Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Questions (40)

Peter Burke


40. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of allocations made to each county in 2018 under the town and village renewal scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51677/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I want to ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of allocations made to each county in 2018 under the town and village renewal scheme and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The town and village renewal scheme is a key part of the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development. The plan contains more than 270 actions for delivery by Departments, State agencies and other organisations to help rural Ireland achieve its full economic and social potential.

The Government launched the town and village renewal scheme in 2016, with funding of €10 million to start the process of rejuvenating Ireland's rural towns and villages to make them more attractive places in which to live and work, and to increase their tourism potential. The scheme is part of a package of national and local support measures to revitalise rural towns and villages throughout Ireland.

The 2018 town and village renewal scheme was launched on 27 April last. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the local authorities. On 5 October, I announced funding of €21.3 million for 224 projects under the 2018 town and village renewal scheme.

Since the launch of the scheme in 2016, a total of €53 million has been allocated to more than 670 projects throughout Ireland. The projects cover a range of activities, from improving the public realm to making towns and villages more attractive for locals and visitors alike, and to job creation initiatives such as the development of enterprise hubs and digital hubs.

The full list of successful projects under the 2018 town and village renewal scheme, and earlier rounds, are available on my Department's website.

I acknowledge the Minister's work in terms of the various schemes targeted on rural areas. I note that in my constituency County Westmeath received in excess of €500,000 for the town and village enhancement schemes. Towns such as Multyfarnham, Castlepollard and Castletown Geoghegan benefitted from the funding for key infrastructural improvements. The Minister got a 27% increase in his budget for 2019, which was the biggest increase of any Department. That makes an important statement for rural areas that he was able to deliver that for his Department.

Numerous schemes are funded by the Department. A total of €1 billion is available for the rural infrastructure scheme in the next ten years. Mullingar has been a significant beneficiary of the urban regeneration scheme for category B projects. The scheme is worth €2 billion nationally over the next ten years. A number of the schemes are targeted on rural areas and they are a significant asset in terms of changing the discourse and showing there is a lot to talk about in rural areas.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. The town and village renewal scheme is probably one of the better schemes the Department administers. It is amazing what communities, towns and villages can do when they get a lift through a small allocation of funding. I was in Wicklow recently to visit a public realm project we had funded in the centre of the town. On foot of that, the HSE decided it would put in place a health centre and the council decided it would put in a library. All those projects gave the town a major lift. I see that happening all over the country where towns get a modest amount of money, local authorities match the funding and communities themselves support projects which give a lift to the area and the local people. It is good for the towns and for the community spirit. I visit a lot of towns and villages around the country and I see vibrant communities with a lot of people working on their behalf on a variety of initiatives.

Sometimes I hear negativity about rural areas and I wonder if the people making the comments see what is happening in some of the towns and villages and the employment that is being created. I see a bright future for rural areas. People have made a living out of knocking rural Ireland but I believe that the glass is half full and that many things are happening. Towns and villages around the country are improving.

I would be grateful if the Minister could outline his targets for the town and village renewal scheme in 2019. I acknowledge the great work that is being done. The Minister pointed out what is happening in rural areas. Over the next 20 years the population will increase by 1 million and 50% of the growth will be outside the five main cities in the country. Accordingly, there will be a significant need for infrastructural improvements in towns and villages and the Minister, Deputy Ring, is providing that. The facts speak for themselves. The population is growing in rural areas. Towns with a population of 1,500 have grown by 250,000 in the past 20 years. There are improvements in rural areas. Small schemes, such as the tidy towns schemes and agricultural shows, to major schemes, such as the urban and rural regeneration schemes, are key schemes that provide employment and infrastructure and make rural areas a positive place to live. Significant quality of life assurance is available in rural areas. It is great that the Minister got such an improvement in his budget this year and that he is providing key schemes to make a difference to people's lives.

One of the worries people had about the €1 billion being allocated over ten years is that the existing departmental schemes would not continue. I assure Deputy Burke that the town and village renewal scheme, the CLÁR programme, the outdoor recreation scheme and all the other schemes will continue next year. I have funding in the Department's budget for all of them. Deputy Burke is correct that the schemes for urban and rural regeneration and all the other schemes and initiatives under the national planning framework up to 2040 will benefit rural areas and urban areas as well.

I like to use the example of Drumshanbo, which Deputy Martin Kenny will be familiar with. He saw what a small amount of funding for outdoor recreation did for the town. We put further funding into Leitrim village and Carrick-on-Shannon. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people used the walking facilities in Drumshanbo last year. The food hub and many other businesses developed on foot of that with many jobs being created. What I like about the town and village renewal scheme is that one can improve the public realm and provide a digital hub or a food hub or other type of development that will create employment.