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Roads Maintenance

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 27 June 2013

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions (6, 27, 46, 51, 55, 67)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

6. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the position regarding local and regional road maintenance efforts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31041/13]

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Regina Doherty

Question:

27. Deputy Regina Doherty asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that have been taken to protect the regional and road network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30938/13]

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Jerry Buttimer

Question:

46. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that he has undertaken to protect the regional and urban road networks and specifically the measures taken to protect, maintain and repair the road networks in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31026/13]

View answer

Jim Daly

Question:

51. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps taken to date to increase the flexibility and funding allocated to the repair and maintenance of rural and regional roads; and if he will clarify the feedback if any that has been received from the local authorities to these measures. [31080/13]

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Martin Heydon

Question:

55. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that have been taken to protect the regional and road network. [31039/13]

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Ray Butler

Question:

67. Deputy Ray Butler asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that he has taken to protect the regional and road network, with particular emphasis on the road network in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31083/13]

View answer

Oral answers (22 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 6, 27, 46, 51, 55 and 67 together.

This question is about the maintenance of regional and local roads. The Deputy will appreciate that this is a statutory function of each road authority to be funded from its own resources which are supplemented by State road grants. 

I announced the 2013 regional and local road grant allocations to local authorities last January, totalling €347 million.  I also provided an additional €2.7 million for drainage works in March this year. More recently, on 12 June,  I announced an additional €50 million bringing the overall amount available in 2013 to about €400 million.

My Department and local authorities are working closely to develop more efficient ways of delivering the best outputs possible with the funding available to them.  In this regard, county councils were provided with additional flexibility this year enabling them to transfer funding from their restoration improvement grant to their discretionary grant. In order to focus resources at maintaining existing investment in our road network, from 2014 onward, funding for major improvement works on regional and local roads is being discontinued and with expenditure being directed to the maintenance and repair of roads.

It is also important to reiterate that the role of Exchequer grants for regional and local roads is to supplement local authorities in their spending in this area.  Local authority own resources contributions have been reduced from a high of €405 million in 2008 to €151 million in 2013. In 2008, this represented 40% of all such roads expenditure. In 2013, the contribution of local authorities was 27%. It is therefore vital that local authorities prioritise funding from their own resources to put into works on regional and local roads.

I thank the Minister for his response. I welcome the recent allocation of €1.9 million to Kerry County Council for additional improvements and repair works this year. It is one of our major concerns. We all understand the constraints on the overall budget. However, safety is a problem if roads are not maintained and repaired in a timely manner. Any efforts that can be made to allocate further moneys to the local authorities would be very welcome. I understand the Minister will be coming to Kerry very shortly on his bicycle and he will get to see some of the roads around the Ring of Kerry and some of the improvements carried out as a result of funding from central government.

That was from Jackie Healy-Rae's time and John O' Donoghue's time.

They call it Griffin money these days.

The Deputy will have no salary left. He will be coming up to the Dáil on his bike.

That is where the other half goes.

One of the largest infrastructural projects in the country is being carried out in Kerry, the completion of the Tralee bypass, with more than €12 million being expended on the bypass this year which will be opened shortly. This funding is very much appreciated by the people of Kerry because it will make a significant difference to the county.

I thank Deputy Griffin for his comments and I look forward to the Killarney cycle. Hopefully the weather will be good and I will be able to raise lots of money for Kerry Mountain Rescue which is the reason I am doing it.

I hope the Minister does not go on those cycles too often.

The issue of safety is very important. The vast majority of road collisions are caused by driver behaviour and only a small proportion - well less than 15% - are caused either by vehicle defects or road conditions. However, road conditions are, none the less, important. One of the factors worked into the additional money allocated to councils in recent weeks is if the local authorities implement safety schemes which they regard as particularly important and more essential than surface dressing or road restoration, the Department will look sympathetically at any such proposals to spend that money on safety works.

I thank the Minister for his response. I acknowledge his great efforts to secure funding for very important projects for regional and local roads at a time of difficult economic circumstances. I have a question about the pilot CIS scheme whereby counties receive money. I welcome the two projects in south Kildare which received a combined figure of approximately €40,000. I ask why there seems to be such a discrepancy between the allocations to different counties. For example, Kildare County Council received funding for two projects but some counties received around €1 million. How was the CIS scheme promoted to the local authorities by the Department? This is a pilot scheme and I would be disappointed if more applications were not received from the county.

As Deputy Heydon said it is a pilot scheme and we need to see how it works out and what we will do next year. I do not have particular information about Kildare with regard to the discrepancies. However, discrepancies usually relate to the number of applications. Approximately 400 applications were received and some 300 were funded. By and large, all the valid applications were funded. Some counties submitted a lot of applications while other counties did not submit very many. Some counties put an advertisement in the local newspaper while others did not. However, they were all informed about the scheme in the same way. I will furnish the Deputy with the figures as to the number of applications by local authorities and whether particular issues arose in Kildare.

I reiterate the thanks to the Minister for the additional funding of €2.1 million supplied to Meath County Council. The Minister is well aware of the situation in north Meath and the state of the roads. Meath County Council was underfunded for years and we are now playing catch-up so any additional funding is appreciated.

I ask for clarification with regard to the CIS scheme. Of the community contribution, 20% is monetary only whereas 30%, 40% or 50% can come in some other form of contribution. I ask the Minister to clarify if this could be changed from what was originally applied in the original application for Meath. The county received €2.1 million funding which is a substantial amount. I ask if it would be possible for these contributions to be changed.

Like Deputy Heydon I welcome the increased funding for Kildare County Council. I have a query about moneys from the pension fund which were put into a strategic infrastructure fund. Would the Minister be kindly disposed towards funding projects with a positive economic benefit for communities? I refer specifically to the Sallins bypass which will be linked into the Osberstown interchange which is associated with the Kerry Group facility which has moved into the Naas area.

In reply to Deputy McEntee, the short answer is "Yes", we are open to that. It is a pilot scheme and we want to see how it works. If Meath has specific proposals in that regard we would be well disposed to facilitating them. In reply to Deputy Lawlor, unfortunately the short answer is most likely "No". The strategic investment fund is still a fund so the money has to be repaid. It will work very well where something is built that produces a cash return, for example, electricity pylons or electricity wires. People pay for electricity and some of the money then goes back to the pension fund or the strategic investment fund. That really only works in the case of roads built by public private partnerships and the cash return, the availability payments or the tolls and only for very big projects of over €100 million. Therefore, smaller projects of that scale cannot be done as PPPs or else the transaction costs of doing so are so large that it is uneconomic. When it comes to strategic investment fund money, it will have to be PPPs and projects over €100 million. Having said that, I am doing my best to make the case in the next budget for some boost in capital spending. I think the most effective way to reduce welfare spending and increase the tax take is to get more people back to work because those people back at work will be paying taxes and will not be drawing welfare.

My Department has the ability to deliver jobs by increasing my budget if that can be done.

The extra €50 million the Minister found was to go into the maintenance of local and regional roads. The Minister hinted that he might address potholes and ramps with that money. Is that part of what he is planning? I met recently with north Meath residents against potholes. They claim that the most potholes of any part of the country are in north Meath. The Minister said we will concentrate everything into the local and regional, but capital projects are on hold. The north west is crying out for a capital project and a joined-up approach to the road network. It is a significant worry. I worry that local authority funding is falling all the time. Originally, it was 40% but has now gone down to 27%. We cannot let it go down any further as disastrous maintenance issues will arise.

I welcome the additional funding for County Carlow, which is very beneficial. Despite the fact of cutbacks in allocations, value for money is being obtained. The CIS pilot scheme has been very beneficial. Carlow was one of the first counties in which the scheme was launched. The Minister reinvented the LIS scheme which was done away under Deputy Dooley's Government not that long ago. As there is no actual budget for the scheme, will the Minister consider implementing a pilot scheme? There are a number of rural areas in which people who have built houses on certain laneways are seeking funding. If there was a pilot scheme, it could be very beneficial.

I have raised the following with the Minister before but do not want to get into a row about it this evening. Question Time is being abused by the approach the Government parties are taking. The House would be better served if the Minister made statements on decisions he has taken. The way questions have been phrased - there appears to be a level of uniformity across the board - allows Deputies to come to the House to clap the Minister on the back on decisions he has already taken. My understanding of Question Time is that its purpose is to elicit information which is not already in the public domain. I ask the Minister to retain Question Time for new information as opposed to follow-up statements on policy decisions which have already been made. I am not seeking in any way to silence anybody. Of course, everybody must have the opportunity to intervene.

We want to find out information too.

While it is appropriate that everyone has an opportunity to ask questions, it frustrates the process by which Members can hold the Government to account and raise issues. In fairness to the Minister, he is always truthful and does not evade questions, but I would like more time from an Opposition perspective.

It never happened before. The Deputy was never allowed to ask a question.

In a bygone era, the party of which I am a member was accused in government of a lot, but when it came to affording time to the Opposition to question Ministers, there was no filibustering. We held parliamentary party meetings to elicit information from Ministers and left Question Time, in the main, to the Opposition.

I do not accept that view. Every Member is elected and has an equal mandate and right to ask questions. The questions which have been asked by Government Deputies have been valid ones. They have not merely been valedictions of my performance as Minister. The Opposition has Priority Questions and no one is allowed to take a second off it. Other questions are for all Deputies.

Deputy Deering asked about LIS, which is still in place. It is up to local authorities to decide if they wish to use it or not. They must take up to 7% of their discretionary grants to do so. I am open to increasing the 7% to a higher figure next year. I will not, however, provide a dedicated budget for LIS as some local authorities do not want to use it. They wish to prioritise public roads over laneways and private roads. It is up to local authorities to make the decision and not for me to impose uniformity across the State.

To reply to Deputy Ellis, the €50 million was not found. It comes from the proceeds of privatisation and the sale of State assets and licences. As the Deputy will be aware, one of the points in the five point plan proposed in the context of the last election was on the disposal of State assets to invest in infrastructure and jobs. That is exactly what is being done. The €50 million is earmarked for local and regional road maintenance and restoration. One or two local authorities have expressed an interest in putting some of the money into safety schemes and ramps instead. If they want to do that, we are happy to facilitate them.

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