Water and Sewerage Schemes.

When I spoke on the Adjournment on 25 May last about the delays in the Kilmallock sewerage scheme, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government responded by saying he has "always been impatient of excessive bureaucracy and paper shifting". He indicated that funding is being provided "for more than 20 locations throughout County Limerick, where planning of new infrastructure is moving ahead rapidly".

The village of Shanagolden is not getting the investment it requires because of delays in providing the sewerage scheme that is urgently needed there. I understand from Limerick County Council that the four sewerage projects at Shanagolden, Foynes, Athea and Askeaton are being pursued together. It seems that the village of Glin was subsequently added to this project. The development of sewerage schemes is most important for each of these places. The lack of progress in this regard has let to a shortfall in the numbers of pupils entering the primary schools in the area. Developers are being deterred from proceeding with housing developments as a consequence of the inability of the existing sewerage scheme to cope with the locality's expanding population.

The Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, is aware that ten phases typically need to be completed, from inception to construction, before a major capital scheme can be approved. I do not agree with the comment made by the Minister, Deputy Roche, that progress is proceeding rapidly, as the approval process has stalled at the fourth phase. There has been an inordinate delay in the approval by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of the fee agreed by Limerick County Council and the relevant consultant. It is imperative that the Department should agree the revised fee that has been presented to it by the council as soon as possible.

As the Minister of State is aware, Limerick County Council is anxious to proceed with all the sewerage schemes I have mentioned, including the Shanagolden scheme. Can he indicate when it is anticipated that construction work will commence? Sewerage schemes are urgently required in all the locations I have mentioned. The Minister of State has indicated previously that funding has been set aside for all the schemes, but I would like him to assure me that funding has definitely been ring-fenced for the projects in question. I hope the Minister of State's response will be consistent with his stated wish to make progress with the projects as rapidly as possible. I look forward to his response.

I thank Senator Finucane for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The 2004-06 water services investment programme of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which was published in May 2004, includes funding for more than 20 schemes in County Limerick. Towns and villages like Adare, Patrickswell, Athea, Askeaton, Foynes and Glin can look forward to new or upgraded sewerage schemes. Many areas will benefit from the improved water supplies which will result from the planned major upgrade of the Clareville water treatment plant, the planned improvements to the Shannon estuary water supply scheme and the planned extensions of the Limerick county trunk water mains. Almost €143 million has been allocated under the water services investment programme for water and sewerage schemes in County Limerick.

The Shanagolden sewerage scheme is being developed with the Athea, Askeaton and Foynes sewerage schemes as part of a grouped project. This major infrastructural undertaking will upgrade and extend existing sewerage treatment plants and sewage collection networks and provide new plants and networks if they are needed. It will play a major role in the economic and social development of the towns and villages in question, including Shanagolden. It has been estimated that the grouped project will cost almost €16 million. The project has been assigned construction status under the water services investment programme. The preparation of detailed contract documents will commence when the council has submitted its preliminary reports for the schemes and has received approval from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I ask Senator Finucane to listen carefully to this part of my response. In 2002, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government approved briefs for the appointment of consultants to prepare preliminary reports for the various schemes. Limerick County Council's fee proposals for the appointment of consultants to prepare the reports were subsequently approved in 2003. That cleared the way for the progression of the reports and the submission of the reports to the Department. However, the council subsequently submitted substantially increased fee proposals and cost estimates for the schemes. I can give the Senator details of the increases if he wishes. It has been impossible for the Department to approve the increases. A submission on this issue was received from the council on 31 May last, following correspondence and consultation between the council and the Department. The submission, which also deals with the proposed inclusion of Glin sewerage scheme as part of the group, is being considered by the Department. I assure the Senator that a response will issue to it shortly.

I am conscious of the need for the project to get under way and of the Senator's concerns in this regard. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will do everything possible to avoid unnecessary delay. The necessary funding has been allocated for the scheme under the water services investment programme. That money will be available for drawdown by the council when it is possible for the work to start on the ground. In the meantime, it is important for the Department and the council to make progress with the preliminary stages as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister of State.