Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (9, 28)

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the likely timescale for the allocation of funding to local authorities in 2020 for local improvement schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43822/19]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

28. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development to set out the level of funding to be allocated to local authorities in 2020 for the local improvement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43821/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Rural)

As the Minister knows and Deputy Browne put it so eloquently earlier, the local improvement scheme is particularly important for many rural parishes. It is not simply for one or two houses sited along individual lanes. In many instances, it can serve up to six or more families. In my county there is a significant backlog of applications running to almost ten years. In County Monaghan there is an eight-year waiting list. I am keen to see a substantial increase in the funding provided for this important scheme in 2020. It is a highly valuable scheme which represents is a great investment in rural communities. It is important that this infrastructure be protected and receive investment in order that families can live along laneways that are drivable and to a decent standard up to their homes.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 28 together.

Since I reintroduced the local improvement scheme in September 2017, I have allocated over €48 million to local authorities for improvement works on private and non-public roads. The scheme is administered by the local authorities which identify the roads to be included in the scheme each year. I have secured €10 million in funding in budget 2020 to continue the scheme next year. However, I also want to review it to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible for the people who use the roads on a daily basis. This year I introduced a cap on the level of contribution which any individual householder or landowner is asked to make to the cost of repairs to a road. However, I am still seeing wide variations in the cost of completing these works across local authorities. I am committed to continuing my support for rural communities in 2020 under the LIS and intend to announce a new round of funding next year when I have reviewed how the scheme has operated to date. I want to ensure we get the best value for taxpayers' money which is being used to fund the scheme. The exact level of funding to be provided for each local authority will be confirmed when the scheme is announced.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As people who represent rural constituencies, the Minister and I are conscious of how important the scheme has been during the years. I am keen to see more money invested to try to reduce the substantial backlogs in many counties.

The funding allocated to my county in recent years has been drawn down. Knowing many of the lanes involved and families who have been the beneficiaries, the work was carried out to a very high standard. I am glad that the Minister has introduced a cap on the local contribution because, in many instances, it was prohibitive, particularly for older people who are surviving on a pension and who would not have money available to contribute. It is important that the scheme not be put beyond people's reach because of income pressures. In many instances, members of families, often sons or daughters, may want to set up home on a site given to them by their parents. One of the factors taken into consideration when deciding whether to build in a particular location is the quality of the roadway to the proposed home and the quality of the road network more generally. In many parishes, thankfully, there is good quality community infrastructure like football and hurling clubs, soccer clubs and community centres, with, by and large, a great network of primary schools. We want to try to ensure people who wish to remain living in rural parishes will not be denied that opportunity.

To be fair, County Cavan was allocated €269,254, but, to date, not one penny has been drawn down from my Department. It is sad that it has to telephone local authorities to ask them to draw down money. County Monaghan was also allocated a substantial sum of approximately €250,000, but, to date, not one penny has been drawn down. I was delighted to be able to reintroduce the LIS. There had been no scheme in place for a number of years as it had been closed down. My Department has played a major role in that regard. A total of €48 million has been allocated for the scheme since it was reopened two years ago. However, I am not getting any support from anybody else. The time has come for other Departments to consider contributing some funds to the LIS. One issue that really annoys me about the scheme which is under review is that local authorities are charging between 10% and 13% in administration costs for delivering the scheme when they should be matching the funding I am providing.

Can some of the money be redirected to counties Carlow and Kilkenny?

I assure the Minister that in respect of both County Cavan and County Monaghan the entire allocations will be drawn down before the end of the year. The local authorities in both counties would be very glad to spend an even greater allocation next year. If the Minister were to double or even treble the funding provided, I assure him that it would be spent very well in both counties. In the past the Minister's Department, through the CLÁR programme, used to provide a top-up which was funded directly by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. In 2012 the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, now Taoiseach, abolished the scheme, but I would love to see it brought back as a mainstream programme in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, with the Department of Rural and Community Development supporting it in the most isolated areas with a top-up payment. That is the route we should take to ensure isolated communities will have the investment and support they need in order that we can keep as many people as possible in rural Ireland.

I support what my colleague said about the need to reallocate the scheme to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and have a top-up payment made by the Department of Rural and Community Development. It is worrying to hear that certain local authorities are not availing of the scheme and not drawing down the allocated funding when county councils such as those in counties Longford and Westmeath have schemes that are oversubscribed every year. Is there an opportunity for the councils that are proactive and deliver in the early part of the year and have schemes that are oversubscribed to avail of moneys allocated to other councils that have not been used by the end of the year? The last thing we want to see happen is money not being used and going back to the Department.

In response to Deputy Troy, Longford County Council has not drawn down any of the funding allocated to it this year, although Westmeath County Council is a credit, having drawn down 100% of its allocation. As Deputy Brendan Smith said, my Department reintroduced the LIS. However, I have been saying since its reintroduction that I need support from local authorities and other Departments. The Deputy is correct in saying I should only be topping up the money available under the LIS. Local authorities should be providing some funding. They have revenue and the elected councillors, regardless of who they are, can make decisions on budgets. They could use some of their own discretionary moneys and some of the funds generated in rates and so on and put them into the LIS. I will continue with the scheme for next year-----

In fairness, the counties that most need the LIS are also the ones with a smaller rates base, unfortunately.

Yes, but at the same time, local authorities have access to lots of money. They are always able to find it when they want to find it and want to become involved in particular schemes. I have respect for the local authorities, but I do not like the fact that they charge my Department for administering the scheme. The revenue raised from charge should be put into the scheme.