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Road Improvement Schemes

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 27 June 2013

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions (4)

Timmy Dooley


4. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the amount of money that has been collected through the community involvement scheme for works on local roads since its inception; the way in which local communities are asked to pay for the scheme; the average contribution asked for; the counties in which this scheme has been used to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31050/13]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads are the statutory responsibilities of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on these roads are funded from local authorities' own resources and supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded are also matters for the local authority.

This year my Department launched a new pilot community involvement scheme.  The scheme is based on contributions in a range from 20% to 50%, either through monetary contributions or the provision of materials, machinery or labour.  Where the local community is making a contribution and not undertaking the work itself, the local contribution will be 20%.  Where the majority of works are to be undertaken by the council, the local contribution will be 30%.  Should the majority of works be undertaken by the local community, the local contribution will be 40% and where all works are to be undertaken by the local community, with the local authority contributing by way of materials or machinery, the local contribution will be 50%. In the latter case, no cash contribution would be required from the community.

Each local authority taking part in the scheme assessed applications and took into account the length, width and condition of the roads concerned, the number of dwellings along the roads and then estimated the overall cost of each scheme taking account of material, labour, machinery and traffic management costs.  From this calculation, the local authority determined the local contribution, which is paid directly to the local authority.  

The pilot scheme is only recently under way, but I can confirm that applications were received from 25 county councils and one city council for 428 projects.  A total of 377 projects were approved, at an estimated overall cost of €14.1 million, of which €10.5 million is to be provided by the Department and the balance of €3.6 million coming from local communities by way of cash contributions or the provision of materials, labour or machinery. Local authorities will be requested to report on the operation of the scheme towards the end of the year, at which point we will be able to consider whether we should repeat the scheme next year and, if so, what form it should take.

I have been concerned about this scheme from the outset. I accept that community involvement is worthwhile in road projects where there is a misunderstanding about whether the council controls the roads concerned. Schemes were previously put in place for culs-de-sac and minor roads. The extension of schemes to a wider variety of roads changes the dynamic for those who live in isolated rural areas who are getting a second class service. They are paying road tax, the house tax and various other taxes and charges and are now expected to pay an additional charge for the benefit of travelling along the roads that lead to their homes. Local authorities do not appear to be taking a uniform approach. I recently had an opportunity to visit some of the areas affected in north County Meath. To say some of the roads in the area are in an appalling state is an understatement. It beggars belief that the responsible local authority has underfunded maintenance works on roads that serve tourism, industry, farming and general community life. While I accept that maintenance of these roads is the responsibility of local authorities, the Minister will have to take a more proactive approach in the absence of action on the part of local authorities instead of placing the burden on the shoulders of hard-pressed taxpayers who are already paying their fair share. It is regressive and inequitable to expect them to contribute through materials, machinery or hard cash. No one living in a city would be expected to pay for the street lamps or to repair a footpath.

A separate local improvement scheme deals with laneways and roads not taken in charge. It is open to local authorities to use a portion of their discretionary grants on that scheme. The community involvement scheme is aimed at local and regional roads taken in charge by the local authority. The background to the scheme is that funding for road maintenance works has decreased, whether from my Department or local authorities' own resources, with the result that local authorities are prioritising roads that are heavily used. We were approached by individuals and business people who offered to contribute to the cost of repairing their local roads. It is difficult to refuse such offers. I acknowledge the issues the Deputy raised, but it is hard to refuse people who want to help.

In regard to the position in cities, people living in urban areas pay motor and property taxes, as well as management fees for the maintenance of roads and lighting in their developments. I imagine this also applies in Ennis. Many more people live in managed estates in urban areas than along rural roads that have not been taken in charge. I do not think it is right to characterise this as an urban versus rural issue. I am aware that roads in the northern half of County Meath are very bad. A considerable number of people applied for community involvement scheme grants in that area and more than €1 million has been provided under the scheme. I hope that investment will make a big difference. Approximately €2 million in additional funding has been provided for Meath County Council in the past few weeks. However, it will take more than that sum to address the long-standing neglect of roads in the northern part of the county.

In terms of the general approach adopted, I believe in local government. It is the responsibility of the Government to deal with the national road and motorway network, but local and regional roads should be a matter for local authorities.

Perhaps my Department can take a regulatory role in requiring local authorities to ensure roads meet a certain standard, as they do at present in the waste management area, for example.

I take the Minister's point about whether this is an urban versus rural issue. I was not seeking to characterise it in that way. The point I make is that people in rural areas are responsible for their own laneways and for management and maintenance within the curtilage of their sites. That happens in housing estates as well. I am familiar with residents of developments in rural areas who have to make payments to cover the management and care of lighting and the upkeep of the estate. It seems they will now be expected to make an additional payment in order to be able to get to the main road, if it is the case that a stretch of the local road requires upgrading. Has the Minister considered the possibility that tax relief might be afforded on such contributions? Has he made a request to the Department of Finance in that regard? This further burden of taxation on householders, who are already making significant contributions at a difficult time, cannot be seen in isolation. I accept that the State does not have enough money to provide the services that are required. I am suggesting that tax relief should be offered to those who have to dig into their pockets to pay €3,000 or €4,000. If the Minister has not already sought a meeting with the Minister for Finance, or if there have been no discussions between the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Finance, I suggest that should be expedited in advance of next year's budget.

Taxes are in the purview of the Minister for Finance, of course. I think there is some merit in the suggestion that people should be allowed to offset against tax any contribution they make to help to repair a public road. We are considering it as we prepare our annual submission setting out the things we would like to see included in the finance Bill. I have not yet done due diligence on it. I want to do that first. I think the idea is worthy of consideration.

We will return to Questions Nos. 1 and 2.