capital funds allocated to it for industrial housing, to build the houses which are needed. Where houses must be provided for renting they will be taken over, maintained, and administered by the housing authority who will get the appropriate major subsidy on houses let to workers necessarily brought into an area for new or expanding industry.
In other cases, where the new subsidy provisions would not apply, the principle is accepted that the Industrial Development Authority will recoup the local housing authority for any losses which may arise through letting houses to industrial employees nominated by the authority. The new arrangements will rationalise the provision of housing for industry, enable forward provision of housing to be made where necessary, and ensure that the primary position of the local housing authority is maintained. Arrangements for schemes are already proceeding on this basis in Droichead Nua, Dundalk, Killarney, Sligo and Wicklow.
Another commendable development in relation to the housing activities of local authorities should help to ease the conditions in which many of our elderly citizens must spend their declining years. In February, 1970, the report of an Inter-departmental Committee on the Care of the Aged was published. This project has an important bearing on policy about the housing of elderly persons. The committee came out in favour of keeping old persons in their home environment as long as possible, providing them where necessary with separate housing units which would be supported by community services, and avoiding, except as a last resort, having them put into institutions.
The committee favoured a sheltered form of housing as the best solution, where this was feasible. Sheltered housing, which is a regular feature in many other countries, provides each elderly person or couple with a small dwelling of their own, having a separate hall door and all the usual facilities, while at the same time making available community facilities, such as a communal lounge, kitchen, launderette and so on, which the old people could use when they so wish. With the co-operation of Limerick Corporation, who have provided a suitable site, a pilot scheme of sheltered housing is being developed by the National Building Agency under the general guidance of my Department and with the help and co-operation of the Departments of Health and Social Welfare.
An essential feature in this project —and, indeed, in all aspects dealing with the housing of the elderly—is the co-operation of voluntary bodies. The efforts of public authorities cannot hope for complete success without the aid of voluntary bodies in dealing with social problems such as the care of the aged. I shall return briefly to this topic in the context of private enterprise housing.
Two out of every three new houses are now being built for persons purchasing their own accommodation— generally with the aid of grants and, in many cases, with loans—from public funds.
The total of 8,129 houses completed in 1969-70 with the aid of grants from my Department was a remarkable achievement, but this record number was again substantially surpassed last year when 8,771 grants were paid on new houses.
In 1970-71 also, grants were allocated for 14,602 new private houses— a greater number than ever before in any one year and more than 50 per cent higher than the number of grants actually paid in 1969-70. This shows that the recasting of the grants system forecast in the White Paper, Housing in the Seventies, and implemented in the Housing Act, 1970, is paying off. Private builders will increasingly concentrate on medium sized houses, which the new system encourages, and the capital available for housing will thus produce a greater unit output of houses of a type for which the greater demand now exists.
As Deputies will recall, higher grants are payable under the new system for medium-sized houses but grants are not payable for houses commenced on or after 1st January, 1971, which have a floor area exceeding 116 square metres, 1,249 square feet approximately. The new system should help to counteract the effect of high land prices which often force builders to build to a luxury standard simply to cover their costs—despite the extremely strong demand for housing of a modest standard.
From the 1st January last also, all measurements in relation to grant housing will be expressed in metric terms. This is in line with the Government's intention to support the introduction of metrication in the building industry.
I have mentioned the steps which I have been taking to see that the resources of the system building and component prefabrication sectors of the construction industry are availed of to speed up and achieve savings in the local authority housing programme. On the private housing side, prefabricated and system-built houses have been accepted as a normal part of the operations. Proposals for building by these methods are regularly submitted to my Department for clearance under the grant code. To facilitate prospective purchasers the Department have prepared a leaflet listing the house types which have been approved.
I am rather disappointed that the enhanced rates of grants for high-rise flats have not provided a stimulus to the provision of flats in towns. Completions have been averaging only about 80 flats a year. While I appreciate that most Irish people prefer to live in individual houses at street level and to have a garden of their own, I feel that some people would be happy to occupy a modern flat in a purpose-built building, especially if it is built in an area convenient to their place of work.
In addition to the element of personal choice, the planning consideration is relevant that flat developments with proper landscaping of the surrounding space, could be an attractive feature in our towns, giving life to city centres which are tending more and more to exclusively commercial day-time use. I should like developers to think further about this form of housing development. The special grants which are available for the work, in conjunction with the value of the nine-year rate remissions, should help to make the provision of flats a good economic proposition.
The increased level of new house grants payable to farmers and certain other specially deserving categories continues to play a significant part in the new house sector. More than 9 per cent of the new houses built in 1970-71 qualified for these increased grants.
I have already referred to the particular needs of the aged. This is a branch of housing activities in which a commendable headline has been set by charitable individuals and bodies. Good progress is being made with the provision of accommodation for elderly persons by religious and philanthropic bodies assisted by grants under the Housing Acts. Since the scheme of grants to encourage this work was introduced in 1962, grants have been allocated for 962 units, of which 530 have so far been completed. My Department will be glad to give every assistance and encouragement to those proposing to provide this form of accommodation and, in the light of the recommendations of the Inter-departmental Committee on the Care of the Aged, is preparing a booklet for the guidance of persons interested in such projects. I would welcome the co-operation of all Deputies in publicising these grants.
On the more general front, the scheme of grants administered by my Department for the reconstruction of existing dwellings continues to play an important role in preserving the national stock of houses. Grant allocations in 1970-71 were slightly lower than those for the preceding year, nevertheless, a total of 7,808 dwellings were reconstructed last year with the aid of the grants as against 7,697 in 1969-70.
Activity appears to be waning in the case of the grants for essential repairs to unfit dwellings in rural areas. The gradual decline in operations over the past two years suggests that the most pressing elements of the problem for which this scheme of grants was designed have been dealt with. Since the scheme was initiated in 1962, a total of 5,408 essential repairs grants have been paid.
Having taken stock briefly of the general trends in local authority and private housing. I should now like to speak on some basic aspects of our policies relating to these branches of housing activity. One of the fundamental aims of my overall strategy for housing is to ensure that as much money as possible is available to build houses.
This means, for instance, that we cannot spend on subsidies for local authority houses money which we should be using for new construction. Persons living in houses of reasonable quality may have their grievances, but these can be nothing like as genuine and pressing as the grievances of families in slum conditions. I do not think there is a Deputy in the House who would, if he considered the matter, disagree with my policy of concentrating resources to the utmost on the building of houses to meet the often desperate needs of these persons. This policy involves both subsidies and rents.
The amount provided in my Department's Estimate for 1971-72 for subsidising the rent of local authority houses is £5.192 million—an increase of £929,000 over last year. Subsidy on loan charges for other forms of State assistance given in the past is costing a further £400,000 approximately. The amount being contributed as subsidy from rates will add at least another £5 million. The £10.6 million thus being provided in the current year to keep the rents of local authority houses low would finance the building of 3,000 extra houses, if we could use it for that purpose.
I know that subsidies are essential to bring the cost of housing accommodation down to a level that the poorer tenants can afford; and I certainly have no objection to them in principle. What I must insist, however, is that these financial aids from public funds should go to help people who genuinely need them, and that they do not unjustifiably absorb money which could be used for house building. For that reason, therefore, the pressures which develop for increases in the levels of subsidy must be critically appraised and the justification for further relief at the expense of the tax-payers must be clearly established before new concessions are made.
However, I am glad to say that it was recently found practicable to increase the subsidy on all housing work commenced after 31st December, 1970, or for which loans were sanctioned after that date and for which rent proposals were approved on or after 1st February, 1971. The subsidisable limit for an unserviced house was increased from £1,200 to £1,300. In the case of serviced houses, the previous limit of £1,850 was increased to £2,200 in respect of each dwelling provided either in an urban area or in a group of ten or more elsewhere, and to £2,000 for other serviced houses. For a flat in a building of five storeys or less the former limit of £2,650 was increased to £3,000; and for a flat in a building of more than five storeys the limit of £3,100 was increased to £3,200.
The State subsidy generally amounts now to about £2.71 a week for a serviced house, £3.94 a week for a flat in a block of six or more storeys and £3.69 a week for other flats. Local authorities provided about the same amounts from rates. On an annual programme of nearly 5,000 dwellings, subsidies will increase every year by over £1.1 million. Thus, in five more years, on the basis of the programme proposed in the 1969 White Paper, State and local authority subsidies at their current levels could have increased from £10.6 million to over £16 million a year—or nearly as much as we spent on building local authority houses last year. It is this prospect and the effect it must inevitably have on our ability to build houses, that concerns me and must concern every Deputy with an interest in getting our people properly housed.
I should like to make it clear that I am fully committed to the idea that rents should be low for people with small incomes. I am satisfied that rents which vary with income are the only means through which we can achieve this while leaving ourselves with sufficient money to continue to expand our building programme. All new local authority houses are now let on this renting basis. The scales which are being approved provide for rents ranging from a nominal figure for persons with low incomes up to an amount sufficient to meet the cost of providing and maintaining the house. If a tenant's income is low, the amount of subsidy for his house is high—often as much as £200 to £300 a year. If his income rises, the subsidy falls, but he will not be required in any event to pay more than his house is worth and he will generally have the option of buying his house if he so wishes.
In the ten years to 31st March, 1970, local authorities sold over 45,000 of their houses to the tenants. In the same period they built about 29,000 new dwellings. At the end of the decade, therefore, they had fewer houses in their possession than they had at the beginning. Sales are continuing at a high rate—for example, in 1969-70 approximately 4,700 houses were sold.
Policy on sales, like all other aspects of housing policy, must conform to the basic objective of providing decent housing for persons who have not got it, at a price or rent they can afford. If local authorities sell too many houses they weaken their ability to do this. For example, it is estimated that out of their stock of approximately 105,000 rented houses, local authorities get back through surrenders of tenancies something over 1,000 houses a year for re-allocation to new tenants. If the authorities sold all—or even a substantial proportion—of their housing estates they would no longer have the control of these houses; and it would cost them an extra £3 to £4 million a year to provide a corresponding number of new dwellings. For this reason, if we are to achieve our primary objective in housing, we must ensure that sales do not unduly diminish the local authorities' ability to meet basic needs. Because of this we require local authorities to use part of the proceeds of sales to build, or help build, new houses. This principle fits in also with my general policy of increasing the flow of capital for housing.
At the same time, it is desirable that local authority tenants should have the opportunity to buy their houses. In this way tenants can stabilise their outgoings on the houses and build up a valuable asset for themselves and their children. I have, therefore, encouraged local authorities to make sales schemes under the Housing Act, 1966. The terms of sale under these schemes provide for a discount from the current market or replacement value of houses in built-up areas of up to 2 per cent for each year, after five, during which the tenant has been in continuous occupation, subject to a maximum discount of 30 per cent. For houses outside built-up areas the figures are 3 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. At the end of 1970-71, over 50,000 houses were covered by these sale schemes—or almost half the remaining stock of rented local authority houses—and about 10,000 tenants had purchased or were purchasing their houses under the schemes.
Building societies are the biggest private source of capital for housing. Their resources grew spectacularly in the early 1960s, up to about 1964. Economic difficulties in 1965-66 caused some cutback in the scale of their activities in that and the following financal year, but 1967-68 saw a return to their growth rate of earlier years and in 1969-70 they were able to advance £11,365,000 for house purchase. Advances in 1970-71 were even higher—at a record level in the region of £16 million.
The trends in the societies' lending over the years make it clear that the amount which they are able to provide for housing in any year is determined by the rate at which the public invest with them. For this reason, the 1969 White Paper indicated that if the societies were to be able to attract savings, they must be given the same freedom of action as the other bodies which compete with them for funds. In the past two years there has been a steep increase in the rate of receipt of investment moneys by the societies. Admittedly, the flow of funds to the societies last year was distorted by the effects of the bank dispute. The growth in funds has been reflected in an increase in lending, with the result that the value of the unpaid loans which the societies have on hands rose from just over £5.8 million at the end of March, 1969, to £17.3 million at the end of December, 1970. The number of new house loans which the societies were able to approve in the year ended 31st March, 1971, was about double the number of loans approved in the previous year. These trends will be welcomed by everyone who is anxious to see the housing drive pushed ahead as fast as possible.
Assurance companies also play an important role in housing finance. In 1970-71, for example, they advanced a total of £6.7 million in house purchase loans. The Minister for Industry and Commerce made an agreement last year with foreign assurance companies operating in this country under which the minimum level of their investments in Ireland of the funds appropriate to their Irish business will be raised by 1977 from the present level of 66? per cent to 80 per cent. My Department have participated in discussions with the companies on the general question of investment by them in housing.
In addition to building societies and assurance companies, I am also looking into the feasibility of other means of attracting greater private investment in housing. For example, discussions have taken place between officers of my Department and of the Credit Union League of Ireland about the possibility of channelling into housing some of the funds which the credit union movement have at their disposal. I feel sure that there is a fruitful field here for co-operation between the credit unions and housing co-operative groups which are showing signs of becoming a more potent force in housing.
Local authorities provide funds on a large scale for private housing. Advances by the authorities in loans for house purchase rose from £4.8 million in 1967-68 to about £8 million in 1970-71—an increase of approximately £3.2 million in only three years. Practically all of the loans advanced last year were in respect of new houses.
The primary objective of the local authorities' scheme is to help persons of modest means to build or buy their own new homes. Improvements have been made with effect as from 1st March, 1971, in the conditions subject to which the loans are made. The annual income and, in the case of farmers, rateable valuation limits have been increased from £1,200 to £1,500 per annum and from £50 to £60 respectively for loans which are financed directly from the Local Loans Fund. No income limit will apply where the applicant, being the tenant of a local authority dwelling, surrenders his tenancy on getting a loan.
It is open to housing authorities in areas where commercial lending agencies such as building societies do not operate extensively, within their capital allocations, to borrow money from sources other than the Local Loans Fund or to use capital derived from their internal resources to make loans to persons outside these limits.
The maximum loan limit has been also increased from £2,700 to £3,000, except in the County Boroughs of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, the Boroughs of Dún Laoghaire and Galway and Dublin County, where the limit has been increased from £3,000 to £3,300.
The arrangements made by the local authorities in the Dublin area for the construction of houses on a package-deal basis are helping to meet urgent housing needs. Under these arrangements, the local authorities have contracted for the building of houses for sale to their existing tenants, to persons on their approved waiting lists and to other persons of modest means. Capital for the houses is being provided largely by loans from building societies and assurance companies as well as from the local authorities themselves. The loans from the commercial agencies are being made under a special agreement whereby the local authorities, with my consent, guarantee the lenders against loss. The very significant contribution—over £1.5 million last year —which building societies and assurance companies are making in this matter is worthy of praise. I would welcome an extension of these arrangements.
Local authorities help persons of modest means to provide new houses by paying supplementary grants. They also operate schemes of supplementary grants for the reconstruction of existing houses and their improvement by the installation of water and sewerage facilities. Capital expenditure on these grants for new houses and reconstruction works amounted to £2.4 million in the financial year 1970-71.
Many small urban authorities, because of their limited resources, did not operate supplementary grant schemes for new houses. In order to get supplementary grants, many people built in the county health area on the fringes of towns, thus giving rise to costly extensions of water, sewerage and other public services. For this reason, the Housing Act, 1970, enables county councils to pay supplementary grants in the smaller urban districts.
The 1970 Act increased also from £1,045 to £1,250 a year, the income limit of applicants for supplementary grants in respect of houses commenced on or after 1st August, 1970. In addition, allowances of £100 a year for each dependant of an applicant may be made, up to a total of £400 in any case, thus bringing the maximum income limit for eligibility to £1,650 a year. I should like to see local authorities operating supplementary grants schemes to the full extent now permitted by the Housing Acts.
Deputies will have noted the appointment by me of a committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Kenny, to inquire into the problem of the cost of land for building. This problem was under examination in my Department for some time but it was not found possible to devise a practical, workable solution. The Government have been acutely conscious of the problem and wish to pursue the search for a solution, treating the matter as an issue of urgent public importance. While I am aware of the difficulties involved, I hope that the committee, under their eminent chairman, may be able to find a solution within a reasonable time.
At the same time, I think it is right to point out that in the past ten years the price of second-hand houses sold on the open market increased by some-what more than the price of new houses. This seems to indicate that the problem of rising prices is basically a problem of supply and demand. The most effective way of getting prices down or stabilised is by building more houses.
I do not wish to make any further statements at this stage on land prices except to refer to the arrangement whereby a special extra capital allocation of £3 million, spread over a three-year period, was made available from the Local Loans Fund to Dublin Corporation to acquire land for housing. Under this programme the corporation were able to buy more than 2,000 acres of serviced and unserviced land at an average price of about £1,500 an acre. The first fruits of this exercise are already evident. The corporation recently leased 115 acres of this developed land to private builders and will make more land available from time to time as it becomes serviced. They decided also to allocate 735 serviced sites, comprising about 150 acres, to smaller builders and to co-operative housing groups.
The corporation have stated publicly that they will maintain a continuing supply of land for builders and that there is no reason, therefore, for panic buying at inflated prices. On this point, it is clear that one of the factors that has pushed up land prices in the Dublin area in recent years has been competition among builders for the building land available. The fact that builders without land can now apply to the corporation rather than compete in the open market should, in itself, take a lot of heat out of the demand and encourage a greater degree of price stability.
A factor which contributes to rising house prices is that the demand for most private housing is not effectively organised. People buying houses for themselves do not have the advantage of bulk ordering or of competitive tendering. The steps which have been taken to provide tenant-purchase houses by local authorities, co-operative groups and the National Building Agency, have helped to highlight the benefits of competitive tendering. If the present strong demand for private housing should continue it is only prudent that we should plan for the provision of a bigger share of private housing output by these ways in the future. In this connection, I have asked local authorities to help co-operative groups interested in the provision of houses. In this, I do not propose that co-operative groups should get special financial assistance over and above the aids available to the ordinary individual. These aids and concessions are already very substantial—equivalent in most cases to more than £1,000 a house—and, given the need to maintain a proper balance between the use of resources for building and for subsidies, I am satisfied that a genuine case could not be made for increasing the assistance for co-operative groups, alone. Their activities must benefit primarily from better organisation. Given the right guidance and a sympathetic attitude by local authorities, these benefits can certainly be achieved. My Department will be glad to give help and advice to co-operative groups.
Another factor which is definitely contributing to rising house prices is the apparent limitation of the capacity of the building industry. There has been reason for some time now to believe that the industry may be working virtually at capacity. Measures have been taken to raise efficiency and to increase output, but the question of capacity is one that will have to get a lot more attention in coming years if we are to achieve the necessary rate of growth in new house building.
The output of the building industry in the current financial year will certainly exceed £200 million. Efficiency in the industry is, obviously, of national importance and can bring dividends, not only to public authorities who provide much of the capital, but also to the community in general by way of lower prices for houses, schools, factories etc. Steps are, therefore, being taken to encourage greater efficiency in building. These steps include the conversion of the industry to the metric system, measures to secure more co-ordination and rationalisation of building components, the introduction of new building regulations and the technical assistance grants scheme.
Initiative for the change to metric came from the building industry itself. An advisory committee, established by An Foras Forbartha, recommended a phased programme for the change to metric and this programme was accepted by the Government. Progress towards the change has been going ahead steadily. Already a number of suppliers of various building materials have changed their products to metric sizes. Returns in my Department indicated that at 31st March, 1971, the value of work being designed in metric was not less than £36 million in the public sector, plus a further £35 million, approximately, in the private sector.
The standardisation of the dimensions of individual components used in building can also make a major contribution by facilitating production in large numbers. This implies that there should be one basic module by reference to which the size of components would be settled. The Government have already announced that the basic module to be used in work on modular co-ordination in this country should be 100 millimetres. Work is proceeding in An Foras Forbartha, in conjunction with my Department, on the steps necessary for the detailed implementations of a modular programme.
An Foras is also working on the rationalisation of the design of individual components. This should help to increase efficiency and stabilise costs. It is essential, if maximum efficiency is to be obtained, that workers generally should keep themselves abreast of the latest techniques and developments and that the firms should be well organised. These are the primary aims of the scheme of technical assistance grants operated by the Department. Managerial, supervisory or technical personnel engaged in the building industry, as well as certain trade union officials and representatives, are paid a portion of the cost of attending training courses and of making study visits abroad. Grants are also paid for the engagement of consultants by builders and contractors to advise on matters directed to the improvement of their efficiency.
An Foras has, with the assistance of these grants and in co-operation with the Construction Industry Federation, established a programme of construction management courses at various centres throughout the country. The extent to which these courses are being availed of by builders is, indeed, impressive and the higher level of efficiency which should result will affect costs in the industry in the long-term.
I intend to introduce a new national code of building regulations which will supersede all building controls under bye-laws made by local authorities. Such bye-laws do not operate in all local authority areas. Where they apply, they impose different standards in different areas. They are based largely on concepts and materials of the last century and impede innovations which could lower building costs. A working party of An Foras Forbartha has drafted the technical specifications for the new regulations and these are now under revision in my Department. Public comment on the revised draft will be considered before the regulations are made.
The purpose of the Housing Act, 1969, which came into operation in July, 1969, is to secure more effective control over the demolition or change of use of habitable houses. While it may be necessary in carrying out industrial or commercial development to demolish some fit houses or to apply them to non-residential uses, it is desirable that the demolition or change of use be subject to a measure of control, with proper regard to the rights of persons who own houses and the need for change in the urban structure. This change is necessary on occasions so that the centre of a city may live rather than die, as has happened elsewhere, with development taking place at the ever more remote urban periphery. The Act is a temporary measure, introduced to meet a particular situation and will fall to be reviewed before 31st December, 1972. All aspects of the working of the Act will be considered in the course of that review.
I have referred to the direct influence on housing costs which the ready availability of adequate reserves of serviced land must have. Services are no less vital for industrial and commercial development and for the preservation of amenities. The Government are conscious of the importance of water and sewerage services in the national context and have been providing steadily increasing capital allocations and subsidies to encourage a planned expansion of the programmes.
For example, a sum of £1.719 million is being provided this year in Subhead F.1 of the Vote in respect of State contributions to loan charges incurred by local authorities on sanitary services works. This is £326,335 more than the amount paid to sanitary authorities in 1970-71 and directly reflects the rising level of capital expenditure and activity in this sector.
Subhead F.2 includes a sum of £210,000 to recoup county councils the expenditure incurred by them in the payment of supplementary grants for water supply installations to farmers who would have been eligible for the scheme of domestic grants formerly operated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The capital allocation for sanitary and miscellaneous services in the current year is £6.65 million—an increase of £900,000 over the amount provided in the Capital Budget for 1970-71. This will enable a satisfactory level of activity to be maintained with the programme. The main emphasis must remain on the provision of works needed for new industry or new housing or which are required to improve existing water supplies or sewerage services which have become inadequate for current needs. Approximately £16 million worth of such schemes have been released for commencement since 1st April, 1968. A good deal of this work has already been completed and the rest generally is in progress. It has been estimated that at 1st April, 1971, the work yet to be completed on all approved sanitary services schemes represents a pool of work in progress or released for commencement of approximately £11 million in value.
While most of the major water supply schemes recently completed or now in construction are needed primarily to provide adequate supplies for built-up areas, many of them involve the laying of sections of trunk mains through rural areas. These mains can provide considerable scope for the development of the group water supply movement in the areas adjoining their routes and I would be glad to see local authorities doing everything possible to encourage this movement. In a number of areas, where the absence of good local water resources was holding up group schemes, I have approved of projects under which the local authorities provide the necessary head works and trunk mains, reservoirs etc to ensure that groups will have a reliable source from which to develop.
I regard the group water scheme as one of the most valuable forms of communal activity. It has generated a spirit of co-operation at local level and a sense of enterprise and independence which I would like to see spilling over into co-operative housing. Above all, it has brought the benefits of piped water into thousands of rural homes years earlier than would have been practicable if the task remained entirely with local sanitary authorities. I am particularly pleased, therefore, that operations in connection with the grants for the installation of private water supplies and sewerage facilities are continuing to expand. Projects completed and for which grants were paid during 1970-71 totalled 11,046, against 9,088 in the preceding year. Grant allocations in 1970-71 numbered 13,595 as compared with 12,133 in 1969-70. The proportion of this activity which is represented by group water supply schemes is growing steadily. In 1970-71, a record number of 3,768 grants were paid for houses included in group schemes.
At the 31st March last, 582 schemes, catering for 6,644 houses, were completed and there were 1,756 proposals then at other stages. Output on group schemes increased by about 300 per cent over the past four years. This is a first-class achievement by any standard, but I fully realise that a great deal still remains to be done. In particular, more engineers are required for this work and my Department is trying to improve its technical resources in this regard. In the meantime, we are doing our best with limited resources.
It would be ungracious of me to pass from this subject without paying tribute to the trojan work being done in the interest of the local communities by the promoters of these schemes. But for their perseverance and self-sacrifice many schemes would never progress.
The solid amount of work done so far and the current volume of works being carried out must effectively counter any suggestion that the Department is holding back schemes or is failing to make money available to finance them.
I should now like to speak about the steps I am taking to deal with the problem of controlling water and air pollution. A significant development in this respect was the recent establishment of a working group representative of all Government Departments concerned to examine and report to me on the nature and extent of the air and water pollution problems, the different remedial strategies that might be adopted, the cost of these strategies, the appropriate distribution of the cost between the State, local authorities and the private sector—including industry— the adequacy of existing legislation and the need for new legislation. It is intended that the existing functions of Departments in this field will also be co-ordinated through the group. The working group have commenced their examination of these problems and I am confident that they will report without undue delay.
This, of course, will be only the first step towards ensuring that our environment is kept at an acceptable standard. I may say that apart from the time which must be taken to plan necessary remedial works, the cost involved is likely to be very substantial. It has been estimated that notwithstanding our relative freedom from serious water pollution, it could cost up to £35 million to carry out a comprehensive programme of works to eliminate this form of pollution alone. Pending the completion of a report by the working group, I am having various measures taken to ensure that the position as regards water and air pollution is not allowed to deteriorate.
Water pollution attracts a great deal of publicity, some of it calculated to cause unnecessary alarm and, on occasions, with little regard for the facts. Localised problems of water pollution do exist in this country and they have tended to increase in number and gravity in recent years, but we are in the fortunate position that, taking the country as a whole, no serious or widespread pollution is occurring. In my opinion, the problems that exist do not call for panic measures. Steady progress is being made with the building up of machinery to ensure that water pollution does not get out of hand. When this is fully operative I am satisfied that existing major problems will be brought under control and that further serious problems will not be allowed to arise.
The water resources division of An Foras Forbartha have made progress with the work of establishing the facts about water quality in our major rivers. Later this year when they have completed their preliminary surveys of 60 rivers, we will have a good outline picture on a national basis of the extent of the water pollution problem. The preliminary surveys will be followed by investigations at locations where serious pollution has been found or where there is a danger that pollution might reach unacceptable levels. These investigations will identify the causes of pollution and the appropriate authorities can then put in train action to reduce the degree of pollution or to ensure that it is not allowed to become a serious problem.
I would urge any body concerned— be it a public authority, an industry or otherwise—not to wait until the researches of the water resources division identify them as water polluters before they take remedial action. Instead, they should lose no time in taking steps to abate any pollution for which they are responsible. In this connection I must commend the action of the Irish Sugar Company when it was shown that the effluent from their factories could be injurious to fish life when flows in the receiving rivers were low, they immediately decided to undertake a programme, estimated to cost about £500,000, to provide modern treatment works at their plants so as to ensure that pollution of the rivers would not recur from any source within their control.
The local authorities in whose areas the sugar factories are situated have adopted an equally responsible attitude. Mallow Urban District Council, which had discharged untreated sewage into the River Blackwater, has decided to install modern treatment works. Carlow Urban Council is doing likewise to protect the Barrow.
These are welcome examples of the enlightened approach of a local authority and a local industry to improve conditions in local rivers. This is the kind of combined action that should be encouraged and I hope to see similar concerted actions in other areas. It shows what can be done without waiting for final reports from the water resources division or possible punitive measures.
I have noted with interest the views of the Confederation of Irish Industry about water pollution and I feel sure that its members will co-operate in dealing with pollution problems arising out of industrial activity. Such collaboration between the public authorities and industry will be essential. It must be admitted, however, that there is no magic formula by which pollution problems can be resolved overnight. While water pollution in this country is not widespread, even the localised problems that exist will require a considerable amount of finance to bring them under control. The pace at which a programme to eliminate the problems can proceed must, therefore, depend on the rate at which money becomes available to finance it and, in so far as the public sector is concerned, that pace must have due regard to the competing demands on available resources.
Apart from the question of finance, the design and construction of remedial works must take time so that if we want to see results within a reasonable time, planning should now be under way. I would, therefore, suggest to the confederation that they should encourage member firms who know that they will eventually have to undertake remedial works, to embark on these projects sooner rather than later. Indeed, the federation might consider building up a fund from which industries who might otherwise find it difficult to finance remedial works could get assistance. In the case of new industries, the quality and quantity of effluent can be controlled under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, and I have issued guidelines in this matter to planning authorities to prevent new sources of serious pollution from industry arising.
Sanitary authorities have been doing a great deal of unpublicised work over the years in combating water pollution. The sewerage schemes provided in the past decade or so have been designed to high modern standards. However, many of the older sewerage systems have inadequate or obsolete treatment works. Special attention will have to be given to this aspect. Remedial work must be done in such a way as not to disrupt the normal sanitary services programme which must continue to be geared primarily towards catering for the needs of other expanding programmes such as industry and housing.
Water pollution in the Dublin area has come in for particularly severe criticism from time to time and I should like to give the Dáil a brief account of what is being done to improve the position. There is little doubt that stretches of the three major rivers, the Dodder, Tolka and Liffey, require attention.
In the case of the Dodder, the discharges causing significant pollution will be diverted into the new Dodder Valley sewer. Two of the four major sections of this project, which go to make up the main trunk sewer, have been completed and the third has been commenced. The documentation for the final section has now been completed and it is hoped to invite tenders shortly for the work. In addition to remedying pollution, this project will open up 6,300 acres of new land for housing and industrial development.
As regards the Tolka, Dublin Corporation have provided a rising main and a pump house at Finglas Bridge which should improve the quality of the river. Nobody, however, can do anything about the fact that in summer the flow in the Tolka is extremely low and that any discharge of deleterious matter or the dumping of waste into the river is bound to have a serious effect. I would appeal, therefore, to the people living in the vicinity of the river to co-operate with the sanitary authorities in preventing further dumping into the Tolka; otherwise they will be depriving themselves of what should be a major amenity in their area.
Pollution of the Liffey is caused by two main sources. The Camac, which flows into the Liffey at Heuston Bridge, is heavily polluted, mainly by industrial effluents. In addition, overflows into the Liffey from the city centre sewers are now much more frequent than previously because they now carry the sewage from the major housing and industrial developments in the Ballyfermot and Crumlin areas. It is intended that the Greater Dublin drainage scheme, sometimes referred to as the "Grand Canal" sewer, will take discharges at present going into the Camac and will also intercept the flows from the city centre sewers. Dublin Corporation are pushing ahead with the design of this project, but it is a large, complex and costly undertaking and, even with the maximum pressure for progress, must take some years to complete. This scheme will also open up some 11,000 acres of new land for development so that between it and the Dodder Valley scheme the present pressure on land for development in the Dublin area should be substantially eased. The discharge from these two schemes will be brought to the Pigeon House for treatment. To ensure that the discharges will not cause a deterioration in the position in Dublin Bay, a scheme for major extensions and improvements of the treatment works at the Pigeon House is also being undertaken. Dublin Corporation have retained a firm of international standing to advise them on the project in order to ensure that the effluent from the treatment works will be of an acceptable standard. When the new treatment works come into commission the position in Dublin Bay should be noticeably improved.
The estimated cost of the treatment works is £3.5 million. The Greater Dublin drainage scheme will cost £6.5 million and the Dodder Valley sewer £2.5 million, giving a total of £12.5 million. Other local authorities in the Dublin area are also engaged on schemes to free their areas from pollution problems—for example, the Blackrock main drainage scheme, which is estimated to cost about £600,000, and the Bray joint sewerage scheme.
I am glad to note that Dublin Corporation is co-operating with the Electricity Supply Board and the Dublin Port and Docks Board in a joint survey to establish the level of pollution in Dublin Bay. I can assure the House that the attack on the water pollution problem in the Dublin area is an all-out one and that, if it should be established that the works at present in hand will not, in fact, result in acceptable standards in the Dublin rivers and in Dublin Bay, then any further remedial works which may be necessary will be undertaken.
Cork Corporation is also planning a comprehensive main drainage system. I hope that the preliminary difficulties which were encountered will be resolved and that the planning and execution of the scheme will proceed rapidly. In Galway Borough, satisfactory progress is being made on the construction of several sections of a new main drainage system. Waterford Corporation has also constructed sewerage works which will ultimately form part of a new main drainage system for the city. Similar schemes are in hands in other areas. All this activity goes to show that local authorities generally are well aware of the need to provide against water pollution in their areas. I would appeal to the private sector to co-operate fully with the public authorities in ensuring that, in so far as they can, the standard of our environment in this respect is not allowed to deteriorate.
I should now like to deal briefly with the question of controlling the pollution of the atmosphere. While the general level of our air pollution is not dangerous, it, too, is a subject which attracts a good deal of publicity. People nowadays are genuinely concerned about the environment in which they live and it is only natural that they should be conscious about air pollution.
I believe that the coming into operation on 1st January, 1971, of the Control of Atmospheric Pollution Regulations, 1970, has been generally welcomed. These regulations control the heavier smoke emissions and make it an offence to cause a nuisance by emission of smoke, dust, grit, gas or fumes from premises other than private houses. The administration of the regulations rests with sanitary authorities and I visualise that the best approach is to foster the fullest co-operation between the sanitary authorities and local industry as the key to effective remedial action. Heavy industrial smoke emissions are in many cases a by-product of badly maintained, inefficient or out-of-date plant and improvements designed to reduce the smoke emissions could also bring about savings in running costs and a better return on investment. Industry should, therefore, be willing to co-operate in the implementation of the regulations.
The emission of noxious gases from certain chemical and other processes is controlled by the Alkali Works Regulation Act, 1906. I am considering if there are other processes which may be giving off harmful emissions and which should be similarly controlled.
Air pollution measurements are taken at recording stations in six of the larger urban areas. It is intended to increase substantially the number and coverage of monitoring stations and I am asking sanitary authorities to arrange, in consultation with my Department, for the setting up of monitoring stations in towns with populations of 15,000 or more. When sufficient information is available, the need for further control measures will be examined.
Smoke from domestic fires in the larger towns contributes significantly to the pollution of the air. This is one of the matters which it is intended to investigate to see if feasible remedial measures are possible. The big majority of new dwellings are heated otherwise than by solid fuel fires and many existing houses also have been installing central heating. It may be assumed, therefore, that the smoke problem from domestic sources is not increasing. Indeed this is borne out by the records of the existing monitoring stations.
I should point out also that smoke is not the most dangerous of emissions. The sulphur dioxide emissions from industrial plant and from central heating systems is at least as noxious as dark smoke discharged from domestic flues.
As announced last autumn by the Minister for Transport and Power, overall responsibility for the clearance of oil pollution of coastal areas has been assigned to me by the Government. Priority in this matter will be given to interim arrangements to deal with the effects of oil spillages at sea. Preparation of the necessary legislation will also be put in hands as soon as possible.
Before leaving the topic of pollution of the air, water and our shores, I should like to emphasise that the control of pollution, although a necessary task, is of its nature a negative operation. I do not see my role as one of concern solely with controls and prohibitions; rather should the emphasis be on the positive work of creating a pleasant environment in which to live. In this work, local authorities can do much to improve the general quality of life and it will be my concern to encourage them, within available resources, to maintain a steady progress with the provision of facilities and amenities which are important in improving the general standard of our environment. A capital allocation of £1.3 million is available in the current year to assist local authorities in providing miscellaneous services, many of which directly contribute towards this end.
One such service, in which I have a particular interest, concerns the provision of swimming pools. Pools have a tremendous amenity value, especially in built-up areas. They provide scope for healthy exercise and reduce the incidence of delinquency and they save lives by making available facilities for training in swimming and life-saving. There has been a growing, and welcome, demand for pools in many areas. The proof of local enthusiasm is to be seen in the substantial voluntary contributions which have been collected, even in small towns, towards the cost of construction. I am glad to say, therefore, that I found it possible last year to release 18 pools, subject to the finalisation of technical details in each case and the adequacy of the local voluntary contribution. These pools, in conjunction with the ten released during 1967-68, should go a long way towards easing the national lack of swimming and training facilities.
I am particularly conscious of the need to provide more pools in larger areas of population and I was glad, therefore, to be able to approve of a recent proposal by Dublin Corporation to borrow £100,000 towards the cost of providing two further public pools in the city, one in Ballyfermot and the other either in Finglas or in Cabra, as decided by the corporation. These pools, which are additional to the 18 pools at various places throughout the country which I have already mentioned, should prove of tremendous amenity value in areas where there are so many young people. I hope that swimming and life-saving instruction will be a major feature in the operation of these pools.
Provided the demands on public capital resources do not impede progress on essential services such as housing, water supplies and sewerage facilities, it will be my aim to encourage the provision of more and more swimming pools of a proper standard, regard being had to the population to be served and, in the early stages, to the necessity to spread the programme broadly over the country so that at least one pool will be within reasonable distance of all areas. We will also have to consider, in particular, the suitability of the pools from the viewpoint of design and depth, for the giving of instruction in swimming.
In the provision of pools, the primary aim should be the promotion of training, first in swimming and then in life-saving. I look forward to the time when every Irish youngster will regard it as natural to swim as to ride a bike or punt a ball. This aim can become a reality only when we have succeeded in providing pools on a wide basis throughout the country. This is a task in which local voluntary effort and enthusiasm must play an important part.
I have reviewed, in consultation with the various bodies concerned, the arrangements for the promotion of water safety, including life-saving and swimming instruction, with the intention of expanding their coverage and making them more effective. This review convinced me that the necessary expansion and co-ordination of the present limited programme of water safety instruction could be brought about only by the establishment of a central organisation to promote and guide operations, and I have recently set up such a body, called the Irish Water Safety Association, An Comhlachas Snámha is Tarrthála. The membership includes representatives of local authorities, the Irish Amateur Swimming Association and former members of the water safety committee of the Irish Red Cross Society. The functions of this new organisation will include the expansion and co-ordination of water safety and swimming activities, the training of instructors, the award of certificates and the promotion of water safety publicity.
Life-saving and swimming instruction can help to save lives. Local sanitary authorities also help in another important way to reduce the loss of life and property by their activities to combat fires and promote fire precautions. Nevertheless, the steep increase in the number of fire out-breaks in recent years, coupled with the tragic losses of life and the losses of property, of an estimated value of £8 million in 1970-71, caused by fire, must be of the greatest concern to everybody.
Sanitary authorities are under a statutory duty to make reasonable provision to extinguish fires in their areas promptly and efficiently, and to protect persons and property from injury by fire. The authorities have done a lot to provide themselves with modern appliances and equipment, but the proper training of personnel is also essential so that the modern sophisticated equipment will be used to maximum effect and that different brigades can work together efficiently at major fires. An instructional film to assist in the work of training and co-ordination has been made by my Department and distributed to fire authorities throughout the country. A second film has recently been completed and will be distributed shortly. In addition, courses of training for station officers and sub-officers have been organised by the Department and further courses for training instructors are being arranged. These courses and the provision of qualified instructors should go a long way towards improving the efficiency of local brigades.
The next step must be the building up of a proper fire prevention system. The expense of establishing effective fire prevention machinery, supported at national level by educational and publicity campaigns, would be repaid many times over by reduced fire losses.
I want now to say a word of appreciation to the local authorities who have faced up to their responsibilities of providing houses or serviced camping sites for itinerant families in their areas. In particular, also, I want to express my gratitude to the dedicated voluntary workers whose help in the problems arising in the early stages of settlement of itinerants is an essential element if the programme of rehabilitation is to achieve the ultimate aim of full integration. I am glad to say that almost 500 itinerant families have now been accommodated, either on properly serviced camping sites or in houses. If schemes now planned come to fruition, more than half of the itinerant population will have been provided for.
In order to ascertain the scale of operations still to be undertaken, and to see how the number and distribution of itinerants may have altered in the period since data were previously collected, I recently asked local authorities to carry out a count of itinerants in their areas. This information is being assembled and when it has been collated we will have a reliable picture of the extent and nature of the remaining problems.
One of the most important results of settlement is that proper arrangements for education can be made and it is good to know that many itinerant children are now attending at school regularly. It is tragic, however, to think that a number of children of school-going age in itinerant families not yet settled are still denied this opportunity and that a few short years will bring them to young manhood or womanhood, unfitted for any way of life except continued itinerancy. One thing is clear—those selfish people who still oppose camping sites in their own vicinity can no longer take refuge in the argument that itinerants do not want to settle and will not send their children to school. I do not deny that the difficulties associated with the settlement of itinerants are real, but any thinking person will agree that the difficulties are outweighed by the responsibility of the community for the social uplifting of the most depressed section of our people and particularly for the education of every itinerant child.
I appeal again to local authorities not to allow another winter to come with itinerant families living in squalor on roadsides and in ditches in the inclement weather. Proper provision should be made for these unfortunates, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, in the areas where they are accustomed to spend the winter. In so far as the cost may inhibit action I should like to remind local authorities that subsidies of up to 100 per cent of approved expenditure will be provided by my Department.
I might also mention that a 90 per cent subsidy is now available towards the employment of social workers on work for the rehabilitation of itinerants. I hope that this generous subvention will encourage many more local authorities to employ full-time workers. This would be a worthwhile investment for the community since the efforts of trained social workers should help in appreciably shortening the transition period from itinerancy to full integration in the case of families wishing to settle.
My Department's work in regional planning is of vital significance in influencing the future shape of the country and the House will forgive me if I deal with this subject in some detail. It is the aim of regional planning to make it possible for each area to contribute to national growth to the full extent of its potential and, on the other hand, to ensure that the benefits of national economic growth are spread throughout the country. In physical terms it is the objective to provide a framework, or guidelines, for investment in the building and construction that will be needed if the economic and social objectives are to be attained. Such a framework, or guidelines, must be designed to take account of the various relevant objectives of national policy, including the objectives for western and Gaeltacht development and for rural development.
The Buchanan Report is one view, by independent United Nations consultants, of what the framework for regional development might be. The Government are determined that there should be adequate opportunity for other views to be aired and for the implications of the Buchanan recommendations to be examined before policy is determined as regards objectives for development at the regional level. The basic view in the Buchanan Report is that if national development is to be accelerated and more progress made towards reducing emigration the trend towards general urbanisation will need to be supplemented by a growth centre programme based on national, regional and local centres. In the view of the consultants a programme of that kind could mean that an additional 140,000 people would be accommodated in the country by 1986. The recommendations in the report follow a description by the consultants of various alternative courses that might be followed as regards the location of physical development, reflecting a greater or lesser degree of concentration and in association a higher or lower projected population for 1986.
The benefits claimed by the consultants for their policy recommendations, in terms of additional people provided with work and houses and all the facilities of modern living in this country in 20 years time, are such that very serious consideration must be given to the kind of action recommended in the report. On the other hand, the implications of such a course of action in terms of future population distribution, in terms in particular of the effect of the programme on development in the remoter parts of the country; and in terms of the capital programme for building and construction are such that no recommendations of the kind could be adopted responsibly without the fullest examination and wide consultation with bodies who might be in a position to comment constructively on the issues at stake.
All interests in the private sector are invited to make their views known. To facilitate proper consultation in the public sector the regional development organisations were set up and are now in operation in all regions. These organisations are co-ordinating bodies representative of local authorities and of other development interests including the industrial and tourism authorities. The representation includes elected members and officials of local authorities. They will have a general co-ordinating and advisory function in regional planning. As an immediate task they have been requested to report for their regions on the major considerations, particularly the physical and infrastructure considerations, which are important for a regional development programme. As part of this report the organisations have also been invited to make known their own views and conclusions on how a programme for regional development should be approached in their regions.
I expect that these reports will improve the basis for regional decisions in three ways. First, they will attempt to establish for each region whether there are significant changes in population or employment trends or in development prospects in particular locations in the four years since the last census material was published. Second, the reports are expected to bring out and quantify the potential for development, and the obstacles to development in each region and in the various parts of it. This applies particularly to the physical potential and obstacles—the considerations of location, water and sewerage capacities, roads, housing, availability and suitability of sites and other infrastructure prospects. Third, the reports will provide a means of getting views from the regions, related to the factual material, on a rational pattern for development in the years ahead taking account of the different functions of the towns and how they are performing, or the limitations on resources and of the need to establish priorities for investment. The need to establish priorities is nothing new because there has to be a progressive approach to development in any programme. While the basic decisions about resource allocations must be made at national level, I think it would be a step forward if priorities within and between local areas could be determined less from outside and more through consultation and discussion among the bodies responsible for planning and development locally.
These reports are to be seen as part of the ongoing evaluation of regional development possibilities which the Government have undertaken. They will serve to complement the work which has already been done not alone through the Buchanan study but through the various other regional and sub-regional studies including the Wright Report on the Dublin region, the Lichfield Report on the Limerick region and the recently issued report on the Cork city and county area. The last-mentioned report, by the United Nations project manager, followed on a study in the Cork area carried out by the United Nations in association with An Foras Forbartha. Further planning work, part of an ongoing. programme, includes special studies of the Gaeltacht areas being carried out by consultants engaged by An Foras Forbartha and by Foras staff; they are now completed and are being printed for publication. In the Limerick region valuable results are also expected from a study commissioned by the Limerick, Clare, Tipperary (NR) Regional Development Organisation which is now nearing completion there. One of the primary purposes of this particular study is to evaluate in a comparative way the implications of different development strategies in the central part of the region with particular reference to infrastructure costs. It is hoped that it will be possible to bring the results of much of this planning work into the reckoning in the evaluation of the regional reports, which will be carried out with the help of the Regional Development Committee which has been set up to assist in the work. When this phase of regional planning investigation has been completed I would envisage being in a position to bring the matter of regional policy before the Government for further consideration. The Government's concern is to secure that the resources of every region are exploited to the greatest extent possible and that the development of small towns and rural areas is encouraged in order to improve employment opportunities locally. The work I have outlined is designed to ensure that the possibilities for achieving this objective will be explored before any further decisions are taken on long-term objectives for the accommodation and distribution of future populations.
The procedure I have described takes time, considerable time. No apology need be made for this. Basic decisions in regional planning can have a profound effect on the lives of all of us and, indeed, of future generations and it would be irresponsible to make decisions of that kind on the basis of inadequate information. Progress in the different regions has been somewhat uneven but in the last few months the reports generally have reached an advanced stage. I want to avail of this opportunity to appeal to the regional organisations generally to press on with the work and to bring it to completion at the earliest date possible. My Department is participating in the work of the Regional Development Organisations and a subhead of the Estimates for 1970-71 and 1971-72 respectively includes a sum for grants to regional planning and development groups and to local planning authorities to enable me to make a contribution towards the operating costs of the organisations. Since industry is obviously of key importance in the total regional development picture, special arrangements have been made for liaison between my Department, the Department of Industry and Commerce and the Industrial Development Authority.
Regional planning is of special interest to local authorities for a number of reasons. In the first place theirs is the local responsibility for physical planning and for fixing the objectives for their own districts. The co-ordination of local plans, which is my responsibility under the 1963 Planning and Development Act, is one aspect of regional planning. Another aspect is a need for co-ordinating and reconciling the objectives for local development as contained in the statutory local plans, with the objectives for regional development. Local authorities are, of course, responsible for water and sewerage, roads, housing and other aspects of community and infrastructure development and these are of critical importance in any plan to achieve targets for population or employment expansion. The physical planning responsibilities of local authorities, including development, control and infrastructure functions, mean, in effect, that the quality of the local physical environment depends very much on their policies and on the decisions they make.
This brings me to another level of planning, in which each planning authority can give effect to their role as development corporation for their area. In a wider sense than that indicated by their planning functions and their responsibility for providing various services, the local authorities have a general interest in the wellbeing of their area and its inhabitants and they have been urged to conduct their affairs accordingly and within the limits of their powers and resources, support local enterprise and take the initiative to open up development opportunities. Those counties which do not come within the scope of the arrangements for county development teams have been encouraged to appoint staff to act as liaison units between the local authorities and industrial prospects. Counties in general have made some arrangement to this effect and in the process work in close relationship with the Industrial Development Authority which, I understand, has the highest appreciation for this service which the local authorities can give. The development plan is more than a local authority works programme. It can and should be an instrument for supporting and stimulating the economic and social improvement of the area generally. I am aware of the difficulties faced by planning authorities in drawing up their first development plans, in particular the scarcity of skilled personnel. I should like to pay a tribute to the way in which they surmounted these difficulties. At the same time, I would remind the House of the very substantial assistance given by the Department and An Foras Forbartha to the local authorities by way of personal advice, seminars and specialist studies. This still goes on. For instance, An Foras hope to have completed shortly a study of the coastline and a specific one of Brittas Bay. They have also in hands an inventory of heritage items. A few planning authorities have not been able to complete the formal making of their first development plan yet, largely because of the magnitude of the task in their area and the volume of comments received from the public. They have been given extra time to do it. But in general the development plans are due for review in 1972 and I have recently written to planning authorities on the subject. In doing so I took account of the very practical problems identified by myself and the Parliamentary Secretary in the consideration of planning appeals. Here I may say that there is a very significant feedback of information on policy from the appeals system.
We perceived that there was a danger to the acceptance by the public of planning because of the human difficulties which can arise in individual cases, and our object is to reduce these to the minimum while preserving fundamental requirements. The basis on which the first generation of plans was of necessity framed involved the use of broad rules and principles in many cases, due, of course, to lack of certain data, more detailed study and sufficient technical staff—a start, of course, had to be made. The planning authorities may now be faced with the dilemma that, if they apply general rules rigidly, they are accused of ignoring real personal problems, and planning after all is for people. If, however, they relax unduly in the application of general rules, it can lead to a snowball effect by way of precedent, bringing a non-planning result with all the cost of planning. Areas under strong development pressure experience the greatest problems.
Our solution is, I believe, a reasonable one. We start with the first principle that fundamental requirements of public health, traffic and amenity must be met. Within that, we suggest that due account should be taken of the scarcity of technical resources and that planning be made more liberal, reserving its force for key issues and key areas. I cannot anticipate how my suggestions will work, but if the planning authorities make a real effort to follow them I am sure they will operate to the benefit of the public and of planning. I shall not go into detail on them, because the letters have had wide circulation already.
During the year ended 31st March, 1970, there was a continuing increase in the number of proposals for development as compared with the preceding years. Returns from planning authorities show that they received 27,480 applications in 1969-70 against 25,024 in the previous year. They also show that the number of refusals for permission increased from 2,838 to 3,303. These increases primarily reflected the pressures for development in such areas as Cork, Dublin, Galway and Wicklow. It seems that applications continued to increase during 1970-71.
In view of the rise in the number of applications to planning authorities and in the number of refusals by them, it is not surprising that the number of appeals increased—from 1,897 in 1968-69 to 2,279 in 1969-70 and 2,491 in 1970-71.
Notwithstanding that more appeals are disposed of each year, i.e. 1,392 in 1968-69, 1,759 in 1969-70 and 2,349 in 1970-71, the fact remains that the number of appeals awaiting decision keeps increasing rather than decreasing.
Another factor which has given rise to the delay in dealing with appeals is an increase in the number of requests for oral hearings. There were 297 such requests in 1968-69 and 530 in 1969-70 and 513 in 1970-71. The oral hearings dealt with rose from 267 in 1968-69 to 324 in 1969-70 and 535 in 1970-71, but the number on hands is still substantial. I am not suggesting that requests should not be made for oral hearings. I only wish to point out that as oral hearings take time to organise when there are a number of parties concerned, they involve a further delay factor.
I am fully alive to the problems which arise from the growing volume of appeals, and which cannot be lightly solved in view of the overall shortage of skilled staff. It can involve delay, and this can cause hardship in individual cases. It absorbs a great proportion of the time of the limited skilled staff available to us, both in the Department and the local authorities and thus diverts them from that positive planning work which, if undertaken, would improve the quality of development plans and thus reduce the need for appeals.
In an effort to break the vicious circle, I have asked the planning authorities to approach the matter in the spirit in which I have asked them to tackle the review of their development plans and so settle as many of the problems as possible at local level. Applicants for planning permission are not always free from fault and I would appeal to them to consult the local authority before taking a decision on proposed development, to document their applications properly and not to press the impossible proposals. For my part, I will do all I can to remedy the position, both by way of advice and assistance to the planning authorities and by such administrative steps as are possible. I may mention that efforts are being made by way of scholarships and otherwise to increase the output of skilled staff.
The Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill is designed to deal with a specific aspect of planning appeals and it would not necessarily affect the volume of appeals or the time factor involved, which are largely dependent on the staff available. I intend to have the Bill examined in the light of my experience and that of the Parliamentary Secretary in dealing with appeals. It may be that this close examination of the Bill will confirm that it should remain as it is, but I should prefer not to proceed with it until that examination has been completed.
Previous Ministers have urged the local authorities concerned to give special attention to the Gaeltacht areas in the discharge of their planning functions and the pursuit of development objectives. I have repeated this request and I have asked the county councils to consider appointing special planning advisory committees for the Gaeltacht areas, to include the elective members for these areas. I have already referred to the Foras planning studies for the Gaeltacht areas now completed and due for publication very shortly.
Conservation year had particular significance for local Government. A number of public authorities have responsibilities which impinge on conservation, but it is important to remember that the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, introduced a comprehensive provision whereby the preservation and development of our national and man-made heritage is brought within the planning functions of the local authorities. This is over and above the local authorities' responsibility for the provision of housing, roads, sanitary services, all of which impact on and are inter-related with conservation. Planning means not merely the planning of resources for the material welfare of the people but also to improve the quality of their life.
It was realised that planning authorities would themselves find it difficult to secure all the necessary skills adequately to perform their functions in this regard and from their foundation An Foras Forbartha have done a considerable amount to help them. I have already mentioned some of the further studies they have in hands and the fact that the water resources division will assess on a comprehensive scale the quantity and quality of our water resources. During the year, with generous assistance from an industrial sponsor and in consultation with the Department of Education, An Foras published and circulated free to schools a booklet to stimulate youthful interest in nature studies. Their lectures and seminars during the year took particular account of conservation.
The Department's Estimate for 1970-71 contained a provision for grants in respect of amenity works and derelict sites. The provision for 1971-72 is being increased from £70,000 to £120,500, and this has enabled me to release the amenity schemes on hands. As to future work, I have decided to reshape the scheme concentrating the work on the amenity schemes and devolving it substantially to the local authorities. The latter is part of a general development I hope to secure in the operation of the Department's activities. The derelict sites scheme, has, in my opinion, run for a sufficient period to have dealt effectively with this problem, and it is necessary that the moneys available, which are bound to be relatively limited, should be devoted to works of more positive amenity content. I would hope that the local authorities' activities in this regard, run in conjunction with local community groups, will reflect their general care for the area and the communities which they serve and will be an apposite feature of that general role which is envisaged for them. I have been able to release grants for derelict sites schemes already in hands and in order, but no new application can be considered unless the scheme merits consideration as an amenity scheme because of amenity features in it.
Elsewhere in my speech I mention some of the activities of An Foras Forbartha, enough I think to give an idea of the varied and valuable work which they are doing. The institute are singular in the range of activities they cover, a wide range but all related to the environment in which we live and work. The institute are fortunate in thereby having such a wide spread of skills, a fact that increases their ability to deal effectively with the complex problems arising in research today. They are a young institute, confident of their ability to serve the nation and naturally anxious to expand. No one is more conscious than I of the value of the work which they can do and I am only too glad to avail of their potential. However, their financial demands have to be considered in the light of competing demands for other valuable services as well.
Nevertheless, it was possible to increase the grant-in-aid in 1969-70 by £35,000 to £185,000, and a Supplementary Estimate in 1970-71 made a further sum of £11,400 available. The voted grant-in-aid relates to the planning, construction and water resources divisions of the institute; the roads division is financed by a grant from the Road Fund. I am pleased to say that, despite other pressing demands, it has been possible to make provision for a grant-in-aid of £235,200 for An Foras for 1971-72. This of course falls short of what the institute sought, but is not an ungenerous contribution in all the circumstances.
An Foras work in close consultation with my Department, with other Departments and interests concerned and with local authorities. This ensures that the research is relevant to practical problems and that the results, which are widely disseminated, are applied.
An Foras have the guidance and assistance of a consultative panel, advisory committees, groups and working parties representative of the professional, vocational and consumer interests. The large volume of work accomplished has been made possible by the voluntary work contributed so generously by the members of these consultative and advisory units. I should like to thank them and the various professional and other bodies which they represent for the valuable assistance they have given, and I would also like to express my appreciation to the members of the board.
I now turn to the White Paper on local government reorganisation which was laid before each House of the Oireachtas last February. Deputies will already be familiar with the proposals contained in the White Paper and I will, not, therefore, attempt to make a full presentation at this stage. Instead, I propose to deal with a number of general points about the Paper and to refer briefly to the main proposals.
The White Paper is presented for public discussion purposes. Its central theme is that local government is important both in its own right, as an essential part of a democracy, and because of the important services it provides. It is essential, for these reasons, that we should have a live local government system, with a sound structure and sound principles of operation. The proposals in the White Paper are, in my view, a realistic attempt to bring this about. The structural proposals are evolutionary in character—they represent an attempt to mould the existing system into a more modern and effective one rather than an attempt to replace it by an entirely new one. I believe that this evolutionary approach is best in dealing with local government for, by tackling the problem of reorganisation in this way, we can preserve what is best in our present system while, at the same time, creating a system which will be better able to cope with the increasingly heavy demands which are being made on local government.
The White Paper concludes that the best local government structure is one based on the county, with additional elements at higher and lower levels. At the higher level, provision is made for regional bodies to promote regional studies, to advise on co-ordination and, if local authorities so desire, to provide facilities such as scarce professional staff or expensive machinery on a service basis. At the lower level, the proposals envisage that each county council would have area committees, based on suitable towns and their hinterlands with local offices where possible. These would help councils maintain contact with local communities without sacrificing advantages of scale in the actual provision of services. It is also proposed that voluntary local community councils should be promoted and that the powers of local authorities to help them and co-operate with them would be widened. I am writing to local authorities advising them of how at this stage I envisage these area committees and local community councils would operate.
If the foregoing principles are accepted, it follows that substantial changes must be made in the case of town commissioners and urban districts. The White Paper proposes, therefore, to transfer the functions of town commissioners to the county councils. Since the present functions of the commissioners are minimal, the main effect of this—in so far as the actual provision of local government services is concerned—would be that the rates would be reduced in towns concerned, by amounts ranging up to 45p or 9/- in the £, taking 1970-71 figures. The transfer of town commissioners' functions would not, of course, preclude the continuance of the status of the towns concerned for ceremonial and other traditional purposes. In the case of urban districts, the Government are satisfied, for reasons set out in the White Paper in some detail, that the functions of many urban authorities must also be transferred to the county councils if the development of the towns concerned is to be facilitated. It is proposed, however, that separate councils should be retained in suitable towns and all relevant factors, including local views, would be taken into account in selecting these.
As a special case, the White Paper considers the government of the Dublin area and proposes a single council for the whole area with flexible provision for local committees of this council and local offices. As I have already indicated, special consideration is given to the Gaeltacht. The proposals here are that arrangements be made—
(1) to establish separate local electoral areas for Gaeltacht districts, so that public representatives can be elected specifically for those areas, and
(2) to assign some of the powers and functions of the county councils to those representatives.
Improvements in the operation of the local government system are also dealt with in the White Paper and these, of course, are just as important as structural changes. There are proposals in the White Paper for the elimination of unnecessary or outmoded controls over local authorities, the restatement of the permissive powers of local authorities in broad terms, and a wholesale modernisation of procedures, staff structure, organisation and methods generally, the statutory framework, and so on. In addition, a new orientation is given to the position of the Department, with more emphasis on its positive role of providing services for local authorities at national level.
The activities of local authorities reach into very many aspects of modern life; indeed it is often said that, "from the womb to the tomb", people are dependent on services provided through the local government system. For this reason, and because local government is such a vital part of our democratic system, it is essential that changes in our present system should have wide support. The decision to publish a White Paper containing proposals, rather than final decisions, took account of this fact. I repeat that the White Paper is intended to provoke public discussion and to serve as a basis for consultation with interests concerned. Constructive comments on the proposals, from whatever source, will be welcomed and taken into account before final decisions are made as to the changes which should be affected.
I should like to take the opportunity of reminding those who wish to submit comments to do so as soon as possible because of the need to make real progress with local government reorganisation in 1971. Local elections are due to be held in June next year and if there is to be any prospect of having any major structural proposals implemented by then, we must aim to have consultations completed at an early date. It was for this reason that the White Paper itself asked that comments should be submitted before the end of April, 1971. I received, however, a number of requests from local authorities and other bodies to extend this date and, in order to meet these requests as far as possible, I decided to extend the date by two months, i.e., until 30th June 1971. This was the maximum extension that could be granted. It will provide in all a period of almost 5 months for the submission of comments on the proposals. I have indicated to local authorities that, at the end of this period, I hope to hold discussions with local representatives throughout the country in regard to the White Paper.
Assuming that an adequate local government structure is provided, in particular that the main functions are entrusted to councils with adequate resources and staff, and that a liberal approach is adopted towards the operation of the system, in particular by keeping controls to a minimum and by broadening the legal powers of local authorities, the main constraint on action by local authorities will be finance. It is essential, therefore, that the proposals for local government reorganisation should be matched by proposals for the reorganisation of the system of local finance. In this connection, I note that there have been suggestions that we got our priorities mixed-up by publishing a White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation before putting forward comprehensive proposals on local finance. These suggestions, however, ignore the fact that proposals on local finance cannot be worked out in isolation—they must have regard to the structure and functions of local government now, and in the future.
The Government have recognised for some time that the present system of local finance and taxation is in need of overhaul. Some years ago, an inter-departmental committee was established to examine and report on the present system, the changes which are desirable in it and the sources of local revenue as an alternative or supplement to rates which it may be considered practicable to recommend. To date, three interim reports have been submitted by the committee. These dealt with valuation for rating purposes, exemptions from and remissions of rates, and rates and other sources of revenue for local authorities. In each case, a summarised version of the report was made available to the public for general information and to stimulate constructive comment but without commitment on the part of the Government to accepting all or any of the committee's recommendations.
The inter-departmental committee had intended to deal, in a further report, with State grants to local authorities and with the other remaining aspects of the system of local finance and taxation. It became evident, however, that before further progress could be made, it would be necessary to deal with problems such as the scope and shape of local government envisaged in the future. Accordingly, the preparation of the committee's further report was deferred pending the completion of the review of the structure and functions of local government.
Now that this review has been completed and proposals for changes have been published, the Government believe that it would be appropriate that they should review those aspects of the system of local finance and taxation on which detailed recommendations have been made by the inter-departmental committee and set out, in general terms, the manner in which they consider that solutions to the overall problems can best be found. Because of the importance and complexity of this subject, it was decided to deal comprehensively with it in a separate White Paper. Work on this is well advanced and my intention is that it will be published at the earliest date possible.
The comprehensive investigations and reviews which have been in progress are, of course, a necessary preliminary to any major overhaul of the system of local finance and taxation. In the meantime, however, positive interim steps have been taken by the Government to improve the system of local finance and to ease the lot of ratepayers. These steps, some of which represent action on recommendations of the inter-departmental committee, include the following:—
1. Legislation has been enacted to allow local rating authorities to introduce schemes for the remission of rates in the case of necessitous persons. In 1969-70, 45 authorities operated such schemes under which 3,565 persons were granted full relief and 2,839 received partial relief.
2. Legislation has also been enacted to confer on certain classes of ratepayer a right to pay their rates in instalments. In 1970-71 over 9,000 ratepayers availed of this facility.
3. The omnibus rating concessions which applied under the Local Government (Temporary Reduction of Valuation) Acts to all new or reconstructed buildings which did not qualify for rates remission under any other code are being phased-out. This will relieve the general body of ratepayers of the burden of, in effect, subsidising buildings such as newly erected or improved office-blocks, supermarkets and luxury houses.
4. The contribution from the rates towards the cost of scholarships has been frozen at the 1967-68 level.
5. The statutory contributions by rating authorities towards vocational education have been stabilised for some years, the additional expenditure on vocational education which would otherwise have fallen on ratepayers being met by higher grants.
6. Finally, the overall level of State grants to local authorities has increased significantly—in 1970-71 it stood at about 51 per cent of local expenditure. Of the total revenue expenditure of local authorities—£151 million in that year—State grants met approximately £77 million.
The measures I have just outlined are very valuable in themselves. They are, however, only the first steps on the way to comprehensive reform of the local finance and taxation system. When the proposed White Paper on Local Finance is published they will be seen to be part of a realistic overall programme of reform, extending to all aspects of the present system.
The combined purchasing system continues to bring benefits to local authorities. The level of purchases by local authorities under the system is now estimated to be running at over £6 million per annum. This system has been in operation from the 1920s, and in that time has been of benefit to local authorities in various ways— in terms of value for money, in setting and maintaining standards of quality, and in administrative convenience. The system has also been of help to growing Irish industries, both as a sales outlet, and in setting standards. The system is currently under review by a working party, with the object of determining what changes may be necessary to meet the needs of the present day.
The Government are in favour of reducing the voting age to 18 for all elections. The approval of the people will be necessary before the age can be reduced for Dáil and Presidential elections and this question will be submitted to the people by referendum. In the case of local elections the age limit could be reduced by legislation in the normal way but the Government have decided that the introduction of such legislation should be deferred pending the result of the referendum relating to Presidential and Dáil elections.
The Government have also decided to abolish property qualification for a local government vote. Under the law as it stands, a person is entitled to be registered as a local government voter where he lives or where he occupies property, subject to the proviso that he may not be registered more than once in the area of the same local authority. It is proposed to amend the law to provide that a person may be registered as a local government voter for the area of his residence only. When a person resides in an urban district or town commissioners' area he will as at present be able to vote for the urban district council.
I would now like to deal with roads and traffic. Certain important decisions were taken by the Government in July, 1969, in relation to future roads policy. There was a recognition that the classification of the road system which had been in existence since 1925 was out of date and should be modernised. In the light of studies undertaken by my Department and An Foras Forbartha in consultation with the engineering organisations of the road authorities, the Government decided that roads should be reclassified into systems to be described as national primary, national secondary, regional and county systems. This decision was largely relevant to the rural road network as it was realised that a comprehensive reclassification of the networks in the cities and urban areas was a particularly complex problem for which final solutions could not be worked out until traffic studies and their implications in the context of development plans had been determined.
I think it would be fair to say that there has been a general welcome for this decision and my major preoccupation in this respect so far has been to review its detailed application to particular areas in regard to the actual designation of national primary and national secondary routes. I have now completed this review and am satisfied that the fullest consideration has been given to the various claims and representations that were made to have particular routes accorded national status. Deputies will appreciate that the reclassification of the entire network comprising more than 53,000 miles of public roads is a major task and that it can only be tackled on a phased basis. Studies on the routes to form the regional and county systems are proceeding and I would propose at a later stage to have the fullest consultation with the road authorities before final selections of the routes to be designated as regional and county road are made.
The Government have also decided that responsibility for the national road system should be transferred to the Minister so that a national programme can be devised for these roads and route improvements can be designed and executed on a uniform basis. Legislation to give effect to this transfer of responsibility is being prepared.
With the classification of the national roads already mentioned I accepted, last year, in advance of legislation full responsibility for financing the programme of work, including upkeep, on the national primary roads. This was the first stage of a phased rearrangement of road finance and it relieved local authorities of a financial burden of almost £500,000 by reason of the increase in the rate of grant for upkeep works on these roads from 50 per cent to 100 per cent.
The analysis and appraisal of various studies of our traffic problem has continued in my Department for the purpose of assessing future road improvement programmes required to keep abreast with the increasing volumes of road traffic. Undoubtedly, our most urgent task is the implementation of a programme of street improvement and other works to cope with traffic loads in our larger cities and towns. Traffic management schemes can play an important part in getting the maximum value out of the existing street systems.
The increase in the percentage rate of grant for the upkeep of national primary roads and increase in wages and other costs caused a substantial increase in the amount required last year to meet grant obligations to the various authorities. Final grant allocations in 1970-71 amounted to approximately £12 million, compared with approximately £10.4 million in 1969-70. This caused a substantial rise in the amount of the outstanding commitments against the Road Fund at 31st March last and this factor had to be taken into account in determining the amounts of allocations for 1971-72. In general, 1971-72 grants are being maintained at the same high level as in 1970-71, but increased provision has been made for urgent works in the Dublin area, and for the programme of traffic management schemes in the urban and built-up areas. These increases amount to £400,000, bringing the total of the 1971-72 allocations to some £12.4 million.
Progress with the Local Improvements Scheme in 1970-71 was satisfactory. The great majority of counties made full use of their grant allocations in the year.
The provision under subhead K is £500,000, the same as in 1970-71. As has already been announced it has been decided to supplement this provision for the current year by a further £500,000. County councils have been notified of the allocation of the aggregate sum of £1 million. Increased allocations have been made in all counties, but the bulk of the supplementary provision has been allocated to the western counties, broadly in proportion to last year's allocations. I am glad to have been enabled to make these increased allocations and so facilitate councils in reducing the backlog of applications which have been the subject of complaint from many sources. It is also an important purpose of the additional provision to create increased employment in rural areas.
The co-operation of county councils will be necessary to ensure that full use will be made of the additional funds being provided for this scheme. I am confident that that co-operation will be forthcoming.
One of the most pressing problems facing urban road authorities is that of traffic congestion and how best to deploy the limited financial resources available to remedy the situation. If I refer in some detail to the problem as it affects Dublin, it must not be taken that I am unmindful of the existence of traffic congestion in other towns and cities; it is merely that the problem is more acute in Dublin.
Traffic problems in Dublin largely derive from the fact that the form which central city development has taken was largely determined before the advent of the motor car.
The Minister has made history in the House with the longest address ever.
He must be expecting a general election. The Deputy had better ask him.
I should like to give notice, Sir, that I propose to raise the subject matter of Question No. 12 on yesterday's Order Paper on the Adjournment.
The Chair will communicate with the Deputy.