Go ndeonófar suim fhorlíontach nach mó ná £10 chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch sa 31ú láde Mhárta, 1970, le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Oifig an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, lena n-áirítear deontais d'Udaráis Áitiúla, deontais agus costais eile i ndáil le Tithíocht, agus scéileanna agus deontais ilghnéitheacha lena n-áirítear deaontas-i-gcabhair.
Sé an chéad rud ba mhaith liom a rá nánach bhfuil dabht ar bith ann ach go raibh dul chun cinn sásúil gnó na Roinne sa bhliain a chríochnuigh ar an 31ú Márta, 1969. Bhí an dul ar aghaidh sin go suntasach ó thaobh na tithíochta, ach is fíor a rá nach raibh aon ghné den rialtas áitúil nár thárla borradh agus fás faoi i gcaitheamh na bliana. Is cúis sásaimh dom gur lean an ghluaiseacht sin i rith na bliana airgeadais atá anois linn.
Is féidir linn caiteachas na Roinne a ghlacadh mar shlat tomhais. Feicimíd go bhfuil méadú glan de £766,140 i meastachán bhunaigh na Roinne don bhliain reathach i gcomparáid leis an tsoláthar a dheineadh don bhliain a chríochnuigh ar an 31ú Márta, 1969. B'é ba phríomh chúis leis an mhéadú sin ná £300,000 de deontais breise a h-íocfar le húdaráis áitiúla i rith na bliana as ucht na n-iasachtaí a fuair siad chun tithíocht a chur ar fáil. In a theannta sin freisin, díolfar £90,000 mar chabhair bhreise dóibh ar na muirir ar iasachtaí a ghlach siad le haghaidh scéimeanna uisce agus séarachais. Léiríonn na breisithe sin an chaoi in a bhfuil na h-údaráis áitiúla ag dul chun cinn leis na feidhmeanna tábhachtacha sin a chuireann go mór le leas an phobail. Cuideóidh breisithe eile go h-áirithe le caighdeán bheatha muintir na tuaithe a fheabhsú. Mar shompla, caithfear £35,000 breise mar deontais i gcóir scéimeanna uisce agus séarachais a chur ar fáil i dtuathliomatáistí.
Is rí-thábhachtach é inniu páirt na n-údarás áitiúil i saol eachanamaíochta na tíre. Ortha atá de dhualgas formhór na seirbhísí poiblí a sholáthar agus a choimeád in ord riachtanach d'fhorbairt tionscail agus trádála, is go mórmhór le forbairt na cuartaíochta. Tá na dualgaisí sin ag dul i méid agus in aimhréiteacht de shíor de réir riachtanaisí an phobail. Go háirithe anois, toisc na cúraimí a leagadh ortha faoin Acht Pleanáil agus Forbairt, tá gach údarás áitiúil pleanála mar chomhlacht forbartha in a limistéir féin agus tá baint fíor-dhlúth acu araoin le saol geilleagrach an náisiúin. Is ceart go dtuigfeadh 'chuile dhuine tábhacht an dualgais sin.
Cuireann an tAcht sin ar a gcumas forbairt a spreagadh sa tslí go dtagadh rath agus feabhas ar a gcuid limistéir ó thaobh na h-eacnamaíochta dhe, chomh maith le cúrsaí leasa sóisialta. Ní amháin go raghaidh sé sin chun leasa do na ceantair áitiúla amháin, ach go raghaidh an obair chun tairbhe don náisiún ar fad. Cé go bhfuil fadhbanna ag baint leis an scéal, tá toradh fónta le fáil ar obair na pleanála sin agus tá súil agam go leanfaidh na h-údaráis aítiúla leis an ghnó go dtí go mbeidh an obair curtha i gcrích acu.
Toisc na dualgaisí nua atá idir lámha ag na h-údaráis áitiúla faoin Acht, tá athrú gné agus treo tagaithe i gcóras bhunúsach riaracháin áitiúil na tíre. De bharr na h-athraithe sin caithfear an cheist seo a fhreagairt—an cheart an córas a leasú agus é a chur in airiúint don saol nua, ionnas go mbeidh ar chumas na n-údarás áitiúil a nua-dhualgaisí a chomhlíonadh go h-éifeachtach? Tá réamhfhiosrú ar an cheist seo déanta agam agus nuair a bheidh an scéal scrúdaithe ag an Rialtas foillseofar Páipéar Bán.
Agus, maidir le ceist na pleanála fós, rinne mé tagairt anuraidh do na staidéir phleanála a bhí curtha ar bhun do na limistéir Ghaeltachta faoi scáth An Foras Forbartha. Ceapadh comhairleoir pleanála chun stáidéar pleanála a ullmhú do Ghaeltacht Chonamara agus tá an t-Ionad Taighde in Eolaíocht Shóisialta in Ollscoil na Gaillimhe ag cabhrú leis ins an staidéar sin. Tá suirbhé eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta curtha ar fáil ag an Aonad don chomhairleoir agus tá súil le moltaí an chomhairleora go luath. D'ullmhaigh foireann An Foras Forbartha féin na staidéir ar na Gaeltachtaí eile agus beidh an tuarascáil ullaimh i gcionn tamaillín.
Ná samhlódh aoinne gur ceist teibhí é an fhadhb seo conus is fearr na limistéir Ghaeltachta a chaomhnú. Táim féin sásta gur féidir saothar fiúntach a dhéanamh faoin Acht Phleanála chun an cheist a réiteach. Ar an ábhar sin, ghríosaigh mé na h-údaráis áitiúla lena mbaineann an scéal aird speisialta a thabhairt in a gcuid clár pleanála agus forbartha do chothú leis na limistéar Gaeltachta. Mheabhraigh mé doibh gurb é atá ag teastáil ná forbairt oiriúnach a spreagadh ins na ceantair sin agus an bóthar a réiteach dó chomh fada agus is féidir é. Beidh mé ag súil le céim ar aghaidh amhlaidh i rith na bliana seo.
Labharfaidh mé ar ball ar síneacha eolais ar bóithre. Ba mhaith liom a lua go bhfuil sé socruithe gur trí Ghaeilge amháin a bheidh ainmneacha áiteanna sa Ghaeltacht ar na síneacha sin sa Ghaeltacht. Tá sé beartaithe na síneacha atá sa Ghaeltacht fé láthair d'athrú dá réir sin.
Anois, bhéarfaidh mé mioneolas don Teach i dtaobh na seirbhísí go bhfuilim-se freagarthach astu.
In presenting this Vote to the Dáil I propose briefly to take stock of what has been happening under the aegis of my Department and to tell the House of my aims and objectives for the future. As a major part of the expenditure administered by my Department relates to Housing I will deal first with that branch of activity.
The White Paper on Housing, which was issued in 1964, estimated, on the basis of the information then available, that the annual output of new houses would have to be raised from 7,831 in the preceding financial year to approximately 13,000 by 1970 in order to deal with dwellings then unfit and overcrowded and with the obsolescence of old dwellings and to allow for population growth. That target, which seemed ambitious at the time, has been reached ahead of schedule. In the year ended 31st March last 13,033 new dwellings were completed, bringing the total number built in the last nine financial years to more than 84,000, in addition to a further 135,000 grants approximately, paid for the reconstruction and improvement of existing houses.
This impressive constructional effort involved the expenditure of £360 million in capital and in housing subsidies. Of this the Government and local authorities provided from the Capital Budget and general taxation a sum of £235 million.
Progress is being maintained in the current financial year, when it is estimated that about £72 million will be spent on building, reconstructing and subsidising houses, compared with £64 million, approximately, in 1968-69. The most heartening feature is that it has been possible to sustain a raising trend of output with one minor interruption, since 1961-62.
Of the £72 million, approximately, which is being spent on housing this year, about £33 million is being provided by the Government through the Capital Budget. A further sum, totalling more than £13 million, comes from central taxation and rates. The balance is provided by building societies, assurance companies, private savings and other sources.
I want to emphasise in this context a point I have stressed on a number of occasions that housing cannot be divorced from economic realities. The economy must be able to sustain the necessary expenditure on housing. This it cannot do unless adequate amounts are made available to encourage the expansion of industrial and agricultural production. The rapid growth in our economy has enabled the contribution from taxation and from the Capital Budget towards housing to be trebled in the last ten years to the present record figures.
Price increases have, of course, absorbed part of the increased expenditure. Nevertheless, the figures I have given—despite allegations to the contrary—show a real and substantial rise in investment in housing in this country. An increase of this magnitude —or indeed any increase—would be out of the question if the need for investment in productive activity were ignored, as is advocated by people who pose as being interested in a more speedy provision of houses for every person requiring one.
I would not, however, like anyone to think that I am completely satisfied with progress in housing. I am as conscious as anyone of the continuing need to maintain the programme of building to eliminate our legacy of overcrowded and unfit housing. It was for this reason that I arranged for the publication last June of the White Paper, Housing in the Seventies, which sets out the basic facts of the problem and the Government's intentions for the future programme, in terms of output, capital and amenities required.
Basically, the aim is to achieve as great a flow as possible of finance towards the provision of houses; to ensure that this capital is used to finance as great a number of houses as possible; and to ensure also, by greater efficiency in design, management and production methods, that maximum economies in cost are achieved.
Apart from the rising trend in housing output throughout the country, to which the White Paper draws attention. I would like to mention particularly the progress being made in the Dublin area. The housing situation in this area has come in for a great deal of critical comment over the past year —too much of it well-published rather than well-informed. I want to put on record, therefore, the fact that, despite the real difficulties involved, the number of dwellings provided in the Dublin area has been increasing steadily. The number of new houses and flats completed in 1968-69 was 5,707—a greater number than in any previous year.
In the national housing programme the reconstruction and improvement of dwellings has always constituted an important part. During the past nine financial years, some 84,000 houses have been reconstructed with the aid of State grants and a further 51,000 have had water or sewerage facilities (or both) installed, with similar assistance. In the year ended 31st March, 1969, the number of dwellings reconstructed or improved totally 9,678: the number improved by the addition of water and sewerage facilities was 9,424—more than six times the corresponding number at the beginning of the decade.
The White Paper published last June proposed a rise in housing output, even above the present high level, to meet an estimated need for about 15,000 to 17,000 new dwellings a year by the mid-1970s. The estimates are based on projections of populations increases and of growth in the economy together with an analysis of the present national housing stock. The cost in the mid-1970s of providing these new dwellings and of maintaining the present level of reconstruction and improvement of existing houses would be about £92.5 million yearly at 1968 prices compared with an expenditure of approximately £64 million on corresponding work in 1968-69. In the light of these striking financial implications, the White Paper sets out measures designed to meet the objective of securing the higher rate of output needed, within the limit of the available resources. Thses measures include:
a recasting of the private housing grant system so as to encourage the building of more smaller type houses;
the payment of a new subsidy to local authorities providing houses, in association with the National Building Agency, for key workers coming into an area for new or expanding industries;
a review of the tax arrangements for building societies to ensure that advances by the societies are confined largely to the construction of small-or medium-sized houses;
the organisation of the demand for houses, by the encouragement of co-operative groups and by the utilisation on a wider scale of the services of the National Building Agency;
steps to ensure the provision of adequate serviced land for building;
encouragement of more standardisation and dimensional co-ordination in the building industry;
holding of a competition, in association with the interests principally concerned, for the design of houses on a modular basis;
the introduction of a uniform set of building regulations for the whole country;
the continuance of the technical assistance grants scheme introduced in May, 1968.
Of the 13,033 new dwellings completed in 1968-69, local authorities provided 4,613 and 7,519 private houses were built with the aid of grants from my Department. This figure of grant houses was higher than the total completed in any previous year. About 450 further houses were completed either directly by, or with the aid of grants from, other State agencies. The remainder of the new dwellings were provided without State assistance or by the conversion of existing larger houses. A total of 9,523 new house grants were allocated by my Department in 1968-69 (excluding grants for 317 tenant-purchase houses provided by local authorities). This also was a record.
Trends in the allocation and payments of new house grants since the 1st April last show that the rate of production of new private dwellings has increased. In the nine months ended 31st December last, 5,820 new house grants were paid, compared with 5,111 for the corresponding period in 1968. Allocations were 7,576 compared with 7,275 in the same period in 1968.
System-built and prefabricated houses are gradually becoming a normal feature of private housing operations. Some years ago the question of these new forms of building was considered by my Department and standards which would be accepted for grant purposes were determined. New types and systems are from time to time submitted for my approval and to date 17 different house types have been accepted as qualifying for grants and five other types are at present under consideration. Apart from nontraditional house types, new building materials and components continue to be submitted by manufacturers for approval for use in grant-aided houses. I welcome any innovations which make for economy and efficiency in housing developments.
The provision of high-rise flats also promises to make a significant contribution in the future to our stock of new dwellings. I intend to recast the grant system for such flat dwellings on the basis of floor area measurement, as for the normal types of new houses.
The special high rates of grants available to assist small farmers and certain other deserving classes to house themselves continue to generate a steady demand. The Government decided recently that the condition which restricts the grants to houses provided in rural areas should be waived in the case of farmers. This decision was made on the grounds that it is unreasonable to discourage a farmer from building his new house in a village or other urban area where full services and amenities may be readily available. In 1968-69, 772 houses, representing about 10 per cent of all grant-aided houses, were built with the aid of these special grants and the indications are that completions this year will be of the same general order.
The philanthropic work of religious orders and other bodies in providing suitable accommodation for elderly persons has also been effectively encouraged by the housing grants made available for the purpose. Since the inception of the scheme in 1962 grants have been allocated for nearly 800 units. Every effort is made to encourage suitable organisations to participate in the work and I would welcome the co-operation of Deputies generally in bringing the grants scheme to the notice of appropriate parties. Consideration could well be given to organising the provision of housing for elderly people on a parish or community basis.
A high proportion of the national housing stock is comparatively old and, consequently, reconstruction work on existing property plays an important part in the Government's campaign to provide every family with a suitable home. In the last financial year 8,753 houses were reconstructed with the aid of grants paid by my Department. Allocations of grants in the first nine months of 1969-70 totalled 8,206 and completions in that period were 5,705. These grants encourage people to make their houses fit by undertaking necessary works of repair and improvement. They also encourage the division of uneconomically large premises into two or more separate dwellings, thereby supplementing the programme of new house building.
Taking into account the 925 houses reconstructed with the assistance of grants paid by Roinn na Gaeltachta, the Land Commission and Bord Fáilte, we find that the total of new houses erected and of houses reconstructed to the same standard as new houses in 1968-69 was 21,305. This total does not include "essential repairs" grants, to which I shall refer later. It is the figure that should be borne in mind in assessing the housing progress made in that financial year, since the renewal of the life of an old house is very nearly equivalent to its replacement by a new one.
The significant progress in the reconstruction of old houses is gradually invalidating the statistics relating to the age of the existing housing stock. This prudent conservation of existing houses is part of our housing effort and should not be ignored when making international comparisons.
An important feature in the general system of reconstruction grants is that which assists the carrying out of essential repairs to improve the habitational standard and to prolong the life of certain old and unfit houses in rural areas. I am satisfied that this scheme has assisted greatly in alleviating serious housing and social problems in rural areas. The replacement of the old dwellings concerned by new houses would have been uneconomic as they were generally located in isolated areas in which it would be difficult to re-let new houses on vacancy.
Since the inception of the scheme in 1962, a total of 4,175 "essential repair" grants have been paid. Current activity shows a decline on last year's figures. Allocations in the period from April to December, 1969. were 976. This compares with 1,389 in the first nine months of 1968-69. It appears that a major part of the special problems which these grants were designed to meet has now been brought under control and that a tailing off of activity in this sector can be expected in the future.
As regards future developments in relation to private housing, I hope to introduce a Bill shortly to implement the legislative proposals in the White Paper, Housing in the Seventies. The main provisions of the Bill will relate to the recasting of the present system of housing grants. In future, a grant for a new dwelling will be paid on the basis of floor area, rather than on the number of rooms in the dwelling. The Bill will also provide for an increase of up to £50 in the State grant for most smaller houses. Local authorities may pay an additional amount of up to £50 to persons eligible for supplementary grants. The intention underlying these changes is to encourage builders to concentrate more on providing reasonably sized homes for persons with modest means rather than on larger and more costly dwellings.
For some time past I have been considering whether it is right to continue giving State grants to assist in the erection of luxury-type houses. In present circumstances, where there is difficulty in matching the supply of capital to the demand, and where it is imperative to secure the greatest possible number of houses from the capital which is available, the Government have accepted my recommendation that grants should not be paid for new houses with a floor area exceeding 116 sq. meters (that is 1,249 sq feet). As from a date which I will announce shortly, houses with a floor area in excess of this maximum will not qualify for grants or for the associated rate remission under the Housing Acts. It is my intention also to make a maximum price order under section 35 of the 1966 Housing Act, which will limit grants to houses, approved after the same date, which cost not more than £6,000.
To ensure that these changes do not penalise anyone who genuinely needs a larger house, the provision of houses, designed specifically for extension at a later date, is being encouraged by my Department. Prototypes of such houses have, in fact, been built by the National Building Agency in Ashbourne, County Meath. The design competition, which I announced in the White Paper, will include conditions aimed at encouraging designs for similarly "expandable" houses. The necessary changes will be made in housing legislation to enable grants to be made available for this type of extension.
Tax concessions can also play an important part in encouraging the provision of moderately priced houses. Grant-aided houses qualify for a remission of rates, graduated over a nine-year period. Under the Finance Act, 1969, they are entitled also to a complete exemption from stamp duty. As grants will, in future, be paid only for houses not exceeding 116 sq. metres in floor area, which are priced at not more than £6,000, the rates remission and stamp duty concessions will obviously make the building of modest homes a more attractive proposition for both builders and purchasers.
The recasting of the grants system, the fixing of maximum prices for grant housing and the rates remission and exemption from stamp duty of grant-aided houses are just a few of the many steps which the Government are taking to achieve its main housing objective, namely, to encourage the provision of modest houses on terms which people can afford.
I would like to remark on a feature of housing in this country in which I would be glad to see a change—that is the lack of participation by industrial firms in efforts to house their workers. There have, of course, been commendable exceptions. Some firms have provided houses for their workers and for others living in the neighbourhood. Others have helped local housing authorities in various ways. Many banks and assurance companies provide special terms to help their staff achieve home ownership.
The National Building Agency does much on behalf of individual firms to get houses built. There is, however, notwithstanding these notable exceptions, perhaps some lack of consciousness on the part of some large firms and organisations, including, I may say, the trade unions, of the steps they can take to help persons to help themselves.
The recent co-operative effort by the Vocational Teachers' Organisation is a move in the right direction and deserves every encouragement and the most flattering form of compliment— imitation. The organisation has set up public utility societies in 24 counties, has assisted members in raising loans and getting grants and has directly arranged and guaranteed bridging finance. On a more direct basis it has bought or is acquiring sites for houses in a number of important centres and is arranging to draw on the special expertise of vocational teachers in order to get houses produced for members as economically as possible. This is the type of co-operative housing effort which section 12 of the Housing Act, 1966, was designed to encourage and to provide practical assistance for. I hope to see the organisation's lead being followed by many more commercial and co-operative bodies in the future.
I turn now from housing work undertaken by private enterprise to a consideration of the work of local housing authorities. First, let me comment briefly on progress and prospects with the housing operations of the authorities.
The level of local authority housing under construction during 1968-69 was the highest for many years. The number of houses and flats completed was 4,613, which compared with slightly more than 4,000 in each of the previous two years. The number of dwellings being built at 31st March last was 5,839, including 1,024 in special projects at Ballymun, Cork and Limerick under the control of the National Building Agency. More than 22,600 local authority dwellings (excluding "package deal" houses) were then at tender or in planning. At 31st December, 1969, the total number of dwellings in progress (excluding "package deal" houses) was 6,727 and 20,893 additional dwellings were then at tender or in planning. These impressive figures are the result of a steady and substantial expansion in the local authority housing programme since the early months of 1967 when the number of houses at tender or in planning was 12,251.
In all, 3,915 new dwellings were commenced in 1968-69 (including 557 in special National Building Agency projects). This compares with 2,411 commenced in 1966-67. Commencements since 1st April last have been at a substantially higher level. In the first nine months of the present financial year 4,164 dwellings have been started, including 1,563 in special National Building Agency projects. Almost £9.5 million worth of tenders for normal local authority schemes was approved in 1968-69 as compared with £5.7 million in 1966-67. The number of dwellings in planning has been maintained also at a very high level and 17,038 dwellings were in course of planning at the 31st December, 1969.
The 1969 White Paper gives a general review of the position in regard to the assessment of housing needs over the country as a whole. As regards local authority housing, it seems inevitable that housing needs and demand will continue to press resources to the limit. The amount of capital it is possible to make available is the overriding factor which will determine the volume of building over the next few years. Naturally, the extent of the capital allocation for local authority housing must be determined by the Government in the light of the overall national requirements and the urgent claims of other essential services, particularly those which ensure the capacity of the economy to supply capital for all these purposes. Nevertheless, the urgent priority which the Government continues to give to local authority housing can be measured by the fact that well over half of all public capital made available for housing in 1968-69 was allocated for dwellings constructed by local authorities. A correspondingly high proportion of available capital has been assigned to local authority housing in the current financial year.
Apart from the capital thus provided, a total subvention from central taxation and rates for local authority housing of approximately £7.8 million was made in 1968-69. The public purse, therefore, met nearly £24 million of the bill for local authority housing in that year.
Under the Capital Budget a sum of £16.2 million was originally allocated for local authority housing in the current financial year. The unpredictably high level of the wages settlement in the building industry last autumn made a serious impact on the number of houses which could be built with this allocation. I am glad, therefore, to announce that the Government have agreed to provide an additional allocation of £1.15 million to ease the difficulties.
In this situation, the need for economies in housing costs is obvious. Wage rates and materials costs have risen to a level at which they are causing serious capital difficulties. To put it bluntly, the level of increases in building costs, so far as local authority housing is concerned, exceeds any possible percentage increase which the Government could hope to provide out of the capital likely to be available to them this year. We are, therefore, in a situation where the number of dwelling units which can be completed from available resources must fall unless it is possible to find practical economies to close the gap between the rate of increase of building costs and the increment of additional resources which the economy can support for local authority housing.
I can assure the House that, so far as I am concerned, I have been taking effective measures to see that all reasonable savings in building and other costs are availed of. On the local authority side, these include a scrutiny of the design and planning of individual schemes, detailed recommendations to housing authorities on appropriate economies, the maintenance of current standards—unless improved standards can be achieved through the introduction of cheaper, but acceptable, materials and forms of construction—reviews of densities of developments, exploration of suitable new methods of construction, rationalisation of components and building materials, the evolution of standard house plans and the provision of low-cost emergency or demountable dwellings, mobile homes and other types of housing units with a shorter life than traditional dwellings.
I am also looking into such matters as the effect on building costs of the requirements on contractors to provide guarantee bonds and also the effect on housing costs of local regulations, building bye-laws and so on.
As an earnest of my intention to do everything possible to keep down building costs, I am prepared to consider proposals from housing authorities to develop new schemes at densities higher than those normally recommended. This concession will apply to schemes where the proposed densities are related to the total environment and are offset by the availability of better than average amenities.
Deputies will, no doubt, be interested in learning how local authority housing programmes have been progressing in some of the more important areas.
I referred earlier to the commendable rate of house-building generally in the Dublin area. In the city, the corporation continue to press ahead with their programme. On 31st December last, in their weekly tenancy programme, they had 1,932 houses or flats under construction or about to start. They were preparing schemes for 1,696 dwellings and had acquired, or were acquiring, sites for 5,530 dwellings. At the same time they were also catering for persons of moderate income anxious to house themselves. Towards this end they had 1,198 tenant purchase and "package deal" houses in progress or ready to be started. They were preparing schemes for 2,182 dwellings and acquiring sites for another 4,000. Their total programme at that date, therefore, comprised 19,538 houses or sites. It is a measure of the priority which the Government attaches to the solution of the housing problems in Dublin that, in spite of other urgent demands on public capital, the corporation's capital expenditure on housing amounted to practically £10 million in the year 1968-69.
All of the 3,021 dwellings in the original four year contract for the Ballymun project were completed within the contract period, notwithstanding the setbacks of the early stages. In July, 1968, two further blocks of flats totalling 192 dwellings were added to the scheme to infill available sites; design changes also enabled the contractors to add 52 one-roomed flats within existing structures. The total number of dwellings was thus increased to 3,265, of which 3,222 were structurally complete at 31st March, 1969. The entire 3,265 dwellings have now been completed and handed over to Dublin Corporation. Management of the estate is, of course, the responsibility of the corporation. The final cost of the scheme has been agreed and the preparation of the final account is now proceeding. I am assured that the cost figures will represent an impressive achievement and that they will compare more than favourably with the contract target price.
Incidental works outside the scope of the agency's contract are proceeding. Communal television reception has been provided, the shopping and community centres are going ahead by arrangement between the corporation and the development company, a major primary school is in operation, a comprehensive school for the area is being planned, the conversion of the main road to a dual carriageway has been designed, and the construction of a major intersection with pedestrian underpasses is nearing completion. An active association of residents has been established and I understand that the corporation's arrangements for estate management are currently being extended.
These development are proceeding simultaneously and, while problems crop up from time to time which tend to attract disproportionate publicity, the fact is that in four years an impressive contribution has been made to the Dublin housing pool-more than 10,000 people have been housed in Ballymun. This is an achievement of which the several interests concerned can be justly proud. This contribution is, of course, additional to Dublin Corporation's maximum output under its normal housing procedures and has resulted in reducing the housing problem in Dublin to manageable proportions.
Some time ago I informed the Dáil of the steps which were being taken by the appropriate authorities here as a consequence of new risks in high-rise buildings which were revealed by the disaster caused by a gas explosion in a block of flats at Ronan Point in London. The position has been under examination in depth by my Department's technical advisers, working in association with officers and consultants of Dublin Corporation and the National Building Agency. In the course of these investigations constant liaison was maintained with current investigations being conducted by British and European authorities. I have now received final authoritative advice in regard to the possibility of damage occurring in the Ballymun flats for a similar reason and on a scale corresponding to the Ronan Point disaster. I am glad to be able to inform the House that the reports which I have received from the team of specialist investigators assure me that such a risk is so remote as to be insignificant and can, in any event, be obviated by relatively minor modifications to the existing ventilation systems. Steps are in train to have these modifications effected immediately.
The special housing project of some 1,800 dwellings being carried out in Cork city by the National Building Agency to supplement the programme of the local authority, is now well under way. The first batch of dwellings were handed over to the corporation at the end of last March. The dwellings are being provided to a new system, based on concrete cross-walls with specially designed floors and spandrills. Work was started on the project on 30th May, 1968, and it is due for completion in three years from the date of the contract, subject to such extension of time as the contractor may be entitled to, as a result of causes outside his control.
Certain difficulties were, in fact, experienced at the outset of the contract and other difficulties arose in the planning of the scheme which had to be built on three different sites—a feature which, from the building viewpoint, presented unusual difficulties. Although progress with development work and the erection of cross-walls has generally been good, the number of houses completed to date is lower than was envisaged under the original contract programme. The agency was not satisfied with the rate of progress up to mid-1969 and special steps were taken to get the contractors to strengthen their management team and their work force on the project. I understand that the agency is hopeful that progress with the completion of dwellings will soon be brought to a satisfactory level. About 700 completions are projected for the current financial year. So far, 324 dwellings have been handed over to the corporation and a further 102 dwellings have been finished but are not yet handed over.
There has been some criticism of the National Building Agency by Cork Corporation because the rate of completion of dwellings in the early part of the scheme was slower than anticipated. In this connection I would like to point out to the Dáil that this project will provide in Cork, over three years or so, a total of more than 1,800 dwellings to supplement the corporation's own programme. Temporary difficulties regarding the hand-over of specified numbers of houses at a particular time should not be allowed to cloud this fact. My intervention in connection with this major project will result in the inflow into Cork over the contract period of millions of pounds of capital investment which otherwise would not have gone to that city. The project will also enable the corporation to meet the additional housing demands engendered by the rapid industrial and other forms of development in the Cork area, which otherwise they would have no hope of meeting.
Work is very well advanced on the special project being carried out by the agency on behalf of Limerick Corporation. Out of a total of 601 dwellings, 266 houses have already been handed over to the corporation and the construction of the remaining houses is going ahead rapidly. On the basis of the progress already achieved the scheme should be completed by the scheduled date in mid-1971 and it should make a real contribution to the solution of the pressing housing problems of Limerick city.
Before passing from the construction aspects of local authority housing work, I would like to comment on a feature which affects the progress and the cost of that work. I have in mind in this regard the price and availability of sites. The general problem of the rising cost of building land, which has been marked in some areas, is a cause of considerable concern. I have been giving careful thought to this problem with a view to finding some means whereby speculation in scarce, serviced land would be discouraged and the increase in the value of land, attributable to the provision of services and the designation of land for development by planning authorities to meet the needs of the community, would be recouped to the benefit of the community and not be turned to private profit. The problem is a very complex and difficult one and there is no easy way of dealing with it. It might appear that the obvious solution would be to bring all building land into public ownership, but this would entail the most serious constitutional, legal, financial and administrative problems and must be ruled out as a practical proposition. Other measures to deal with the problem are being studied.
As an interim measure, local authorities have been encouraged to make wider use of their powers to acquire land to meet the needs of their areas and, in particular, to make good any deficiency in suitable and reasonably-priced sites for housing and other necessary and desirable forms of development. One of the keys to the long-term solution of high land prices is to ensure the availability of so much servced land that it will lose scarcity value and the price will fall to, or remain at, normal market value.
I am pleased to inform the Dáil that, in general, major housing authorities have acquired large tracts of land which should be sufficient to meet their requirements for some years to come and are pushing ahead with further land acquisition proposals within available capital resources. At the 31st December, 1969, local authorities had a total of 50,432 sites available for housing schemes in progress, in planning, or in contemplation.
For the third year in succession, a special capital allocation of £1 million has been made to Dublin Corporation for their special programme of land acquisition and development. Reports submitted to me by the Dublin housing authorities show that, between the city and county and Dún Laoghaire borough, they had acquired at the 31st March, 1969, or were in process of acquiring, a reserve of sites for nearly 30,000 private and local authority dwellings. A number of sites have already been made available to private builders and steps are in train to release more sites in the coming months.
Cork Corporation also made welcome progress with the forward acquisition of land and now have almost 600 acres available. The corporation have initiated action with a view to acquiring a further 400 acres.
My predecessor and I have been for many years impressing on local authorities the need to acquire a sufficient reserve of land to meet future housing needs including needs engendered by increasing urbanisation and increasing industrialisation. Many local authorities have, I am glad to say, taken that advice but there are some which have not been as active as they should be and are now penalised by having to pay increased prices for land.
The State provides the capital needed for local authority housing. It also pays subsidy to help bring the cost of that housing within the reach of people who could not afford to meet the full economic cost. The amount provided for this purpose in my Department's Estimate for 1969-70 is £4.1 million. Loan charges this year on other forms of State assistance given in the past for local authority housing will total £400,000. Assistance by local authorities, raised in their rates, will amount to £4.3 million. The total subvention from central and local taxation towards the rents of local authority dwellings will, therefore, amount to approximately £8.8 million in the current financial year.
In March last, with the agreement of the Minister for Finance, I increased the subsidisable limits of cost for local authority dwellings by amounts ranging from £100, in the case of an unserviced rural cottage, to £500 for a flat dwelling in a building of more than six storeys. The new limits apply to housing schemes commenced, or for which loans were sanctioned, after 31st December, 1968, and for which rent proposals are approved on or after 1st April last. The extension of the limits is equivalent, at current interest rates, to an increased subsidy of up to about £2 a week for a serviced house, £3 10s a week for a dwelling unit in a flat-block of six or more storeys, and £3 a week for other flat dwellings.
The higher rate of subsidy resulting from this concession should encourage and facilitate local authorities in their work of providing housing for persons unable to meet the full cost involved. When the additional subsidy paid by the local authority is taken into account the extent to which the Government and local authorities are helping people to pay for their housing will readily be seen. In fact, these subsidies from central taxation and rates amounted in 1968-69 to approximately £2 million more than the total amount received in rents and annuities.
I may add that my general policy on subsidies for housing is—within the level of financial resources—to apply them to the limits necessary to get people decently housed. This often means subsidies as high as £250 annually for a house (or perhaps twice this for a central city flat) to maintain rents at a level of between 2/6d and 10/- a week for tenants with low incomes. On the other hand, I would not like to see subsidies going to those well able to manage without them. For these reasons, their payment is conditional on the adoption by local authorities of rents which vary with income. This renting system ensures that subsidies are directed mainly to assist people who need them most. At the same time, the differential rents payable by better-off tenants reflect their greater ability to pay. Those who call for the "abolition" of the differential rent system and favour the charging of fixed rents are, in fact, arguing that old age pensioners, widows and other persons on low incomes should only qualify for the same subsidies, and thus pay the same rents, as those who are fortunate enough to be earning good incomes. This clearly would be unjust.
Another cogent reason why differential rents are now so essential is that if we did not use this system, subsidies would, if the current rate of building were maintained, amount to £45 million or more annually before they started to fall as the loans used to finance the building of the houses were paid off. The result of this burden would only be to delay to an intolerable degree the provision of homes for those who need them. In this sense, those who argue against income-related rents are arguing against the building of houses for many people who so badly need them.
Before passing from the subject of housing subsidies I should mention the proposal announced in the White Paper—Housing in the Seventies—to pay subsidy at the higher rate of up to two-thirds of the loan charges for dwellings provided by a local authority, in association with the National Building Agency, for key workers coming into an area for new or expanding industry. Local authorities which are conscious of their role as development corporations will realise the importance of this concession as a means of catering for the housing needs of migrant workers whose skills may provide an essential contribution towards the industrial development of their areas.
Tenants of local authority dwellings have the option of buying new private houses with the aid of loans from local authorities of up to 99 per cent of the market value of the new houses. This concession applies even where the tenant's income exceeds the normal limit of £1,200 a year. In addition, many tenants are being given the option of buying their houses under the terms of sale schemes made by local authorities under section 90 of the Housing Act, 1966. At the end of last December, 42 sale schemes comprising 39,253 local authority houses have been approved by me. The response to Dublin Corporation's sale scheme has been particularly heartening, despite the scepticism expressed in certain quarters when that scheme was made. At 31st December, 8,497 tenants have expressed an interest in the scheme and 4,484 had agreed to purchase or had actually purchased their houses. The remaining applications are being processed as quickly as possible.
These sale schemes enable tenants to buy their houses on the basis of market or replacement value, less discounts related to continuous tenancy periods of up to 45 per cent from the values of houses in non-built-up areas or 30 per cent in the case of houses in built-up areas. The discounts, together with the income tax reliefs on the interest element in purchase price repayments, should make purchase attractive to many tenants.
While the sale schemes have attractions from the viewpoint of the tenants and of the local authorities concerned, I feel it right to remind the authorities that their primary housing objective must always be the provision of decent accommodation for persons who still lack it. Sales could dissipate an authority's stock of low-cost housing, thus making it difficult for them to achieve their first objective. At the same time, it is desirable to encourage home-ownership which, apart from the social aspect, may bring some reduction in the maintenance burden of local authorities. To reconcile the apparently contradictory objectives of maintaining a stock of low-cost housing for renting and encouraging home-ownership, I have required authorities to use a large part of the capital they get from sales for making house-purchase loans and grants, for the construction of further houses to replace those sold, for the acquisition of land, or for other housing purposes.
Besides their basic responsibilities relating to the housing of persons who need proper accommodation but cannot themselves provide it, local authorities have been making an extremely valuable contribution to private housing operations. Their schemes of house-purchase loans and supplementary grants have, in particular, assisted many persons in the lower middle-in-come categories to house themselves.
Let me quote some figures which will indicate the importance of these house-purchase loan schemes. In 1968-69, a total of £22,266,000 was advanced on mortgages to persons buying their own homes. Of this, the biggest portion was provided by building societies who lent £9,653,000. Assurance companies lent £5,991,000 and local authorities made up the balance of £6,622,000. The finance for these loans by local authorities is one of the major constituents of Government capital expenditure on housing.
The number of loans approved under the local authorities' schemes increased from 3,207 in 1967-68 (valued at £6.7 million) to 4,100 in 1968-69 (valued at £9.5 million). The value of loans approved in 1968-69 was the highest in any year. In the first nine months of the current year, this rising trend was continued. In the light of these trends the Government have increased the amount available under the schemes from £6.7 million in 1968-69 to a total of £9.5 million approximately in the current year.
The average gross price of new houses financed under the schemes in the quarter ended 31st December last was £4,024. During the quarter, about 59 per cent of borrowers under the schemes had annual incomes of less than £1,050. It is clear from these figures that the local authority loan schemes fulfil a very useful purpose by providing the necessary mortgage finance for persons of modest means who wish to house themselves by building small houses. At present, about 55 housing authorities operate loan schemes. As many of these authorities operate on a very small scale, the White Paper contains proposals to concentrate loan operations in a smaller number of authorities. These proposals will take effect from 1st April next.
In view of the importance of building societies as a source of capital for housing, responsibility for certain matters in connection with them was transferred to my Department in March last. If the societies are to attract investments they must be allowed the same freedom of action as other bodies in the savings market and, in this regard, I am glad to say that in the quarter ended 31st December, 1969, there was a sharp upturn in the net rate of investment with the societies—from £1,192,000 in the quarter ended 31st December, 1968, to £2,144,000 in the corresponding period of 1969.
At the same time, the societies enjoy certain arrangements in regard to income tax on dividends payable by them which make investment with them attractive. The public have a right to expect that these concessions will be used in the interests of the community. It was for this reason that I announced in June last that the Government propose to review the present taxation arrangements with a view to favouring societies who invest their funds in the way most likely to help our housing programme—that is, to benefit those societies who invest not less than 90 per cent of their total advances for all purposes in house-purchase loans not exceeding in any case £6,000, or such other sum as the Minister for Local Government may fix from time to time. This review is in progress and it is intended that it will also deal with the associated question of the societies' interest structure.
Some time ago I mentioned changes which Dublin County Council were introducing in their supplementary grant scheme to make it less restrictive. These changes are now effective. The growth of expenditure on the grants in recent years has reflected not only a more liberal attitude on the part of local authorities generally in paying them, but also the great expansion of the private housing programme. Thus in Dublin city and county in 1963-64, the total expenditure on supplementary housing grants was £144,000. In 1968-69, it amounted to £256,500. In the same period, capital expenditure on these grants by local authorities as a whole increased from about £1.2 million to £1.9 million.
The level of efficiency in the building industry is an important factor in housing costs. Deputies will have noted that the Estimates for my Department for the current financial year contain provision for technical assistance grants for the industry. These grants are paid for attendance at training courses and for study visits abroad, designed to bring managerial, supervisory, technical and trade union personnel in the industry into closer contact with the most modern methods and techniques. The grants are also paid for the engagement by builders and contractors of persons to advise on matters directed to the improvement of efficiency in the industry.
Another step I have taken with the same general objective is to request An Foras Forbartha, working in conjunction with my Department, to prepare a timetable for the change over to dimensional co-ordination on a basis. This is being done by An Foras which is also working, again in conjunction with my Department, on a project for the standardisation of building components such as windows, doors, roofs, etc. An interim report has already been published about the rationalisation of the construction of windows and a report has been prepared dealing with roofs.
Over these projects lies the shadow of conversion to the use of metric dimensions in the industry. An Foras has had the assistance of an advisory committee representative of the industry in this matter. A draft programme for the change to metric was recommended by the committee and accepted by the Government. Under the programme, the change to metric should be fully effective for virtually all new projects by the end of 1972. Representatives of the professional and vocational bodies concerned have also assisted in the formulation of new national building regulations. A draft of the technical specifications of the proposed regulations is now complete and will be circulated generally as soon as possible to professional, vocational and other interests for comment. The concurrent introduction of the metric system, the new building regulations, dimensional co-ordination, reduction of unnecessary variety in building components, and rationalisation generally in the building industry will help to modernise building practice and so help the industry to meet the growing demand on it arising from our economic and social progress.
An Foras has now, with the assistance of technical assistance grants available from my Department and in co-operation with the Federation of Builders, established a programme of construction management courses at various centres throughout the country. I have been impressed by the extent to which these courses are being availed of by builders. To date, some 475 senior managers and supervisors in firms of all sizes have attended the courses with the aid of grants. Improvements in management methods is one of the most effective ways in which we can reduce building costs. Other housing studies being carried out by An Foras include low-cost housing designs and studies directed to improve tendering and costing methods in the industry.
A sum of £1.2 million is being provided this year as State contributions to loan charges incurred by local authorities on sanitary services works. This is an increase of £94,694 over the subsidy paid in 1968-69. In addition, a sum of £140,000 is included to recoup supplementary grants paid by county councils for water supply installations to farmers who would have been eligible for the scheme of domestic grants formerly operated by the Department of Agriculture.
During 1967-68, sanitary authorities carried out at my request comprehensive reviews of the water and sewerage schemes which they had in planning with a view to identifying the most urgent schemes or sections of schemes. The main priorities were given to schemes designed to cater for new industry or new housing and to schemes which were urgently needed to improve existing deficient supplies. These reviews established that major water and sewerage schemes to the value of approximately £20 million were then urgently needed. Since 1st April, 1968, I released for commencement £9.6 million worth of these schemes. The planning of the remaining schemes is proceeding.
As planning is completed, these and other urgent schemes arising will be released for commencement in the light of the capital available from time to time and having regard to the needs of other sectors, such as housing. In addition, some £500,000 worth of small urgent schemes were also released since 1st April, 1968. Work on many of these schemes is now well advanced and, in a number of cases, has been completed. It was estimated that as at the 31st December, 1969, these projects, together with schemes which were released for commencement in earlier years, represented a pool of work in progress exceeding £10 million in value.
In the Dublin area, in particular, a number of sewerage schemes were undertaken at my request to ensure that a good supply of serviced land would be available at the earliest possible time to meet the short-term needs of house builders. Work is now in hands on all the schemes, which comprise the short-term programme for Dublin, and has, in fact, been completed in five of these cases. I hope to see work proceeding quickly on the other schemes during the coming months.
The planning of the longer term programme, which will ensure an ample supply of serviced land in the Dublin area, is progressing reasonably satisfactorily. In particular, I am glad to say that two of the main sections of the Dodder Valley drainage scheme are now virtually completed, a third section has gone to tender, a fourth is ready to go to tender and a fifth is at an advanced stage of planning. These sections constitute the main line of a sewer which, when completed, and with its spurs, will serve some 9,000 acres. As regards the spurs, construction work is almost completed in two cases and is about to commence on a third. The planning of a further spur is well advanced.
I was glad to note that the Dublin Corporation's investigations into the problem of providing proper drainage in the south and west areas of the city and the adjoining areas of the county have produced a solution under which the Grand Canal need not be interfered with even temporarily. The proposal that the drains should be in a tunnel under the roadway rather than that the canal should be closed temporarily to permit the laying of the drains in its bed has been generally welcomed.
I may say that my technical advisers were at all times in close touch with the progress of the investigations. I was, therefore, able to agree without delay to the corporation's proposal that the sewer should be in tunnel. I may emphasise once again that it was, in any event, never the Government's intention that the canal should be closed other than temporarily in connection with the drainage scheme.
The priority lists which have been drawn up by the sanitary authorities should ensure that the water and sewerage programmes will proceed in an orderly manner and that the capital available will be used to best advantage. It is not, however, the intention to regard these priority lists as in any way rigid. Steps are taken to ensure that lists are kept up-to-date and new urgent works which have emerged since the date of the first review are being incorporated in the lists. This procedure will be a continuing one.
The majority of the schemes in priority lists are needed primarily to provide adequate sanitary services for built-up areas. Particular attention is being given to the improvement of water and sewerage services in the areas which are experiencing rapid industrial growth such as Cork, Waterford, Galway, Dundalk and Droichead Nua.
A number of these urgent water supply schemes will have their sources in rural areas and can also be used to supply group schemes. Group schemes can generally provide piped water at least as quickly as, and at a more economical cost than, regional schemes. Indeed, in the past, regional schemes have tended to take over work which was proper to the group sector. Apart altogether from the immediate financial considerations, it was necessary, therefore, to review the regional schemes programme so as to ensure that it was kept within its proper limits in the interest of the general economy.
A great deal of valuable work is being done at individual level, through the assistance of grants provided by my Department, to extend the benefits of piped water and sewerage services to many rural areas. The improvement of rural homes by the installation of these facilities continues to be a significant part of our housing grants policy. I am pleased, accordingly, to record a continuing expansion of work under this grants scheme.
Present indications are that, in the present financial year, up to 12,000 grants will be allocated as compared with 10,392 in 1968-69. About 9,000 grants should be paid this year. The continuous promotion of group water supply schemes has been contributing significantly to this growth rate. Last year 2,389 grants were paid in respect of houses included in group schemes and this figure was exceeded in the first nine months of the current year. As at 31st December last, 104 schemes catering for 4,841 houses had been completed and there were 964 proposals in other stages of preparation.
Group water supply schemes, which depend on local co-operation and initiative are, of their nature, slow in coming to fruition. Such delays as do occur are largely unavoidable. Detailed investigation, planning and organisation are essential if a scheme is to be brought to a successful conclusion. This may not always be fully appreciated by the participants who, naturally, are mainly concerned with obtaining an adequate supply of good water as soon as possible.
This lack of general awareness of the time-consuming work which must be done before a scheme is implemented may lead to a certain feeling of frustration on the part of the local group promoting a scheme but it must be remembered that all the necessary steps must be taken by my Department to ensure that, in the participants' own interests, the water supply provided will be adequate and the best available. Various problems of a technical nature, such as the establishment of the adequacy of the proposed source of supply, measures to deal with rock outcrops in the path of the water mains, and so on, can raise difficulties which must be surmounted before the scheme progresses.
In relation to group schemes, close liaison is maintained by my Department with local authority officials and I am glad to say that in very many cases these officials have been of great assistance to the local groups by providing source-gauging equipment and by carrying out the necessary continuous-yield test of bore holes. I have every hope that this spirit of co-operation will continue.
I realise that if group schemes are to make the fullest impact on the rural water supply problem, a highly efficient departmental organisation at both the technical and administrative level is necessary. Towards this end I am arranging to strengthen the existing field staff by recruiting more inspectors. This will ensure that every area will be staffed to deal with any proposals for a group scheme which may arise. I should also mention that my Department has standardised procedures and documentation for processing group water proposals and that every assistance is given to promoters who approach us. A standard specification for all the works required on a group scheme is supplied free of charge to promoters and assistance and advice are freely available from my Department at all times, both before, and during, the implementation of a group scheme.
Recently special arrangements were made with Roinn na Gaeltachta in relation to group water schemes undertaken in Gaeltacht areas. As a result, participants in such schemes will receive enhanced grants of up to 85 per cent of the cost of installing the piped water in each house, subject to a maximum grant of £180 per house. This additional assistance should, I feel, give an impetus in these areas to group schemes as heretofore many of them could not have been undertaken economically due to the remoteness of the areas and the difficulties of the terrain. Arrangements have also been made with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries whereby that Department will give assistance towards the cost of headworks in high-cost group water schemes serving predominantly agricultural participants.
Before passing from this subject I should like to pay tribute to the persistent and painstaking work done by the promoters and committees of group schemes. These are the people without whose unfailing support the whole basis of community development in the sphere of water supplies would never progress.
Directly associated with the question of water supplies is the problem of controlling, and preventing as far as practicable, the pollution of rivers, lakes and other sources. This problem has assumed tremendous topicality— largely because of the exceptionally dry summer and autumn in 1969. While we are at present in the fortunate position that—taking the country as a whole—no serious or widespread pollution is occurring, it is a fact that localised problems are on the increase. Problems arising out of the increased use of pesticides in agriculture, "factory farming", silage effluents, et cetera, are emerging. Furthermore, it is inevitable that growth and developments in the industrial, agricultural, housing and other fields as the economy expands, must create new and serious problems in regard to the disposal of industrial, agricultural and domestic wastes.
I have, therefore, considered it prudent to take the initial steps which will ensure that the position will not be allowed to get out of hand. With this end in view I asked An Foras Forbartha to set up a water resources centre as a new division within their organisation. This division is now operative and will, in due course, be concerned to identify areas where serious water pollution is occurring or where there is a danger that it might occur to a significant extent. It will then be possible for the appropriate authorities to initiate necessary remedial measures or to take action to prevent the degree of pollution rising to an objectionable level.
It is only right to stress that sanitary authorities generally are already aware of the risks of water pollution and a number of the major authorities—in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Waterford, for example—have comprehensive drainage schemes in planning which should reduce water pollution in these areas to an acceptable level. Furthermore, the Department's annual sanitary services programme provides for a significant number of sewerage schemes designed to high modern standard, the implementation of which will reduce the danger of pollution in the area concerned.
The general level of air pollution in this country is not considered dangerous; nevertheless, I considered that it would be desirable to supplement the existing limited controls by measures designed to ensure that the more immediately objectionable types of pollution would be kept in check. For that reason I had draft regulations prepared which will place restrictions on the heavier smoke emissions and extend the nuisance provisions of the sanitary services code to nuisance caused by emissions of smoke, dust, grit or gas.
Interested parties were invited to submit their views on the draft. The response was most helpful and the views and advice received are now being considered. When this examination has been completed I intend to make formal regulations without delay.
As regards fire brigade services, I have had under consideration for some time the need to improve the standard of training in a number of the part-time brigades and to standardise training within the service generally at a proper level of efficiency. Towards this end I have had a film made which illustrates a number of the basic fire brigade drills. Further films on the same lines will be made, as necessary. I hope that these will be widely used throughout the service and that they will go a long way towards standardising procedures and drills.
In addition, I have arranged for the holding of a number of courses for sub-officers and station officers of the part-time brigades and three such courses have already been successfully completed. I am sure that these courses will improve the general standard of performance of the officers attending them and that they will enable suitable officers to be selected for further training as fire brigade instructors. In this way, it is hoped to create a pool of competent instructors who will be fully equipped to train, under the supervision of their chief fire officers, the local fire brigades in all aspects of modern fire fighting.
A number of proposals for the construction of swimming pools were approved by me over the past two years and I have already allocated the necessary capital towards pools at Dublin city, two pools, Ballinaslce, Carlow, Ennis, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Tuam. I have also firm capital commitments in respect of pools at Mallow and Naas and tentative commitments in respect of pools at Enniscorthy, Galway and at Williamstown, Dún Laoghaire. Pools at Townsend Street, Dublin, and in Ennis have been completed and are in use. In several other cases, work is nearing completion. I hope that the remaining approved pools will be built quickly so that many children will be able to learn to swim in safety. When sufficient progress has been made with the building of the pools already approved, I hope to release some further ones for commencement. It must be emphasised, however, that for the present the swimming pool programme has to be limited having regard to the heavy demands on available capital for other essential services such as housing and sanitary services.
My views on the question of camping sites for itinerants are, by now, well known. However, I will take this opportunity of emphasising them again. It is the Government's policy that itinerants should be absorbed into the settled community. As this must, unavoidably, be a gradual process, the first logical step must be the provision by local authorities of serviced camping sites.
In providing these sites, local authorities are concerned not merely with the construction of a certain amount of hard standing for caravans and the necessary sanitary facilities. Properly designed and located sites represent the answer to a much more fundamental need. They provide a base where voluntary workers and official agencies may guide itinerants in the ways of settled living and help them to get jobs. But, above all, the permanent camping site gives the children of itinerants the chance to go to school regularly. I could not over-emphasise the importance of this aspect. How can a Government Department or a voluntary committee make proper arrangements for the education of children of families who have no permanent place to stay? And without education we can never solve the problem.
Camp sites have now been provided, or are in course of development, by 16 different local authorities. The most striking examples so far are the two large Dublin Corporation sites—one on the south and one on the north side of the city—which, between them, provide accommodation for some 60 families. Other local authorities whose resources are more limited than the corporation's have also been commendably active in providing these anchorages for travelling people. I have, for example, been impressed by the action of Galway Corporation which faced up to initial hostility and secured public acceptance of four camp sites in different parts of the borough, accommodating a total of 18 families. Galway County Council have provided a model site at Loughrea, on which 8 families have been settled, and are now developing a site for 5 caravans outside Ballinasloe. Limerick County Council have accommodated 14 families at Rathkeale. Kerry County Council have provided 15 sites on which 19 families now live. Offaly and Tipperary NR County Councils have combined to develop a site at Shinrone. Dundalk Urban Council are going ahead with an attractively planned and well-serviced scheme for 22 families. While the scale of these operations may not seem striking, the spread of interest and activity around the country is especially satisfying. The county councils of Cavan, Cork, Donegal, Longford and Sligo are at present considering taking action to provide sites or other accommodation for itinerant families and I hope that they and those county councils who have not so far faced up to their responsibilities will now do so. Once a positive start has been made, there are grounds for hope that the problems will be solved without too much further delay.
The help of voluntary workers is a fundamental bridge between the settled community and the travelling people. The response of voluntary workers has been very heartening, but their work is difficult and cannot be fully effective until camping sites are provided. It is, to my mind, a grave dereliction of duty on the part of those local authorities which have not yet provided sites to cater for needs in their areas in spite of the generous financial assistance offered by my Department.
I would expect the elected representatives, whether at local or national level, to try to lead public opinion instead of bowing to traditional prejudices; I would expect them to give some positive thought to the deeper aspects of the matter, to reflect on the point that, as long as we continue to deny the children the education which is their due we, by this denial, condemn those children for ever to the itinerant way of life.
Some people may feel that the problem has been so long with us that it is insoluble. I am convinced, however, that through itinerancy, viewed in isolation, may appear to be an intractable problem, when considered in conjunction with other local government problems, it can be seen to be a relatively straightforward issue which, with a reasonable amount of effort and goodwill, could be solved in a short time. Certainly things should not be left to drift until next winter. By that time I hope that every county council and every large urban area where the problem exists will have done something worthwhile by way of housing or provision of sites to solve the problem.
As I have said again and again, immediate progress depends on the readiness of local authorities to provide camping sites. This, coupled with a modicum of Christian charity on the part of the local community will ensure that itinerant families will soon become full members of the community. They have a fundamental right to get this opportunity and I regard it as my job to see that they get it. I do not regard camping sites as an end in themselves since, at best, the accommodation provided must be less than normal standards of habitation. I visualise a continuous movement of families from such sites to full housing accommodation.
It is my desire that the provision of camping sites should eventually lead to the inclusion of every itinerant family on the normal housing priority lists of local authorities. This is no idle wish. So far, about 240 former itinerant families have become tenants of local authority houses. Camp sites will speed up this process. The generous subsidy of two-thirds of the annual loan charges which is available from my Department towards the cost of providing sites should be an effective inducement to local authorities who have not yet faced up to their responsibilities in this matter.
Considerable progress has been achieved by planning authorities in the making of development plans for their areas under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. By the 30th October, 1969, draft plans had been prepared for all but one of the 173 planning areas and 154 of the plans had been finally adopted by the authorities concerned. I hope that work on the remaining plans will be completed shortly. In a few areas —notably Dublin city and county— considerations of the representations and objections received by the planning authorities in connection with the first draft plans led to decisions to revise the plans substantially and to publish completely new drafts.
The Dublin city second draft plan has been on display to the public in recent months. In view of the fact that 3,418 objections and representations have been received and that oral hearings have been sought in almost 1,700 cases, the planning authority have requested a further extension of time to the 31st December, 1970, for the making of their plan.
In County Dublin, where the planning authority are faced with many complex problems in relation to the future of the metropolitan area and the detailed planning of the nine scheduled towns in the county, progress unavoidably has been slower and it will be some time yet before a revised draft plan is ready.
Planning authorities deserve to be commended for the effective work they have done since the 1963 Act was brought into operation five years ago. It is a tribute to the diligent and painstaking work of the elected members and their staffs that for the very first time we are within sight of having comprehensive physical development plans covering the entire country. The importance of this achievement should not be under-estimated. The planning authorities, in discharging their plan-making duties under the Act, have been obliged to take a long hard look at their areas, to consider their strengths and their weaknesses, to identify the factors that have been stimulating growth in some areas and inhibiting it in others and to work out policies and programmes designed to enable their areas as a whole to improve and prosper.
The emphasis in the plans is on growth—on the encouragement and promotion of desirable development, including new opportunities for work and leisure and the improvement of the physical environment enjoyed by our people. At the same time, planning authorities generally have shown themselves conscious of the need to protect the priceless natural assets we enjoy and have committed themselves to their protection. In general, the development plans reflect a determination on the part of the planning authorities and of the communities they serve to play a much more positive role in the shaping of the future of their areas. This proof of local involvement is most welcome and I have no doubt that as time goes on the development plans will come to be recognised more and more as providing the basic framework for physical development of all kinds.
A most heartening feature of the exercise has been the widespread interest on the part of the general public— as well as various national and local organisations—in the formulation of planning policies and objectives. The very fact that particular proposals or suggested policies have given rise to disputes and controversy is, in itself, proof of the growing interest of the community in the planning process.
It is, perhaps, a bit early to attempt a comprehensive appraisal of the plans that have already been made. The plans vary considerably in scope and in content. Some authorities have produced detailed and carefully contrived policy statements and programmes of work which, if actively pursued and intelligently implemented, will have a considerable—and maybe a decisive— influence on the future development and expansion of their areas. Others have confined themselves to broad statements of policy which may prove to be too general in character to be of really practical value.
It was, of course, to be expected that there would be fairly wide variations as between one area and another and, within limits, this position must be accepted realistically as reflecting the needs, circumstances and ideas of the particular areas and authorities concerned. In time, however, some degree of co-ordination of policies in particular matters will almost certainly prove to be necessary.
It also seems likely that certain authorities who are responsible for the safeguarding of some of our most important areas of natural beauty or recreational utility may find that their policies for the protection of these areas from development of a discordant character or from development which would deprive the people as a whole of a natural amenity they are entitled to enjoy, may not be succeeding in their objectives and that more detailed policies are called for. More sophisticated policies can, of course, only be developed following detailed surveys and studies and it is essential that planning authorities having cleared the hurdle of the first plans, should not sit back complacently and ignore the need for a progressive and continuous review of policies and programmes.
Plans are for the people and for society whose needs cannot be static. Planning must be a continuous process if the needs of the people are to be met at the right time and in the right places. Towards this end a constant review of planning policies is vital. I accept that many authorities have been handicapped in preparing their plans by the shortage of qualified staff and it is my intention that my Department and An Foras Forbartha will provide all possible advice and assistance to the planning authorities generally in connection with the review, refinement and improvement of their development plans.
Interest is regional planning has quickened a good deal. Since the Buchanan Report was published there has been a lot of discussion on the subject. I should like to avail of this opportunity to explain the Government's approach to regional planning and development and to the question of growth centres.
According to the expert views we could hope to benefit from development centres in two ways mainly. One would be to improve industrialisation both in quantity and in quality. Projects would be attracted to this country which might not otherwise come here. There would be a faster progress towards full employment. The other main potential benefit is that centres could be used as a means of bringing about a more satisfactory regional distribution of population and employment. On this point the Government have never accepted that the fate of the regions, and particularly that of the less favoured regions, can be left to the free play of market forces.
It is clear from experience here, and from experience abroad, that those forces would tend to bring about greater and greater concentration broadly on the lines of established trends, and would lead to decline in some regions and rural areas. Despite the various measures which the Government have introduced to encourage development in the western areas, the disadvantages of market forces as they affect the location of development are evident at both ends of the development scale. There are the problems of congestion in Dublin and in other large towns, the high cost of building land in those places and the heavy demands for investment in infrastructure to accommodate their further expansion. By comparison growth in some of the regions has been relatively slow even in cases where there may be scope for accommodating expansion at comparatively low cost.
The Government intend to explore fully the possible use of regional planning measures that could be effective in correcting imbalances of this kind. It was for this purpose that the Buchanan study was arranged by An Foras Forbartha with the United Nations as an independent assessment of the scope for applying the development centre idea in this country. The consultants studied the economy and the trends in different parts of the country. They came to the conclusion that it would be necessary if full employment were to be achieved by 1986 to create something in the region of 30,000-40,000 jobs in manufacturing and mining, with a corresponding number in building and service employment, over and above the jobs likely to be created on established trends. They considered that if the extra jump towards full employment were to be made it would be necessary to work towards establishing fairly large industrial centres with strong attractions.
In considering a suitable pattern of growth centres the consultants were faced with the problem that the best course from the purely economic point of view would suggest a high degree of concentration whereas regional and social considerations would suggest that policy should be aimed at a reasonable degree of dispersal of new activity. As might be expected the consultants' solution is a compromise, not complete concentration, not complete dispersal. Having considered alternative extremes and various in-between courses reflecting different degrees of concentration and dispersal the consultants recommended, firstly, that there should be a special expansion programme for the Cork and Limerick areas as counters to Dublin and to improve the country's international capacity to attract industry and absorb migration. Secondly, they recommended that a special measure of expansion should be promoted in six regional centres to exploit regional potential. Thirdly, in areas remote from these centres the consultants envisaged that local growth centres would be designated and a concentrated effort made to develop commercial, administrative and industrial services in them for the surrounding areas.
The Government in the statement issued in May last indicated that while they accepted that growth centres might be useful in a regional programme they were concerned about the far-reaching implications of the consultants' recommendations. There would be the physical problems of rapid expansion in certain areas and the implications of such expansion for prospects in other areas. There would be the problems of financing the programme without abandoning existing programmes. There was the big question whether the new patterns of location and movement which would result would be the right ones for this country and whether equally good results could not be achieved with less population dislocation. The Government decided, therefore, that the consultants' recommendations should be examined as part of the current process of working out measures for general regional development which will be designed to ensure that the resources of every region are exploited to the greatest extent possible, and that the development of small towns and rural areas is encouraged in order to improve employment opportunities locally.
It was indicated in the Government's statement that the IDA would establish a unit in each region to promote industrial development and that the units would work in active co-operation with the regional co-ordinating groups. It was also indicated that the small industries programme of the IDA was being extended and that small industry would be a significant factor in providing employment in the smaller centres.
All of this is relevant to the Local Government Vote because some of the principal ingredients of any regional programme consist of infrastructure, viz., housing, roads, sanitary services, recreational provision and other community facilities. We cannot expect to establish a true balance in the future between population in the east and in the south and west, nor can we expect to attract development and population away from Dublin unless we build up really strong towns in other areas. This involves giving special attention to the infrastructure needs, and capitalising on the potential that exists in the regions and locally.
I must make it clear, however, that the Government do not see regional planning in terms of deciding on a few development centres. What has to be decided is the kind of balance which it is feasible to aim at between a fast rate of economic and social development overall and the provision of new employment opportunities when and where they are needed. It must then be decided what pattern of development ought to be promoted nationally, regionally and locally to progress towards this balance. Conclusions must be evaluated for financial and physical feasibility. It is because such proposals have not yet been fully evolved that the Government is not in a position to say whether or to what extent the recommendations in the Buchanan Report might be relevant in such a programme.
The Government have decided that regional groups of planning authorities and other bodies should be established to act as a co-ordinating focus in the regions. Work on the setting-up of such groups is proceeding in all areas. It will be the task of these groups to look at the regional problems in their area and at the opportunities that exist in such matters as advantageous locations, suitable sites, capacity of services, employment resources and community and amenity facilities. Each group has been asked to tackle immediately the preparation of a report on their region. This will include a survey of the considerations influencing development potential with emphasis on the physical and infrastructure consideration. These new groups will have an opportunity to play an important part in ensuring co-ordination in physical planning and between physical planning and industrial and tourist planning at the regional level. In general terms it will be their task to promote the welfare of the region in co-operation with the various bodies with responsibilities for aspects of development there. I have already indicated that the views of the groups will be taken into account in the further consideration of regional planning. A regional organisation on these lines has existed in the Limerick region for some two years and has shown itself to be a definite asset to the constituent bodies and to the region. I would appeal, therefore, to all planning authorities to contribute to and support the new groups and to participate in regional activity.
The initial operating costs of these co-ordinating groups will not be great but servicing arrangements will need to be made. I have undertaken to contribute in a small way to these expenses and provision for this is made in subhead N.
The principle of local development will be retained, and strengthened, in any regional programme. The trend towards urbanisation is likely to continue and small as well as large towns must prepare for it. In the future, as in the past, some places will do better than others, and deservedly so, because of the greater interest and activity of public and private bodies in the successful areas. However, all areas should aspire to improving their condition and should be alert to opportunities for doing so. It is quite clear that some industrialists prefer relatively remote locations despite all the advantages which are claimed for large centres. Many small towns have succeeded in attracting industrial projects. Areas with limited prospects of attracting industry are often compensated by good prospects of diversifying employment and increasing income through tourist activity. For no part of the country will development in its many aspects be ruled out. The type and degree of development will rightly depend a good deal on local initiative and interest. Local planning authorities have a great deal to contribute to the economic and social improvement of their areas. They are encouraged, by virtue of their functions under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, to regard themselves as development corporations using their plans, their resources, their status and their expertise to give a lead in local development and to encourage private development interests. Planning authorities are deeply involved in all significant development in their areas. Apart from their planning responsibility they have direct responsibility in such matters as housing and infrastructure facilities which are essential for expanding employment and population. Local authorities have been asked to adapt themselves to the need to become development minded in the interests of their area. This involves maintaining constant liaison with development interests with a view in particular to ensuring that physical planning and the local authority works programme are as effective as possible in supporting economic and social expansion at local level.
Let me turn briefly from the developmental aspects of physical planning and refer to the work of planning control administered by local authorities.
Perhaps, the outstanding features in a review of planning control during the two years ended 31st March, 1969, was the big increase in the number of proposals for development in each of the years 1967-68 and 1968-69 as compared with the year 1966-67.
Returns from planning authorities show they received 19,166 applications in 1966-67, which increased to 21,843 in 1967-68 and to 25,024 in 1968-69. A total of 23,676 applications were decided by the planning authorities in 1968-69 and of these 20,838 or over 88 per cent were allowed. In October, 1967, I wrote to all planning authorities recommending that they should endeavour to introduce a greater measure of flexibility in operating planning control. I suggested that they should adopt a less rigid line in dealing with development proposals and should try to operate in a way which would be more helpful to applicants. It will be appreciated that this involved a special effort by local officers who also had to cope with extra work in dealing with a greater number of applications. The fact that over 88 per cent of all applications decided in 1968-69 were allowed does not indicate that planning authorities generally are exercising their control powers in an unreasonable manner. Nevertheless, it is important that they should apply the suggestions I have made and I trust that they will continue their efforts to give full effect to my recommendations. I intend to follow up this matter with a further circular letter to planning authorities urging them to discuss proposals for development in appropriate cases with applicants for planning permission with a view to ironing out difficulties where possible. The planning authorities will be encouraged to try to indicate alternative locations for developments where this is possible and generally to try to arrive at a compromise solution with the applicant rather than reject the proposal. The aim should be to facilitate the public as far as possible and, at the same time, to make necessary planning restrictions more acceptable to persons affected.
In view of the rise in the number of applications it is not surprising that the number of appeals received by me reflected this increase and went up from 1,229 in 1966-67 to 1,586 in 1967-68 and 1,897 in 1968-69. Many of these appeals raise difficult and complex issues and are far from easy to decide. The continued rise in the number of appeals is reflected in the fact that 1,109 have been received in the six months ended 30th September, 1969, indicating an annual rate of well over 2,000.
Closely related to the planning activities of local authorities are the measures taken by them to clear derelict sites, to deal with dangerous quarries and other such places and to provide works of public amenity. Provision for grants to assist in these desirable operations was made in subhead G of the Vote.
Satisfactory progress has been maintained with the programme for the clearance of derelict sites. About 3,700 grants have been paid since the grants scheme for this purpose was instituted in 1960. While this figure is impressive, the problem needs to be tackled more selectively in many areas to get the best results.
Also associated with the planning and development work of my Department and of local authorities is part of the activities of An Foras Forbartha for which in the current year a grant in aid of £150,000 was provided. This represents an increase of £43,500 on the provision for the previous year. This grant in aid relates to the physical planning and the construction activities of An Foras. The road research activities of An Foras—to which I shall refer later—are financed by a grant from the Road Fund. The amount of that grant is £115,000 in the current financial year which represents an increase of £57,000 on the previous year.
Economic and social progress raises acute problems in all aspects of planning and developing our physical environment: planning the location of infrastructure to stimulate and support industrial and other economic activity; improving the environment of rural areas; planning the growth of our towns; improving the capacity and efficiency of the construction industry; reducing building costs, particularly in housing; adapting our roads system to cope efficiently and safely with greatly increased traffic; ensuring that our national heritage in landscape, areas of scientific value and distinguished buildings and other features are conserved amidst the inevitable growth of new buildings and works.
An Foras Forbartha was established as a national centre of environmental studies to concern itself with all these matters and is now, with generous United Nations assistance, contributing valuable studies and services in the fields of planning, building and roads. An Foras is pursuing a policy of providing special training facilities for its staff—to date 12 staff members have been released, in some cases for two years, for specialised study in Ireland, Britain and the United States. All these staff members have now returned and their contribution to our environmental planning will be increasingly felt.
In planning and development, the most important task An Foras has had in the past two years has been to assist the UN consultants, Buchanan & Partners, to prepare the overall national studies of regional development strategy, to which I have referred earlier. The major planning study currently in hands by An Foras is the preparation, under United Nations guidance, of planning recommendations for the growth of Cork city and the development of the county in a regional context. This is a key study of a major growth area, which will throw light on very important issues of pattern of settlement, location of industry and phasing of development which arise in all growth areas.
Priority has been given by An Foras to the preparation in consultation with the Departments and planning authorities concerned, of development recommendations for the Gaeltacht areas. Good progress has been made and results are expected soon.
A valuable study was carried out by An Foras on the planning of development in areas of fine landscape and in costal amenity areas subject to tourist pressure. A similar study on the entire coastline is now proceeding. Special attention in this study will also be given to Gaeltacht areas and to the special needs of the Irish language in these areas. The outcome of this study will, I hope, be timely measures to develop and, where necessary, conserve our coastline so that increased pressures will not destroy its uniqueness. Specialist advice and assistance were given to planning authorities in implementing the provisions of the Planning and Development Act for the conservation of nature. A nature and amenity conservation and development committee of An Foras have prepared a valuable review of the national heritage, which has been presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas and published for general consideration and comment. In planning education, An Foras is currently supporting, by scholarships, 14 students attending planning courses in Ireland and this is a very significant long-term contribution to improving our environmental planning as we are very short of trained planners.
I should like, in reviewing the work of An Foras, to pay a tribute to the board of directors under whose guidance and management, much valuable work has been accomplished. I am grateful also to many persons who, in individual or representative capacities, gave voluntarily of their time and expertise to the various advisory committees and working parties of An Foras.
I shall now deal with roads and traffic. A new system of accident reporting has been in operation since 1st January, 1968. This means that we cannot compare the total number of accidents in the last two years with those for earlier years because the new figures include accidents in which only superficial injuries or material damage occurred. However, we can make comparisons between 1968 and 1969. Provisional figures show that in 1969, 462 people were killed on our roads compared with 447 in 1968. The total number of persons injured fell from 9,716 to 9,476 however, and there was a similar small drop in material damage accidents—from 12,669 to 12,252.
Between 1965 and 1968 road deaths in this country increased by an average of 7 per cent each year. The provisional figures of deaths for 1969 indicate an increase of approximately 3 per cent over those for 1968. This represents a welcome reduction in the substantial annual rate of increase in road deaths which has been a feature of the past few years. We must, however, face the facts and accept that the toll on our roads is a national tragedy.
For my part I am prepared to do all in my power to deal with this, and I have shown myself ready to promote measures which were anything but popular with certain sections. My policy is to continue the attack on all fronts with all the resources I can make available, using propaganda, legislation and regulations, traffic management and road construction, and, of course, all the time making full use of the experience elsewhere and of our own research. But I must insist that, whatever measures are taken by authority, it still rests to a very large extent with individual road users to decide to behave in such a way as to reduce this crippling toll on our life and on our economy.
I propose now to tell the House of some of the things we have done and are doing to cope with the accident problem and at the same time offset the economic loss caused by traffic congestion and delays. We are not acting on our own in this, but in full co-operation with other agencies such as other Departments, the Garda, the local authorities and the Safety First Association of Ireland. I would like to pay a special tribute to the association for its continued efforts down through the years in the cause of road safety.
During 1968-69 my Department sustained its work in road safety education in conjunction with such agencies. Major operations included the launching, with the co-operation of the Minister for Education and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, of a scheme of road safety charts. These are being issued with the assistance of the local authorities to all primary schools to enable the teachers to give road safety instruction in the course of the normal school curriculum. The majority of the schools throughout the country have now received their supplies and distribution of the present series of charts will be completed shortly. A further series of charts dealing with other important aspects of road behaviour is in the course of preparation. The teacher, with his specialist skill, is in a most favourable position to instil into young minds the kinds of attitudes and values which are necessary if we are to have an improved standard of behaviour on the roads. It is my earnest hope that teachers generally will employ these charts as a useful teaching aid with which they can pursue the normal school curriculum, while at the same time introducing positive road safety instruction to the children.
The production of road safety literature, films and television material continues and once again I wish to express my thanks to cinema managements and Radio Telefís Éireann for their co-operation. The winter of 1968 saw the introduction of standard time into this country. While providing valuable extra daylight at the peak evening traffic period, it has meant longer periods of darkness during the winter mornings. A study by An Foras Forbartha indicates that the beneficial effects of the extra daylight in the evening at least offset the extra hazard in the early morning, but there can be little doubt that special problems were created for school children in the morning.
To minimise the effects of the early morning hazard to school children the Safety First Association distributed very large quantities of reflectorised armbands to primary school children for the last two winters. Steps were also taken by me to issue timely warnings and advice to parents and drivers during the danger period. I am satisfied that these measures and the general publicity over the issue of standard time helped in no small way to reduce the effect of the dark mornings. I have also drawn the attention of road authorities to the need for adequate public lighting during the morning hours of darkness.
Because chiefly of administrative difficulties, many municipal authorities have not proceeded with the appointment of school wardens. I considered the question for some time in consultation with the Ministers for Education and Justice. I was impressed by a scheme used in other countries whereby more senior pupils operate as school wardens for the other students in the school. I am happy to say that Carlow Urban Council agreed to try out a pilot scheme in Carlow. The pilot scheme is based on the system used in Denmark which has been tried and tested over many years. The scheme is now in operation at the Christian Brothers' primary school in Carlow with senior boys from the school acting as wardens in teams of six. The boys were specially trained by the Gardaí but the development of the pilot scheme involved the closest co-operation of several interests—the urban council, the parents, the school authorities, the gardaí, the local road safety committee and of course the boys themselves.
The pilot scheme serves more than road safety. It is useful training in civics for all the students. Furthermore the scheme has shown the depth of community spirit available in this country. The people of Carlow have given a lead by demonstrating what can be achieved when different groups in the community join forces to transform theory into a practical scheme and I should like to take this opportunity of extending my congratulations to all concerned.
It is my hope that after a sufficient trial period this scheme will extend to other towns.
The year 1968 saw a substantial addition to our traffic legislation. The Road Traffic Act, 1968 became law on 16th July, 1968, and 59 of the 66 sections of the Act are now in operation. The most recent provisions which I have brought into effect are those dealing with drinking and driving. The new law on this subject, which became effective on 3rd November, 1969, creates an offence of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle while the level of alcohol in the blood exceeds 125 milligrammes and makes provision for breath, blood and urine tests. Unfortunately for reasons already well-known, the operation of these provisions has received a temporary check.
While some provisions of the 1968 Act, particularly those relating to the roadworthiness of vehicles, have been formally brought into operation they will not be effective until the relevant regulations under them are made. Some of these regulations will be quite complex in character and their drafting will involve consultation with various bodies. Before making any of these regulations I will announce my provisional decisions for the observations of the public.
Meanwhile, existing regulations relating to vehicles, made under the Road Traffic Act, 1961, are being reviewed by an informal committee under the aegis of my Department. This is necessary because of developments in the automotive industry and international agreements. The committee includes representatives of the various interests concerned. Of necessity their work will be prolonged, but they will submit interim reports when appropriate and in any event I shall not hesitate, if the necessity arises, to make amending regulations on a particular pressing subject, consulting the committee to the fullest extent possible.
For instance in July, 1969, I made regulations requiring tractors to be fitted with safety frames when used in a public place. This catches the great majority of agricultural tractors. From 1st September, 1970, the regulations will apply to tractors newly registered on or after that date. They will not apply to tractors registered before then until 1st September, 1977. The standard prescribed for the safety frame is that agreed to by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
I have recently published proposals for regulations making it obligatory to mark the rears and sides of large vehicles with reflecting and fluorescent materials, and making it obligatory to fit safety belts in the front seats of certain passengers and light goods vehicles. I have invited comments from the public on the proposals. The comments to date are being considered in my Department. I might mention that a study by An Foras Forbartha deduces that the proposed regulations on safety belts should effect a significant reduction in the quantum of personal injury resulting from road accidents.
The regulations relating to the operation of small public service vehicles have been amended by me so as to define more clearly the distinction between public hire vehicles—or taxis— and private hire vehicles—or hackneys. Arising from discussions with representatives of taxi interests, I set up a small committee to assemble the facts relating to the operation of taxis and hackneys. After this committee reports. I hope to be in a better position to consider what changes, if any, are justified in the law governing the control of small public service vehicles.
The driving test has now been in operation since March, 1964, and up to the end of December, 1969, approximately 177,500 driving tests had been carried out and 95,481 or approximately 54 per cent of these had resulted in failure for the applicants. Looking at these figures from the positive angle, they show that there are now on our roads 82,000 drivers who have passed the test. This is not, of course, a guarantee that these drivers will continue to drive safely at all times but it does mean that they have shown on test that they know the rules of the road and are capable of driving safely. The proportion of such drivers will increase progressively and this must tend to improve the standard of driving on our roads.
At this point I want to comment on one aspect of the driving test scheme which has caused considerable inconvenience to applicants, that is the substantial delays which have occurred for some time past in arranging tests. These delays were caused by an acute shortage of testing staff.
I am glad to be in a position to say that we have recruited a good complement of additional testers who have now been trained and are carrying out tests. As a result and despite an increasing demand for tests, the period between application and test is being whittled down towards a reasonable level.
The comprehensive revision of local speed limits on a county by county basis has been completed and revised regulations for all counties have now been introduced. The overall policy has been to apply speed limits which are as far as possible uniform in application, are likely to be observed by the majority of drivers. and which at the same time will have regard to the safety of all road users. Before these regulations were introduced, full account was taken of the views of the local authorities, the Garda Síochána and local representations. Further reviews of speed limits will be undertaken from time to time in consultation with the local authorities and the Garda Síochána.
While the Road Traffic Bill was before the Dáil, I asked An Foras to commence a study on the subject of a general speed limit. In the light of their report I made regulations with effect from 1st April, 1969, imposing a general speed limit of 60 miles per hour. In taking my decision I was moved by the substantial increase in road fatalities and the fact that the report showed that on the sections of roads with high average design speed —despite the overall low accident rate on these sections—the percentage of injury accidents which is fatal is considerably higher than on other sections. I felt it my duty to take any reasonable decision which offered the prospect of reducing the toll of death on the roads and to take it as quickly as possible. As was to be expected, there were those who did not agree with my decision. In particular I heard the motoring organisations and, while there was some merit in certain of the arguments they advanced, I concluded that on balance the public interest justified the trial of a general speed limit.
It was highly desirable to secure reasonable experience of the working of the general speed limit before the introduction of the blood-alcohol test if we were to seek to assess on its own the value of the speed limit as an accident counter-measure. This was another factor in favour of introducing the limit as early as possible. I arranged that An Foras Forbartha would keep the question of the limit under review. I understand that their report will be furnished shortly. It takes time to abstract from the overall accident figures those relating to the roads on which the general speed limit applies. This is necessary if the effect of the limit on accidents is to be properly assessed. I intend to review the operation of the limit in the light of the report from An Foras.
Very recently I announced that it has been decided to equip the national routes with a more up-to-date system of informative signs, that is, those indicating directions and destinations. An Foras Forbartha has been asked to recommend suitable designs and it is envisaged that the replacement of the existing signs will be effected over a period, route by route. The new signs will show distances in kilometres, and —except where the Irish version of the place name is reasonably close to the English and can be used on its own— place-names will be in Irish and English, the national language being given equal prominence with English.
Other traffic management measures are primarily the responsibility of the Garda and the local authorities. My functions are largely of a consenting and enabling nature. In the year ended 31st March, 1969, I gave my consent to 24 sets of local traffic or parking bye-laws or rules. In the same period I gave approval to the provision of 14 car parks with the aid of grants. A number of sets of traffic light signals and pedestrian-operated lights were similarly provided.
Recently in reply to a Parliamentary Question I dealt at some length with the problem of traffic congestion in Dublin. I indicated that the authority chiefly concerned was Dublin Corporation, that it would not be possible to provide all the facilities required by all the private motorists who would like to drive into the central city area and park there at will, that the present congestion can be best abated by commuting motorists changing over to public transport, that action will have to be conducted on a number of time-levels—traffic management for the present problem—and this includes parking restrictions—certain road works in the near future and most extensive measures in the long-term. I mentioned the kinds of thing being done and considered by the corporation.
Other cities and towns are facing scaled-down versions of Dublin's problems and their long-term solutions will appear in their development plans. While a number of these have undertaken detailed traffic surveys, I issued a circular letter urging that all local authorities should consider the benefits which would accrue to their areas in the short term by the extension of simple traffic management measures. The letter outlined the objectives that should be sought and the principal measures which could be applied. I have invited the local authorities to inform me of the action they propose to take on consideration of the circular. I have, of course, assured urban road authorities that they may proceed with their long-term planning of their street system on the understanding that such funds as can progressively be made available for urban road improvements will be applied to the implementation of these street plans and indeed where appropriate I have indicated my acceptance in principle of long-term traffic plans on this basis. But the funds available will not be unlimited. Full use will have to be made of traffic management and the maximum use of public transport which conditions in any particular locality warrant.
Similarly, in relation to rural roads, we have to accept that the funds available for road building are not unlimited. We know that the results of traffic accident studies carried out by An Foras Forbartha indicate that there is a close correlation between the capacity of a road—in relation to traffic on it—and its accident record. In other words, a very effective way of reducing road accidents is to build better roads. But, while we are aware of this, we are also aware of the real limitation on the moneys available for road building. What we have sought to do is therefore to concentrate expenditure as far as is reasonably possible on works which will make the greatest impact on accidents. Local authorities have been requested, when carrying out their annual road programmes, to deal on an interim basis with black spots on roads unlikely to receive overall improvement for some time. The standard aimed at in improvement works is such as, while being as economical as possible, will give the best results in terms of safety. Finally, more funds have been devoted to roads whose capacity to carry their traffic is seriously, indeed dangerously, deficient.
In July, 1969, I announced some important decisions in road administration. One related to the reclassification of the road network made following studies conducted with the co-operation of the engineering organisations of the road authorities. Briefly, I have decided (a) that the rural road network shall be reclassified into "systems" to be described as national, regional and county, (b) that the national system shall be subdivided into national primary and national secondary and (c) on the roads to be designated as national primary and national secondary. Road authorities have been informed of these decisions. A further study is now in progress with a view to designating the routes which will form the regional and county systems. Consultation with the road authorities continues. The comprehensive reclassification of the road network in urban areas—including the cities—is a further complex problem involving consideration of the various traffic studies undertaken and their implications in the context of development plans.
Another major decision arises from consideration of two studies carried out by An Foras Forbartha with the assistance of a United Nations consultant. In effect the reports recommended that the arterial—now the national primary —roads programme should be administered by a central authority. The Government have decided that responsibility for the national routes should be transferred to my Department so that a national programme for these routes can be designed and executed on a uniform basis. Legislation will be prepared to effect the transfer of responsibility and the necessary administrative and financial arrangements will take time to effect. In the meantime, the statutory responsibility for the routes will continue to rest with the local road authorities. Here I should make it clear that the Government's decision in no way reflects on the value of the work carried out by the local authorities, to date. On the contrary, I am availing of this opportunity to express my deep appreciation of the work carried out by these staffs on the improvement and maintenance of our road network. These authorities will continue to be fully responsible for the remainder of the road network after the establishment of the national road authority and their services will be required as agents in respect of work on the national routes.
I have recently made regulations which effect two changes in regard to motor vehicle number plates. The first change is to permit licensing authorities to issue identification marks in which the number will precede the letters instead of following them as at present. This course has been made necessary by the fact that some licensing authorities—notably Dublin —will shortly have exhausted all the marks available to them under the present system.
The second change is to permit, at the option of the owner, the use of reflective number plates. Where this type of plate is used the front plate must have black letters and numbers on a white surface while the back plate must have black letters and numbers on a red surface. The following considerations led to the choice of red.
The lighting colour code for vehicles provides generally for showing white to the front, yellow/amber to the sides and red to the rear. Proposals recently published provide for the marking of heavy vehicles with reflecting material —amber/yellow to the sides, red to the rear. It would be desirable to adhere to this colour scheme for the reflective number plates. Experiments conducted here and abroad indicated that black numerals on a red background read satisfactorily.
The proposal to use red was discussed with representatives of number plate manufacturers and of the motor trade and no objections were raised. Later the proposal was published and comments were invited from interested parties. There was no significant objection to the choice of red. Accordingly the regulations were made on that basis.
In the course of my statement on roads and traffic, I have referred to An Foras Forbartha a few times. The institute operates in very close relationship with my Department and the road authorities. While they for their part assist the institute, it feeds back an increasing volume of information to them. An important development in its road work during the last two years was the establishment as from 1st January, 1968, of the traffic accident records bureau where all traffic accidents reported by the gardaí are recorded and analysed. The data available in this bureau will enable accident-prone stretches of road to be speedily indentified and improved and will throw light on the contributory factors in road accidents. This bureau is, as far as is known, unique internationally in its coverage and depth and I trust that it will help greatly in our efforts to reduce road accidents.
Allied with the accident analysis is a national traffic counting system established with the aid of my Department and the road authorities whereby traffic is measured systematically and processed centrally for all major roads. This information is essential for planning and improvement of our road system to cope safely with the demands being made upon it. Amongst the reports received from An Foras was one dealing with public street lighting. I was concerned at evidence indicating that bad street lighting had been a significant factor in our accident rate. In any event, it was clear that our programme of street lighting improvement was going to be very costly. Accordingly, I asked for an examination of the need for an improved standard of street lighting and the most economical means of carrying out the recommended improvements. I have received this report which I am considering.
The local improvements scheme was introduced on 1st April, 1968. Progress during 1968-69, the first year of operation of the scheme, was disappointingly slow and most counties did not use their full allocation. I am glad to say that the reports received to date indicate much better progress this year. I would like to remind Deputies that it is a feature of this scheme that the county councils have been entrusted with full freedom in the detailed administration of the grants, subject to compliance with the general rules laid down by my Department, and that it is contrary to the policy of the Department to interfere with a council's discretion in this matter.
In the present financial year the total revenue expenditure of local authorities—excluding vocational education committees, committees of agriculture and harbour authorities—is estimated at £131.11 million, an increase of more than £14 million on the estimated expenditure for 1968-69. This expenditure is financed from three main sources of revenue—State grants, rates and miscellaneous receipts such as rents for local authority houses, purchase annuities, et cetera.
A striking feature of local finance has been the extent to which the proportion of the total revenue expenditure of local authorities met by local rates has fallen. In 1938-39, rates accounted for 52.3 per cent of that expenditure. By 1956-57 the total receipts met from rates as a proportion of local revenue expenditure had fallen to 39.7 per cent and for the current year the percentage is estimated at 33.3 per cent. This trend is due in the main to the increase in State grants over the same period. In 1938-39, State grants to local authorities amounted to 39.2 per cent of local revenue expenditure; in 1956-57 they amounted to 42.6 per cent and in respect of the current year, the figure is estimated to be around 50 per cent.
The efforts of local authorities to meet the constant demands for improvements and expansion in services they provide and which are vital to the well-being of the community, and to provide for the proper maintenance of these services, are, of course, reflected in increases in the expenditure of local authorities. The massive scale of State subvention of local funds—a total of approximately £65.92 million in the current year—provides a very significant measure of protection for ratepayers from the full effects of these increases in cost. Nevertheless there is a clear need to isolate and find solutions to the problems of local finance and taxation which the development of local services presents.
A substantial measure of progress has already been made in the investigations which are a necessary preliminary to any worthwhile and long-term overhaul of the present system. The inter-departmental committee to which these investigations have been entrusted have furnished three reports, which the Government have made available for public discussions and comment. Work on the preparation of a further report, which will deal with State grants to local authorities including the operation of the agricultural grant and certain aspects of differential rating is well advanced but must be deferred pending completion of a review of the structure of local government which is being carried out in my Department. As already announced by me it is the intention that when my review of the structure of local government has been considered by the Government a White Paper setting out the proposals on the matter will be published.
Local authorities are extensive purchasers of a wide range of commodities and the central contracting system operated under the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1939 continues to play a big part in local authorities' activities. Their purchases from official contractors under this system in the 12-month period ended 30th June, 1968, totalled approximately £6.04 million as against £5.58 million and £5.4 million in the preceding periods.
This combined purchasing system has been of considerable benefit to local authorities and it has also been of help to Irish industries. At the same time, the framework of the scheme has undergone very little change during all that period. Accordingly, I have set up a working party which is currently engaged on a review of the system, with the object of ensuring that local authority purchasing arrangements may continue to be fully in keeping with the demands of the time.
Capital expenditure by local authorities in the year 1968-69 is estimated to amount to £32.786 million compared with an estimated expenditure of £28.238 million in the preceding year. Expenditure in the present year is expected to show a substantial rise. The bulk of this capital expenditure requirement comes from the Local Loans Fund. The total net indebtedness of local authorities at 31st March, 1969, was estimated to be £251.22 million, compared with £230.54 million on 31st March, 1968. These figures of indebtedness do not, of course, represent a deadweight burden on local funds. To a considerable degree the repayments involved are subsidised by the State —as in the case of loans raised for housing, water supply and sewerage schemes—or are met by annuities payable in respect of loans advanced by local authorities for the purchase of private houses.