Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Questions (34)

Martin Kenny

Question:

34. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his views on whether the allocation of €100,000 to six towns as part of the scheme to encourage families to return to live there will be adequate to achieve that purpose; the way in which he plans to achieve what is intended with that amount; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51990/18]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Rural)

The Minister has introduced a scheme to encourage families to return to live in towns and villages. He has allocated €100,000 to six different towns. While I understand what he is trying to do, the scale is tiny. Boyle in County Roscommon contains dozens of old buildings that are falling down. One could spend €100,000 on just one of these buildings. I cannot envisage anybody in London or Birmingham being encouraged to move back because €100,000 is coming to their home town. It is ridiculous. Somebody needs to get a grip on the scale of the problem because this will not solve it.

The rejuvenation of our towns and villages is a priority for the Government and is a strong feature of the national planning framework, NPF, and the Action Plan for Rural Development.

As part of the Government's efforts to rejuvenate towns, I launched a pilot initiative on 11 October 2018 to examine how best to encourage people to take up residence in towns. The town centre living initiative is being piloted in six towns of different sizes around the country.

The reasons people do not choose to live in town centres, even if premises are available, are complex. These may relate to the availability of services, recreational facilities, access to public transport etc.

Each of the towns in the pilot will receive funding of up to €100,000 to engage with their communities, chambers of commerce and local businesses to identify practical solutions that can be delivered to achieve the objective of increasing the number of people living in the town. Every town’s situation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the ideas emerging from this pilot may serve as a model for other towns with similar features.

It is envisaged that the solutions identified through the six pilot towns will lead to the development of more proposals for funding from the rural regeneration and development fund.

The rural regeneration and development fund will provide €1 billion up to 2027 to support the revitalisation of rural settlements with a population of less than 10,000 people, and their outlying areas. The fund aims to support ambitious projects of scale that are multifaceted and which will make a significant impact on the economic and social development of our towns.

I announced the first round of projects to be supported under the fund on 23 November and further announcements will be made in the new year.

This is basically money to pay for a study in six different towns. I presume the study will involve employing a consultant to do a report. That seems to be where we are going here. The Minister should talk to Irish Rural Link, the credit union movement or the chambers of commerce in any of those towns. He would not need to spend €100,000 for an analysis of the problems and where the money needs to be spent to regenerate those towns and get people to come back to live in them.

It is a waste of resources compared with the problem we have. With €100,000 allocated, people in those towns think that it is coming to deliver something in that area and not to produce another study. We have probably had dozens of studies on rural Ireland and they are all sitting on shelves gathering dust. Action is needed. The Minister will say before having action we need a plan as to where that action will be and all that. All those plans have been done before. I am frustrated €600,000 will be spent buttering up more consultants. If that is what it is about, it is time the Minister gave this a bit of a shake-up.

The Deputy is missing the point. The point is a number of schemes involving grant aid existed. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government had two schemes, but there was no uptake and, therefore, there was a problem.

We picked six towns for the pilot. The €100,000 is not to do up any premises. The €100,000 is to sit down with the local people, chambers of commerce and other groups. These six towns might come back with six solutions for their towns. They may all be the same or different towns might come up with different solutions.

The Deputy and other Members continually refer to the diktat coming from Government. I am now saying the Government is going to the people and the groups. They are going to sit down. We have given them funding. They will get professional people and work with the community. They will talk to everybody and they will come back to me next year with proposals. When these proposals come back, I can then consider what funding we can take from the rural regeneration and development fund, what funding we are spending in the towns and villages and what funding we are spending on outdoor recreation to see what we can do to help these towns. They may be different solutions; they are different problems. The existing schemes have not worked and this is a new way of doing it.

We knew the schemes were not working. We should not throw more good money after bad because the schemes have not worked. One of the examples is the repair and leasing scheme where a person could get €40,000 from the local authority to do up a property which would then be leased to the local authority for ten years. It did not work. It is not necessary to be a genius to know why it did not work. First, there was not enough money. If it was going to cost €150,000 to do up a property, nobody would be willing to accept €40,000 and then lose control of it for ten years. It was a poorly thought out scheme. It might have been fair enough if it only needed a bit of painting or decorating. However, for that amount, it was never going to work. It is not necessary to have someone do an assessment as to why it did not work.

We need money put into the schemes that require money. We need proper grant schemes to allow people to do up those old buildings and make them available for rent without restrictive conditions. Much of the time it is not the people on the local authority housing lists who want to rent houses in towns, but the people who are working and cannot get on the local authority housing lists. The problem is with the people trapped in the middle. Many people are not on the local authority housing lists because they earn slightly above the limit, but, at the same time, they cannot afford to rent. It is the Minister's responsibility to make available places they can rent.

That is the whole point. The Deputy gave me the answer in his question.

Why does the Minister need to spend €100,000 asking other people?

The answer is very simple. We are giving these towns funding to allow them to plan their futures. It will not be the local authority or the Department of Rural and Community Development, but the towns. I believe Boyle is in the area the Deputy represents. The people in Boyle are very happy. They welcome the €100,000 pilot scheme because for the first time they will be able to plan their futures. They will be able to identify what Boyle needs and not what the Government thinks Boyle needs. The same applies to Callan, Ballinrobe, Banagher, Castleblayney and Cappoquin. We picked these towns. If they come back to us with proposals and solutions, we will look at them. We will look at all the existing schemes we have. In the case of Boyle, the funding will tie in to the overall plan the people have for that town. They are delighted they were included in the pilot scheme. They are happy that they can plan for the future.