Commercial Rates

Questions (447)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

447. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the proposal contained in the Local Government Bill 2013 to apply a 50% rates burden on all vacant property throughout the State rather than just in urban areas such as those managed by the City Councils of Cork, Dublin and Limerick, as is currently the case, will have a devastating impact on rural business regeneration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53730/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 provides for a change to rating law in relation to the refund of rates on vacant properties. The Act, was signed by the President on 27 January 2014.

While the Local Government Bill 2013, as initially published, provided for the introduction of a harmonised regime of 50% refunds in respect of rates on vacant properties in all local authority areas, I indicated during the consideration of the Bill in the Houses of the Oireachtas that I was conscious of the need to avoid unintended consequences arising from this provision and would reflect on points raised during the Oireachtas debates. In response to this, I introduced amendments to the Bill such that the legislation as now enacted provides discretion to the elected members of individual local authorities to vary the level of rates refunds that apply in individual electoral districts within the authority’s administrative area.

The timing of the commencement of this provision is currently being considered in the context of the timetable for commencement of the Act generally.

Commercial Rates Calculations

Question No. 449 answered with Question No. 101.

Questions (448)

Finian McGrath

Question:

448. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will examine the 177% increase in commercial rates; if he will act on this matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5061/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Local authorities are under a statutory obligation to levy rates on any property used for commercial purposes in accordance with the details entered in the valuation lists prepared by the independent Commissioner of Valuation under the Valuation Act 2001. The Commissioner of Valuation has sole responsibility for all valuation matters, including the method of valuation.

The annual rate on valuation (ARV), which is applied to the valuation for each property determined by the Valuation Office to obtain the amount payable in rates, is decided by the elected members of each local authority in the annual budget and its determination is a reserved function.

I am acutely aware of the pressures on small and medium-sized businesses at the present time. Local authorities have been asked by my Department to exercise restraint or, where possible, to reduce commercial rates and local charges for 2014. Local authorities have responded well to such requests in recent years and in 2013, 87 out of the 88 rating authorities have either reduced their ARV or kept it the same as in 2012. I expect the same positive response from the sector this year and the information obtained by my Department to date in respect of 2014 suggests this trend is continuing.

The Commissioner of Valuation, who has sole responsibility for all valuation matters, is conducting a programme of revaluation of all commercial and industrial properties throughout the State on a county by county basis. In a revaluation, the entire commercial valuation list for a local authority area is brought up-to-date by reference to values at a specific valuation date and the entire list is published on one date (usually 31 December) and comes into effect for rating purposes on 1 January the following year. The more recent revaluations of commercial properties completed by the Valuation Office were in respect of the areas of Dublin City Council, Waterford County Council, Waterford City Council and Dungarvan Town Council, and these have taken effect for rating purposes from 1 January 2014.

The essential purpose of a revaluation is to redistribute the burden of rates more equitably in line with relative changes in valuations across different classes of properties or individual properties within particular classes or uses. Revaluation results in more consistent and up-to-date valuations for rating purposes and provides a more equitable distribution of valuations across those liable to pay rates. This may inevitably result in an increase in the valuation of some commercial properties and a decrease in the valuation of others.

It is not the purpose of a revaluation to increase the total amount of commercial rates collected by local authorities. Section 8 of the Local Government (Business Improvement Districts) Act 2006 provides that I, as Minister, can make an order directing a rating authority to limit the overall amount of income it could raise through rates in the year following a revaluation to the total amount of rates liable to be paid to it in the previous year, adjusted for inflation. Rate limitation orders have been made in each of the local authorities that have undergone a revaluation to date, including most recently for Dublin City Council, Waterford County Council, Waterford City Council and Dungarvan Town Council.

Question No. 449 answered with Question No. 101.

Electricity Transmission Network

Questions (450)

Clare Daly

Question:

450. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has instructed his Department to ensure that assessments are conducted into the impact of the Grid 25 project on the heritage and wildlife along the planned routes of the project. [51462/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I have no role in commenting on plans other than, under the Planning and Development Act 2000, the development plans and local area plans prepared by planning authorities. Nature conservation comes within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

If and when the proposed developments referred to in the question become the subject of a planning application or applications under the Planning and Development Act 2000, assessment of the proposed developments under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive will be carried out where required under the provisions of Part X and Part XAB of the Act, which transpose the provisions of the Directives insofar as the planning consent system is concerned.

Housing Assistance Payments Eligibility

Questions (451)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

451. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the recent announcement by the British Prime Minister to introduce changes to UK housing benefit rules for inward migrants into the UK, if he has examined the proposals; his plans to introduce changes to rules governing the payments of rent allowances and the allocation of houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4842/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The General Scheme of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions ) Bill was approved by Government on 17 December 2013, and will provide a legislative basis for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

HAP is being designed so as to bring all of the social housing services provided by the State together under the local authority system, with local authorities being responsible for all households with an established housing need and ensuring significant efficiencies in the provision of rental assistance. HAP will provide a new framework for the provision of rental assistance, and will, in as much as it can, facilitate the removal of existing barriers to employment by allowing HAP recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment. My Department and the Department of Social Protection, who have responsibility for rent supplement, continue to work closely on the legal, policy and operational issues involved in developing and introducing HAP.

While I am reviewing the existing rules in relation to the eligibility for social housing support of non-Irish citizens living, or coming to live, in Ireland in the context of the preparation of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions ) Bill, I have no proposals to make changes along the lines of those contemplated in respect of housing benefit in the United Kingdom.

Under Section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 all housing authorities are required to make an allocation scheme (in place of a scheme of letting priorities) for social housing. The making and amendment of such an allocation scheme is a reserved function of the elected members of each housing authority. The Social Housing Allocation Regulations 2011, which came into effect on 1 May 2011, set out the conditions that housing authorities must take into account when making their allocation schemes. Guidance on the making of allocation schemes has been provided both by my Department and the Housing Agency. This guidance is available on the Housing Agency’s website (www.housing.ie).

Proposed Legislation

Questions (452)

Michael McCarthy

Question:

452. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to introduce legislation and/or policy relating to height restrictions on suburban garden trees and hedges; if such a policy could be introduced by city and county councils; the discussions he and his Department have had with other Departments on this matter to find a legal remedy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5114/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Planning legislation places no specific restrictions on the height of trees, nor does it make any particular provision for remedy from any other nuisance which may be caused by trees in an urban residential area. Complaints relating to matters such as trees or shrubs overhanging a property are normally addressed, where necessary, under civil law between the parties concerned.

I have no plans to develop legislation or guidelines for local authorities in this regard at present.

Departmental Funding

Questions (453)

Michael McCarthy

Question:

453. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding an application for core funding in respect of an organisation (details supplied) which is crucial for the continuation of the substantial work already undertaken by this forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5115/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

An application for funding from Cork Environment Forum was received by my Department on 8 November 2013. This application is currently being considered, along with other funding requests, in context of the overall funding to be provided from the Environment Fund in 2014. The Cork Environmental Forum was advised by email on 22 January that the funding allocations for 2014 were not yet decided. My Department will be in further contact with the Cork Environmental Forum as soon as funding allocations have been finalised.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Provision

Question No. 455 answered with Question No. 90.

Questions (454)

David Stanton

Question:

454. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the progress regarding Carrigtwohill wastewater treatment programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5122/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Carrigtwohill Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade was included in my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2010 – 2013 as a contract to start during the period of the programme.

Cork County Council’s Report on Tenders for the Contract was received in my Department on 18 December 2013. It was not possible to deal with the Report prior to the transfer of responsibility for the delivery of Water Services Capital Infrastructure to Irish Water on 1 January 2014. Irish Water is currently preparing its Capital Investment Plan for 2014 – 2016 and this will provide for the transition of projects which were included in my Department’s 2010 - 2013 Water Services Investment Programme.

Question No. 455 answered with Question No. 90.

Irish Water Remit

Questions (456)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

456. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the policy that will apply in cases of water leaks, sewerage leaks and other sewerage problems in estates that have been taken in charge by a local authority and where infrastructure may be substandard; if in such cases liability for repair work will fall on homeowners and if so, under what circumstances; if the fix first policy will apply uniformly in these instances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5147/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 , which came into effect on 1 January 2014, provides for the transfer of responsibility for the delivery of water services from the water services authorities to Irish Water. As such, infrastructure which has been taken in charge by a planning authority is now the responsibility of Irish Water and there is no question of homeowners being liable for leakage outside the boundaries of their property. Irish Water is also responsible for the domestic metering programme. As part of this programme, my Department is currently working on proposals regarding customer-side leakage and the detailed arrangements in that regard are not yet finalised.

Water Services Provision

Question No. 458 answered with Question No. 445.

Questions (457)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

457. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will address the problem of very regular water disruptions to households and businesses in Killorglin and the greater mid-Kerry area; if a water charge waiver will be introduced in this area as long as the disruptions continue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5204/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I refer to the replies to Questions Nos. 218 of 16 January 2014 and 137 of 30 January 2014 which set out the position in relation to Killorglin.

With effect from 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for public water services. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides that Irish Water can collect charges from its customers in receipt of water services. The Act also provides that the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) will be responsible for the independent economic regulation of Irish Water.  The CER will be responsible for protecting the interests of customers and the charges levied by Irish Water will be subject to the approval of their water charges plan by the CER.  Local Authorities will continue with all of their current charging regimes on behalf of Irish Water, pending the consideration by the Commission for Energy Regulation of a proposed water charges plan developed by Irish Water. 

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 requires that Irish Water prepare codes of practice, on a range of matters, including standards in relation to the performance of its functions and billing by Irish Water of persons in respect of water services provided.  Irish Water will also be required to prepare a code of practice on any matter considered necessary by the CER.  I expect that the CER will consider issues where restrictions are in place on water supplies in fulfilling its functions.

Question No. 458 answered with Question No. 445.

Departmental Funding

Questions (459)

Ann Phelan

Question:

459. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding impending cutback to volunteer centres in Carlow, who have been informed that there will be a cut of 8% in their core funding; if he will reconsider these cutbacks, as they will have a direct effect on the services that volunteer centres offer to their local communities and will have a detrimental effect on their long term sustainability. [5207/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government continues to advance a range of measures that support volunteering and active citizenship, and my Department funds a network of twenty one Volunteer Centres, including Carlow Volunteer Centre. The centres act as ‘brokers’ between potential volunteers and organisations seeking volunteers. The centres are linked by a common database and a common best practice approach. They also work with organisations to develop their volunteer management capacity and facilitate Garda vetting for smaller organisations.

While there are encouraging signs of improvement in the economic outlook, difficult decisions continue to be necessary and allocations in most expenditure programmes remain constrained for 2014 . My primary concern has been to make every effort to ensure that the daily front-line services, including volunteer centres, provided with funding from my Department, are protected to the greatest extent possible. In this regard, I am currently considering options to minimise reduction in the volunteering support budget to all volunteer centres.

Fire Service Staff

Questions (460)

Finian McGrath

Question:

460. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if Dublin fire brigade is recruiting again in 2014; the position of persons already on the panel; if there will be any change to their situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5219/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 557 of  28 January 2014 which sets out the position in this matter.

Haulage Industry Regulation

Questions (461)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

461. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the actions that will be taken by his Department to address the concerns of the Irish Road Hauliers Association in respect of the proposed road user levy on HGV vehicles entering the North and Britain; if his attention has been drawn to the effect this will have on exports and also particularly on haulage operators in Border counties; if he has considered proposals put forward by the Irish Road Haulage Association; if he will implement same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5224/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Irish Road Hauliers Association have proposed the introduction of a road charging scheme for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), along with a change in the basis of motor taxation from unladen to gross design vehicle weight.

The proposal in relation to the road charging scheme is a matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. His Department has established an Inter-Departmental Working Group on this matter which includes representation from, inter alia, my Department.

Any change to the basis of motor taxation for commercial vehicles to gross design vehicle weight will need to take account of the lack of correlation between unladen and gross design vehicle weight and the potential impact on income to the Local Government Fund and, consequently, on the provision of local services. Any such change would also require amendments to primary legislation and technological modifications to the National Vehicle and Driver File.

Social and Affordable Housing Eligibility

Questions Nos. 463 to 465, inclusive, answered with Question No. 423.

Questions (462)

Tom Fleming

Question:

462. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will review the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, whereby separated persons who are the joint owners of properties are currently deemed ineligible for social housing support, unless they are separated under an order of a court of competent jurisdiction or by a deed of separation, as this regulation is too restrictive and makes it very difficult for certain separated persons with a housing need to access social housing supports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5232/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Regulation 22(1) of the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 provides that a household with alternative accommodation that would meet its housing need is ineligible for social housing support. Paragraph (2) of the Regulation clarifies that paragraph (1) does not operate to exclude from eligibility for social housing support an applicant who owns accommodation that is occupied by his or her spouse, from whom he or she is formally separated or divorced. Under the enactment, a deed of separation is sufficient to set aside this ineligibility ground and it is not necessary to await judicial separation or divorce to get a decision on social housing support in these cases.

This legislation operates satisfactorily in most cases. Nonetheless, in the context of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is currently in preparation, I am considering whether legislative change is warranted to deal with exceptional cases that present difficulties under the current arrangements .

Questions Nos. 463 to 465, inclusive, answered with Question No. 423.

Waste Disposal

Question No. 467 answered with Question No. 123.

Question No. 468 answered with Question No. 108.

Questions (466)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

466. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the date on which the programme for Government commitment to introduce a national waiver scheme for waste collection services will be implemented; the reason for the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5241/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government’s national waste policy, A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland, was published in July 2012. Among the measures included in the policy was the establishment of an inter-departmental working group to report to Government with options to minimise the impact of waste charges on low-income households. The working group, which comprises representatives of my Department and the Departments of Social Protection; Public Expenditure and Reform; Finance; and the Tánaiste's Office, submitted its second report to Government on 23 July 2013. Government considered the report and, given the complexity of the issues involved, the working group is to continue to examine the design and implementation of measures to address the issue with a view to submitting a third report to Government shortly.

Question No. 467 answered with Question No. 123.
Question No. 468 answered with Question No. 108.

Irish Water Staff

Questions (469)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

469. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of staff from South Tipperary County Council, Clonmel Borough Council, North Tipperary County Council and other town councils in Tipperary that have been seconded or transferred to Irish Water to date in 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5379/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services Act 2013 provided for the establishment of Irish Water as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann to be formed and registered under the Companies Act.

A fundamental underpinning of the water reform programme is to ensure that the skills and experience built up over many years in local authorities are put to best use for the long-term benefit of the customer and that there is no negative impact on service to customers during the transition. The Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 transferred statutory responsibility for water services to Irish Water and provided for local authorities to act as agents for Irish Water, with this relationship being expressed through Service Level Agreements. The majority of the existing staff remain employees of local authorities working under such arrangements from 1 January 2014. As such, no staff transferred from local authorities or from other public sector positions to Irish Water.

Any employees of Irish Water who came from the local authority sector or from the public service sector immediately prior to taking up a post with Irish Water applied for advertised posts and were recruited through a competitive process.

Irish Water is currently recruiting to build up the internal capabilities required within the organisation and the number of staff employed is an operational matter for the organisation. It was agreed by the Steering Group for the Water Sector Reform programme that, to ensure skills within the sector were fully availed of in building up the new organisation, competitions for positions in asset management, capital delivery and operations would be restricted to staff in the partner organisations i.e. Bord Gáis Éireann, local authorities and my Department in the first instance. Open competitions are held for all other positions and details of these are available on Irish Water’s website www.water.ie.