Water and Sewerage Schemes.

I welcome the Minister to the House. In October 2004 I welcomed the Water Services Investment Programme 2004-2006 involving a total investment of €5 billion, with the allocation to Limerick being €142 million. On that occasion the Minister painted a very positive picture in so far as the sewerage schemes were concerned for Adare and Patrickswell. He confirmed at that time that the necessary finance was available under the said programme.

I now ask for an update on the contract documents, the public-private partnership or PPP applicability and the issue of procurement. The scheme has been examined by Limerick Council and a report prepared and submitted to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in July 2005. This recommended that both civil and mechanical, and electrical elements of the project may be procured through traditional procurement routes rather than a design build operate route, a DBO. That would allow arrangements for a public-private partnership. While a response is awaited from the Department in respect of the PPP report, it is anticipated that the draft documents could be ready for submission to the Department early in 2006.

The construction aspect will depend on the Department's approval for allocation of funding, and the level of contribution from Limerick County Council. The development plans in Adare and Patrickswell are greatly dependent on the proposed infrastructure. Many planning applications for hotels and housing development have been granted by Limerick County Council, subject to the availability of the necessary water and sewerage infrastructure. Indeed, discussions have taken place with Limerick County Council about the possibility of providing a private hospital in that location.

The provision of this infrastructure is dependent on the Minister. I ask him to use his good offices, together with Limerick County Council, to secure the provision of the infrastructure at the earliest possible time. I am not seeking that it should be left to private operators to dictate what development takes place on the lands and roads in each area but that the proper development, as set out in the development plans and with Limerick County Council working under a PPP if necessary, take place in the interest of the communities and the proper development of the area. Perhaps the Minister will examine this.

Senator Brennan has show huge personal interest in this matter. The fact that so much progress is being made is due, in no small way, to the fact that he has a charming way of nagging the Minister of the day to ensure that progress is made in an area that is important to him.

My Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2004-2006, which was published in May 2004, includes funding for more than 20 schemes in Limerick. Athea, Askeaton, Foynes, Shanagolden, Glin, Kilmallock, Dromcollogher, Hospital, Pallasgreen and Bruff are some of them. The county can look forward to a significant improvement in sewerage services. Many areas will also benefit from improved water supplies from the upgrade planned for the Clareville water treatment plant, improvements to the Shannon estuary water supply scheme and extensions of the Limerick county trunk water mains. There is a significant amount of work being done on water and sewerage services in Limerick and almost €143 million has been allocated under the programme for those services.

With regard to Adare and Patrickswell, a sewerage scheme to serve both areas is approved for construction in the water services investment programme at a cost of almost €9 million. The two locations have been combined into a single project to avail of the economic benefits offered by the completion of the Limerick main drainage treatment plant at Bunlickey. Pumping effluent from both locations to Bunlickey will avoid the more costly option of either upgrading the present obsolete treatment plants or constructing new replacements. It means less running costs for Limerick County Council in the long term. That is a significant consideration because high tech plants are costly for councils.

Limerick County Council received approval from my Department early this year to appoint engineering consultants to prepare contract documents for the scheme. The consultants are now working on the contract documents and the council has invited tenders for site investigations. The results of these investigations are an essential component of the contract documents on which contractors base their prices for the construction of the scheme.

The scheme is needed to facilitate development in both areas. Some developers have recently been in contact with the county council with proposals which they consider would help to advance the works more quickly. It would be a matter for the council, taking into account public procurement rules and value for money issues, to decide on the merits of such proposals and, if it decides to proceed with them, to submit the details to my Department for approval. The Department would not stand in the way of any approach which would help to expedite the scheme, subject to the necessary safeguards of protecting the public interest and the taxpayers' investment.

I have listened carefully to the Senator and he has been in contact with me privately about this matter. When contract documents are submitted to my Department for approval they will be given early attention. The necessary funding has been allocated for the scheme in the Department's water services investment programme. As we approach the time when I will meet my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to look for money, I am as anxious as the Senator to see approval being given to the council to invite tenders and for the work on the scheme to start to ensure the citizens of Limerick have modern sewerage and water services.

I thank the Minister for his positive response. I look forward to working in co-operation with Limerick County Council to secure a solution.