Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (38, 97)

Aindrias Moynihan


38. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the review of the demonstration scheme for group sewerage schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9692/18]

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Aindrias Moynihan


97. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to increase group sewerage schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9691/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Right around the country there are numerous smaller housing developments with proprietary treatment plants serving up to 20 houses in some cases. If the treatment plant is not working it is left to the residents to deal with it. There is no developer, the council has no budget, and Irish Water is not involved. Is there some way the grant for group water schemes could be made available to support householders in such circumstances? The very restrictive three-year group scheme is coming into its third year and it is due for review with a view to putting in place a new scheme. Could it be done in such a way as to give meaningful support to communities who need to upgrade their defective treatment plants?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 97 together.

The multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2016-2018 was developed through a working group of key stakeholders involving local authorities, the water services transition office, Irish Water and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, as well as the Department. The programme provides for the funding of demonstration group sewerage schemes, through measure 4(d), where clustering of households on individual septic tanks is not a viable option, particularly from an environmental perspective.

Local authorities were invited in January 2016 to submit bids under the programme. The invitation envisaged no more than two demonstration group sewerage projects being brought forward under the measure in any one year of the three-year programme. The demonstrations will allow the Department, over the course of the programme, to determine the appropriate enduring funding levels and relationship with the current grant scheme.

As new demonstration group sewerage schemes have been identified for the duration of the programme, and as only two demonstration projects can be advanced in any given year, it is not proposed to modify the programme at this point. However, the Department will give consideration to the scope of the measure under the programme from 2019 onwards having regard to the implementation of the existing programme.

The Department will also be giving wider consideration to the report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services as it relates to the rural water sector. In that regard, the Department will shortly initiate a short, focused review of the wider investment needs relating to rural water services, including the overall approach to funding rural water issues. The review will focus on governance, supervision and monitoring of the sector and the capital investment requirements. It is anticipated that the review group will engage with relevant stakeholders and will aim to complete its work by mid 2018. The process will inform preparations for a new multi-annual programme for the period 2019 to 2021.

I raised this matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, last May. At that point we were told the scheme was being reviewed. He said the Department was analysing options on costings and that the work was ongoing. Is the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, telling me now that the review has not started? Could he outline what is the situation with the review? I would have expected that as we are coming into the last year of the scheme that the review would be up and running so that the new scheme would be ready to hit the ground in 2019.

A small number of schemes were in place in recent years. Will councils now have to reapply for the new programme as only six schemes out of 83 were in place for the past three years? Will increased funding be available for schemes so that the grant would be meaningful for smaller housing developments that want to upgrade the plant at the end of their estates which are causing pollution and where there are blockages, hassle and disruption for householders? Such people are on their own as they do not receive support from a local authority or Irish Water. If there was a meaningful grant they could take it into their own hands to repair the damage themselves.

The review will be completed by the middle of this year. I think there were 83 applications - it was somewhere in the low 80s - from groups for the original scheme but only six were chosen. The scheme was for demonstrative purposes. There are quite a few schemes. Deputy Moynihan previously raised with me a scheme in his area which has encountered difficulties and where funding is required. The purpose of the six pilot schemes that were chosen was to try to develop a future framework for resolving the problems that exist right across the country. A total of €95 million has been identified for investment in the rural water programme over the period 2018 to 2021, which is a significant increase on what was available heretofore. The intention is to ensure that more than the six schemes that are part of the current process will be involved in the next three-year period.

Six schemes over three years is indicative of very slow progress and greater urgency is required. The Minister of State is aware that in excess of 80 schemes made applications on the previous occasion so clearly there is demand. Will they now have to reapply? Will there be an opportunity for further schemes and local authorities to make applications? Will communities in an area where a sewerage treatment plant is not working have an opportunity to have a public consultation or to have their views heard in the review that is being conducted or will it be purely a desktop exercise by the Department? Those are the people who are stuck with a sewerage treatment plant at the end of their estate that is not working and they recognise the urgency of addressing the issue. They will clearly tell the Department what is needed and inject a shot of urgency into the issue because given the recent pace of progress with six schemes over three years there needs to be greater priority given to the issue to allow householders to take the matter in hand. They are on their own and do not have the support of the county council or Irish Water. They have a problem and they are keen to do the right thing and improve their community and environment. The Minister of State should be helping them not slowing them down.

I accept what the Deputy is saying. We do not intend to slow people down. The purpose of the six scheme demonstration model that has existed in recent years was to try to come to terms with the level of difficulty and complexity that exists. Each scheme that has a problem is orphaned, as such. That is the term that is often used when a scheme does not already have the involvement of Irish Water or a local authority. Each one has unique circumstances. The purpose of the demonstration model was to see how we could provide a framework to deal with many other such schemes in the future. The significant increase in funding will ensure that more can be dealt with. I reassure Deputy Moynihan that when the initial demonstration process was set up an independent panel made the recommendations on the six schemes that were chosen out of the 83 bids from 17 different local authorities. The background makes for interesting reading in that some local authorities have made many applications while a sizeable number made no application whatsoever.

It is the first league table of local authority applications that County Leitrim has topped. Perhaps that relates to groundwater issues and other soakage and drainage problems in the area. There were 14 applications from County Leitrim and 12 from County Donegal which was in second place. The rest of the local authorities that applied had a very small number of applications. A total of 83 were received. Fifteen local authorities did not apply.

Question No. 39 replied to with Written Answers