Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (6)

James Browne


6. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development his plans to provide additional funding for the local improvement scheme in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43046/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Rural)

What are the Minister's plans for providing additional funding to the local improvement scheme in County Wexford?

The local improvement scheme, LIS, supports improvement works on private and non-public roads which are vital to the functioning of every day life in rural Ireland. The scheme is administered by the local authorities who identify the roads to be included under the scheme each year.

Since I reintroduced the scheme in September 2017, I have allocated over €48 million to the local authorities for improvement works on these roads. To date, almost 1,700 roads have benefited from this funding.

On 7 February last, I launched the 2019 LIS and allocated a sum of €10 million to Local Authorities.  Funding allocations on a county by county basis can be found on the website.

Wexford was allocated €329,878 under LIS this year and €1.3 million in total since the re-launch of the scheme in 2017.

The LIS is clearly a very popular scheme and is greatly appreciated by the people who use the roads.  However, some local authorities have been slow to utilise the funds which I allocated to them last February.  That is wrong. I emphasise that my officials are pressing the local authorities to make full use of these funds by the end of the year. 

Given the importance of the LIS to the people who live in rural Ireland, I have secured funding for the scheme again in 2020.  A new round of LIS will be announced next year, but I want to consider first how the scheme can be operated more effectively for the benefit of the people who use those roads on a daily basis.

I raised a very specific roads issue, namely that of the local improvement scheme in my own county, Wexford. These improvement works on private and non-publicly maintained roads are very important to local communities. These roads often lead to houses or farms, but also, importantly, may also lead to lakes, rivers, beaches, castles and old graveyards and other historical and important cultural sites. These benefit historical and cultural access and access to facilities in Wexford as a tourism county and are therefore critical for improving development and infrastructure in rural Wexford. A total of 800 applications have been made for the scheme across the country but only about 30 have been funded.

In 2018 Wexford got the third lowest allocation despite being a five-seat constituency and one of the largest populations and counties. In contrast, the Minister's constituency, a four-seat constituency, received almost four times as much funding as Wexford. In 2019 the funding for Wexford has almost halved. Will there be further funding for Wexford for local improvement schemes? It is badly needed. We have the fifth worst roads in the country. While it is not applicable for public roads, the local improvement scheme would help the county.

I do not like to say this to the Deputy, but the roads in Wexford cannot be that bad. I allocated €329,878 to Wexford and the total paid out to date is nil. Wexford has not drawn down one penny from the LIS scheme this year. The Deputy cannot expect me to consider giving any more LIS money when the local authority has not drawn down one penny. I will outline some other figures in the country. I gave them the money in February because I listened to people like the Deputy - to be fair to him, he is right and I agree with him - as well as my colleagues who told me that the local authorities were getting the money too late. I allocated the money in February and to date of the €10 million, I have paid out €1,977,914. That is 19.78% which has been paid out to local authorities. There is something very wrong if that is happening. If there is such demand for the LIS, that money should be drawn down and spent by now.

Last year almost 100% of funding for Wexford was drawn down. It may be just a timing issue but there is a huge demand in the county. I am particularly interested in seeing funding allocated to cultural and historical parts of the county which might not otherwise receive funding. I thank the Minister for expanding the areas where the local improvement scheme can be used, such as roads which do not necessarily have houses on them but which provide access to castles or beaches, for example. It still requires a community to come together to apply for the funding. A prime example in Wexford is that of Tintern Abbey in New Ross near Saltmills which would greatly benefit from this. I am hopeful that an application can be put in there. It is critical for supporting rural Ireland. I have noted before how Wexford is one of only two counties outside Dublin which does not get any funding from the CLÁR programme it is still running on the basis of 2002 populations rather than more recent census figures.

This is critical for a county such as Wexford, which needs additional funding. I hope more funding will be provided.

Deputy Ó Cuív is beside Deputy Browne. Maybe I should do two things. The local contributions from owners or householders have been capped at €1,200 and I have reduced the percentage to be paid by the householder. The Deputies mentioned Mayo but there is a bigger demand in counties such as Mayo, Galway and Leitrim. It is not about the size of the county but where there is a need for the roads. These counties could do with more money but they should spend the money they have.

I am sure the Deputies will agree it is crazy that I am providing €10 million for the LIS, while local authorities are charging my Department between 10% and 13% for administration when they should match the amount. There are elected representatives on councils around the country and they can allocate some of their own resources to the LIS. My Department is the only body doing anything about the scheme. Other Departments should be participating, as well as local authorities, but instead they are taking 13% across the board from my Department. There is also a variation in prices for tar and chippings. I will review the scheme and consider other ways and means of delivering it.

There are a few other Deputies in the Chamber seeking to ask questions and I want to try to get them in before we conclude.