Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £15,575,000 chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1973, le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Oifig an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, a chuimsíonn deontais do na húdaráis áitiúla, deontais agus costais eile i dtaca le tithíocht, agus scéimeanna agus deontais ilghnéitheacha, lena n-áirítear deontas-i-gcabhair.
Cuimhneoidh Teachtaí gurb é an tsuim bhunaidh iomlán a vótáladh don bhliain 1971-72 ná £13,762,000. Bhí dhá mheastachán fhoirlíontach ann i gcaitheamh na bliana 1971-72. De bharr na meastachán foirlíontach sin cuireadh breis iomlán de £2,263,000 leis an Vóta sa chaoi gurb é £16,025,000 an meastachán iomlán don bhliain 1971-72, tar éis Leithris-igCabhair a chur san áireamh.
Léiríonn an meastachán do 1972-73 laghdú glan de £450,000 ar an méid a vótáladh anuraidh. Is é an laghdú ar an soláthar le haghaidh deontais tithíochta agus an laghdú ar an soláthar le haghaidh scéimeanna feabhsúchán áitiúla, is cúis leis an laghdú seo ar an mheastachán. Chuaigh £700,000 chun tairbhe do dheontais tithíochta ón Vóta Foirlíontach ar glacadh leis i rith na bliana seo caite. Vótáladh an soláthar breise do scéimeanna feabhsúchán áitiúla chun fostaíocht i gceantair tuaithe a spreagadh, agus mar chuidiú chun laghdú a thabhairt ar an líon ró-mhór iarratas ar dheontais a bhí fós ar lámha na gcomhairlí contae. Nuair a chuirtear an meastachán i gcóimheas le 1971-72, cuireann na soláthairtí méaduithe atá faoi na fo-mhirchinn eile go léir nach mór, na laghduithe sin ar cheal don chuid is mó.
Léiríonn na deontais do thithíocht phríobháideach — seirbhís chaipitil vótáilte atá ann—méadú de £200,000 ar an soláthar a rinneadh anuraidh. Chuimsigh an soláthar sin suim fhoirlíontach de £600,000 a vótáladh i rith na bliana. Is léir ó na figiúirí go bhfuil tógáil tithe phríobháideacha ag dul ar aghaidh thar mar a bhí riamh cheana. Léiríonn an soláthar le haghaidh deontais do scéimeanna seirbhísí sláintíochta méadú de £285,000 thar an soláthar a rinneadh do 1971-72 agus méadaíodh an meastachán i leith ranníocaíochtaí ar chostais iasachtaí a bhaineann le linnte snámha ó £20,000 go £40,000. Méadaíodh na deontais agus an cúnamh airgid ar scéimeanna príobháideacha uisce agus séarachais ó £750,000 go £920,000 le linn na bliana agus meastar go dtógfaidh éilimh ar dheontais a thiocfaidh chun críche i gcaitheamh na bliana reatha £780,000.
Tabharfaidh Teachtaí faoi ndeara go bhfuil an teideal atá ar an bhfomhircheann faoi G athruithe chun béim níos treise a leagan ar oibreacha ar áiseanna. Tá méadú de £179,500 déanta ar an soláthar don bhfomhircheann seo thar mar a bhí i bhfigiúir £120,500 na bliana 1971-72. Pléifidh mé mionshonraí na bhomhirchinn éagsúla i mo ráiteas ar ball.
Is follasach ó réimse leathan an Mheastacháin do Rialtais Áitiúil, mórthábhacht na seirbhísí a chuireann mo Roinn-se agus na hudaráis áitiúla ar fáil, do shaol an phobail. Tugann na húdaráis áitiúla fostaíocht go díreach do thart ar 28,000 duine, ar a bhfuil foireann riaracháin, foireann theicniúil, foireann chléireachais, oibrithe bóthar agus oibrithe eile. Tá an fhostaíocht seo á thabhairt ar fud na tíre ar fad, agus ann féin, tá sé sontasach go leor i saol geilleagrach agus sóisialta na gceantar.
Tá caiteachas na n-údarás áitiúil ar sheirbhísí an-mhór. Ón lá a ceapadh mé mar Aire Rialtais Áitiúil táim buartha faoina dheacra atá sé pictiúr níos soiléire a fháil ar an gcaiteachas iomlán, áitiúil agus lárnach, ar sheirbhísí rialtais áitiúil agus faoin treo a bhfuil cúrsaí ag dul. Léireoidh mé an rud atá i gceist agam trí thagairt a dhéanamh don Mheastachán atá á phlé againn inniu ina bhfuil ollshuim de £16 milliún, sula ndealaítear Leithrisi-gCabhair. B'fhéidir go gceapfaidh roinnt daoine gurb é seo an caiteachas iomlán atá i gceist do mo Roinn-se agus do na hudaráis áitiúla. Le fanacht i mbun na bhfírinne, beidh a chúig oiread de chaiteachas iomlán ann, nó suim iomlán de thart ar £80 milliún i rith an bhliain airgeadais reatha—cuid de ag teacht ón Vóta, cuid de ó Chiste na nIasachtaí Áitiúla, cuid de ón Ród-Chiste agus ó fhoinsí áirithe eile. Má áirítear caiteachas na n-údarás áitiúil a dhéanfar le h-airgead ó rátaí agus ó iasachtaí ó fhoinsí seachas ón gCiste Iasachtaí Áitiúla, beidh caiteachas iomlán na bliana 1972-73 níos mó ná an £200 milliún ag tógáil ranníocaíochtaí d'údaráis sláinte agus d'áisíneachtaí eile san áireamh.
Suimeanna móra airgid iad seo i gcomhthéacs ar bith. Is ionann iad nach mór agus 12 faoin gcéad den olltáirgeadh náisiúnta agus tá tionchar ag an mbealach a gcaitear iad ar an saol a chaithimíd go léir. Tá sé riachtanach mar sin, d'éifeacht na seirbhísí a chuirtear ar fáil leis an airgead seo—agus luíonn sé le leas an phobail ina theannta sin—go saineofaí aidhmeanna agus cuspóirí an chaiteachais agus go ndéanfaí meastachán fiúntach den mbealach in a dtiocfaidh forbairt sna blianta atá romhainn. Cad iad go díreach na rudaí ar mian linn tosaíocht a thabhairt dóibh? Cad tá á bhaint amach againn leis an airgead atá á chaitheamh againn? An bhfuil an caiteachas seo ag teacht le bunpholasaithe sóisialta agus eacnamaíochta an Rialtais maidir le tionsclaíocht, talmhaíocht, turasóireacht, oideachas, scíth, srl? An bhfuil bealaí eile lenár n-aidhmeanna a bhaint amach? Cad iad na h-impleachtaí, ní amháin do riaradh na Roinne, ach do riaradh na n-údarás áitiúil agus an chórais frí chéile, atá ag gréasa áirithe caiteachais agus ag ranna sainithe riachtanais? Is iad a leithéid seo de cheisteanna a ritheann liom láithreach nuair a thagann ceist chun cinn faoi dháileadh airgid d'aon seirbhís ar leith. D'fhonn teacht ar fhreagraí, dá éigcinnte nó dá thriailí iad do na ceisteanna seo is ea a bheartaigh mé boiséadú cláreagrach a thionscnamh sa Roinn.
Is é atá i gceist sa chóras seo go dtabharfaí miontuairisc ar aidhmeanna agus ar chuspóirí cláir, agus ar an gcaiteachas, agus ar a bhfuil á bhaint amach ag an gcaiteachas sin thar tréimhse is faide ná an bhliain amháin a bhíodh i gceist i meastacháin le fada. Baineadh feidhm as an gcóras seo tar éis é a shimpliú i mo Roinn-se i bpleanáil roinnt mhaith de na seirbhísí as a bhfuil an Roinn freagrach. Tá sé i gceist agam an córas seo a fhorbairt agus é a chur i bhfeidhm oiread agus is féidir ar ghníomhaíochtaí uile mo Roinne. Tógfaidh sé tamall de bhlianta sula mbeidh an córas seo i lánúsáid mar go bhfuil suimeanna airgid an-mhóra i gceist—mar go bhfuil castacht ag baint leis na seirbhísí go háirithe nuair a bhítear ag iarraidh táirgeadh a thomhas agus cruinnbheartaíocht a dhéanamh, agus mar gur féidir fadhbanna a bheith ag baint le idirghníomhú na Roinne seo agamsa leis na húdaráis áitiúla.
Thagair mé cheana do chaiteachas iomlán de £80 milliún sa bhliain airgeadais reatha a chlúdófar leis an Vóta Rialtais Áitiúil, Ciste na nIasachtaí Áitiúla, An Ród-Chiste agus foinsí áirithe eile.
Nuair a déantar briseadh síos ar an iomlán seo faoi na príomhtheidil as a bhfuil an Roinn seo agamsa agus na húdaráis áitiúla freagrach is léir go gcaitear an chuid is mó i bhfad den chaiteachas iomlán ar thithíocht agus ar fhoirgníocht—i.e. breis agus £48 milliún. Is é an dara ghné is mó caiteachas ná iompar bóthar agus sábháilteacht, ar a gcaitear breis agus £17 milliún. Caitear £8 milliún nach mór ar shláinte agus ar shábháilteacht timpeallachta. Faoin teideal scíth, áiseanna, agus caitheamh aimsire atá an chéad ghné tábhacht eile. Is lú go mór an caiteachas ar an ngné seo den obair ná an caiteachas a ndearna mé tagairt dó cheana féin ach creidim féin go dtiocfaidh béim i bhfad níos mó ar an ngíomhaíocht a dhéanfar faoin teideal seo chun áiseanna a sholáthar, mar ghléas chun an bheatha atá againn a fheabhsú agus chun an timpeallacht inar féidir le gníomhaíochtaí tionsclaíochta agus geilleagracha forbairt a dhéanamh a chothú.
Mar is eol do no Teachtaí, tá glactha ag an Rialtais le tairiscintí chun rialtas áitiúil sa Ghaeltacht a atheagrú. Tá reachtaíocht á hullmhú faoi láthair leis na tairiscintí sin a chur i ngníomh agus comh luath agus a bheidh sí reidh tabharfar an cheist os chomhair na Dála. Cuimhneofar go bhfuil dhá thairiscint ann go bunúsach. Sa chéad áit tá sé molta go mbunófaí coiste Gaeltachta i ngach Contae Gaeltachta. Is iad na comhairleoirí do thoghlimistéir nua-chumtha Gaeltachta a bheidh ar na coistí seo. Beidh feidhmeanna comhairleacha ag na coistí seo agus feidhmeanna eile a thiomnófar dóibh. Beidh de chumhacht ag an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, i gcomhairle le h-Aire na Gaeltachta, iachall a chur ar chomhairlí contae feidhmeanna cinnte a thiomnú do na coistí. Go ginearálta, beidh sé mar aidhm go mbeadh a oifig féin agus a fhoireann féin ag gach coiste laistigh den Ghaeltacht agus go bhfeidhmeodh sé mar ghníomhaire don chomhairle contae.
Is é atá sa dara thairiscint go mbunófaí comhairle láir thar ceann na dtoghlimistéar Gaeltachta go léir. Beidh feidhm chomhairleach ghinearálta maidir leis an nGaeltacht ag an gcomhairle seo. Féadfaidh an tAire Rialtais Áitiúil, tar éis dó dul i gcomhairle le h-Aire na Gaeltachta agus dreamanna feiliúnacha, feidhmeanna eile a leagan uirthi.
None of the many problems which face me as Minister for Local Government is more pressing than the achievement of the Government's primary housing objective of providing every family in Ireland with proper living accommodation at a rent or price they can afford.
Adequate shelter and a suitable place to make a home are basic human needs. The Government's White Paper, Housing in the Seventies, set a target of between 15,000 and 17,000 houses a year by the mid-1970s to cater for growing needs. This level of output means that capital expenditure on housing must increase. In fact, it has risen. Total capital expenditure on the building or substantial reconstruction of houses amounted to about £87 million in 1971-72, compared with £65 million in 1970-71. Approximately £39 million of this £87 million was provided through the public capital programme with the balance coming from private sources, particularly building societies. The public capital programme for 1972-73 contains provision for expenditure of £43 million on housing and the total capital expenditure from all sources this year is likely to be approximately £100 million.
I think it well to give the Dáil an idea of the kind of money which is involved in our housing programme so that Deputies can better appreciate the crucial problem which the Government have to tackle when faced with competing and rapidly growing demands for capital to finance other critical programmes—schools, hospitals, industrial development grants and so on. The resources available are not unlimited and increases in them depend, to a large degree, on improvement in the national economy. In this situation, the Government has to make difficult decisions about the allocation of the available resources as between housing, industrial development, schools, hospitals and the other desirable forms of economic and social investment.
The achievements of recent years provide the best possible indication of the high priority which the Government gives to housing. A decade ago only 6,000 houses were being built annually. Last year an all-time record of almost 16,000 new houses were completed. This was nearly 2,000 more than the greatest number built in any previous year and it exceeds the minimum target of 15,000 houses set for the mid-seventies in the 1969 White Paper. Of the total number of houses built last year, approximately 11,000 were provided by private enterprise and semi-State bodies and 5,000 by local authorities. The statistics of local authority housing starts and of grants allocated for private houses indicate that a further increase in completions may be expected in 1972-73 and, on present trends, I am optimistic that the upper level of 17,000 dwellings a year in the White Paper will be achieved in advance of the target year. It is worth emphasising that our annual housing output is now running at almost three times the level of the early 1960s. Advance land acquisition is also satisfactory and local authorities have sites available for 47,732 dwellings and are negotiating for a further 26,765 sites.
I am far from complacent about our progress in housing, but the size of the present programme and the way in which it has been built up on a planned basis, with due regard both to needs and to the availability of the resources without which expansion cannot take place, is an achievement which must be acknowledged. The most satisfactory aspect of our housing progress is, perhaps, that the expansion in activity is taking place both in the local authority and the private building sectors.
The local authority housing programme made a welcome recovery last year from the restricting effects of the 1970-71 cement strike and dwellings completed totalled 5,106 as against 3,875 in the previous year. With output now above the 5,000 mark and with practically 8,000 dwellings under construction, we are well set to surpass the 1969 White Paper target for the mid-seventies of 5,500 completions.
Dwellings in progress at 31st March, 1972, or then at tender stage totalled 12,811 as compared to 11,449 a year earlier. Plans were being prepared for further schemes comprising some 13,484 dwellings and sites had been acquired or were in course of acquisition for another 55,865 dwellings. The programme is, therefore, going well and I am looking forward to another substantial increase in the number of new house completions in the current year.
The scale of the housing problem undoubtedly is greatest in Dublin city. It is good, therefore, to record that Dublin Corporation rehoused 2,463 families in 1971-72, including 232 of their existing tenants who were provided with "purchase" houses. New dwellings provided in the year totalled 1,472, of which 91 purchase type houses were allocated to persons who had applied to Dublin County Council for housing.
Last year the corporation completed 978 ordinary tenancy dwellings, as compared to 812 in 1970-71. At 31st March, 1972, in their weekly tenancy programme, they had 2,977 dwellings either being built or on which work was about to commence and had plans ready or in hands for another 4,190. Additional sites had been purchased or were being acquired for 12,612 houses, flats or private sites. Their on-going programme, therefore, provides for close on 20,000 dwellings or private sites. I might mention that the corporation had made available up to 31st March last 1,454 sites to private builders under the programme for which a special extra allocation of £3 million was provided and further sites will be released according as development and servicing are completed. In addition substantial blocks of land have been made available to builders mainly in the Tallaght area.
An important new development in the Dublin city programme is the substantial participation of the corporation in the guaranteed order project. They have allocated sites in the Tolka Valley area of Finglas for about 1,700 houses to be built by the National Building Agency under the project and the first two stages of this major new housing area, comprising 642 houses, are already under construction. The additional professional and contracting resources provided by this development will give a quick and much needed boost to the corporation's programme. I welcome the corporation's decision to make maximum use of the services of the agency, which has already contributed so effectively in the Ballymun and Tallaght schemes to their efforts to deal with the city's serious housing backlog. The corporation's programme in recent years has only succeeded in containing the numbers on the approved waiting list at around the 5,000 mark. We cannot be satisfied that enough is being done until we see that figure of needs being steadily reduced.
I have previously mentioned to the Dáil my particular concern for small families, especially in the Dublin area, some of whom have been years on the approved list but who have little real prospect of being rehoused. The corporation is examining my request to undertake a special programme to provide small dwellings—if necessary, even temporary dwellings—to give a genuine hope of early rehousing to these small families. I have informed the corporation that I regard this work as being sufficiently important to warrant a special additional allocation of capital to finance it.
The corporation have now selected a number of suitable sites throughout the city and are preparing plans for groups of specially designed small houses on each site. Prototypes of a prefabricated dwelling which has been specially designed by the National Building Agency for small families have been built in Bray with the co-operation of the local housing authority. I am most anxious that these and other special measures to help the smaller families should be pressed forward. Indeed, I would like to avail of this opportunity to urge all other housing authorities in whose areas a similar problem exists to allocate a part of their building programme—even 10 per cent—to this special need so that no family in need of proper accommodation will be left without hope just because the family is small in numbers.
Capital expenditure on local authority housing increased substantially last year—a total of £21.6 million being spent, against £16.75 million in 1970-71. The original Budget allocation of £19.5 million was supplemented from the capital moneys provided by the Government last autumn to help towards the relief of unemployment. In consequence, local authorities did not find it necessary to avail of the Government's special authorisation to draw on the 1972-73 capital allocation before the end of March and the full amount of that allocation —approximately £23.9 million—will be available in the present year.
While on the subject of local authority housing capital, I would like to mention a recent important step in the process of devolution to housing authorities of increased responsibility for their housing projects. Under the new arrangement local authorities have been given a general power to plan and accept tenders for schemes of up to six houses and for all rural cottages, demountable dwellings and so on. In future, housing authorities undertaking such projects will be subject only to the capital allocation made for the execution of their programmes and no submissions of plans or tenders to my Department will be necessary. If this measure of devolution is successful, I intend to enlarge the extent of local discretion progressively in future years. In particular, I hope that I can rely on the full co-operation of local authorities in maintaining vital controls over the level of prices and overall expenditure.
The expansion of the local authority programme and the prospect of a greater number of completions in the current year is due in large measure to the successful development of the guaranteed order project. With the ready co-operation of housing authorities and the building industry and professions generally, a programme of approximately 5,000 dwellings has been developed in the relatively short time since I inaugurated the project in the autumn of 1970. Work on the first scheme—in Galway—was commenced last July and already 150 houses have been completed under the project. A total of 1,788 dwellings is now being built and proposals are being developed and plans prepared for another 24 schemes, comprising in all 2,770 houses. In all, 17 different firms— some big and some small—are actually building houses under the project.
Direct advantages have been achieved in lower prices, a remarkable shortening of the period between the initiation of a scheme and its projected completion and a consequential reduction in the impact of the prices variation clause on the contract. There has, too, been a noticeable quickening of competition outside the project since its inauguration and this has helped to hold down local authority housing prices generally. In dealing with the project I have constantly stressed its open nature. At all times I will be willing to consider any fresh promising proposals from any source and for the use of new designs, materials or building methods which offer prospects of economies in cost combined with structural acceptability.
The National Building Agency built 1,400 dwellings last year, bringing the total completions by the agency since it was established about 11 years ago to almost 9,000 dwellings. Completions during the year included the major scheme of 1,812 houses and flats provided for Cork Corporation and the scheme of 860 dwellings for Limerick Corporation. Both of these projects were started in 1968.
At the end of March last a further 2,313 dwellings were under construction, including 1,563 being provided for local authorities under the guaranteed order project, and approximately 3,000 dwellings were at planning stage.
The current constructional programme comprises major schemes being undertaken on behalf of Dublin Corporation, Dublin County Council, Galway Corporation and other local authorities as well as houses being provided at the request of the Industrial Development Authority and of individual industrial concerns.
The value of the building work undertaken by the agency during the year 1971-72 amounted to £6.25 million approximately.
I mentioned earlier that the total number of new houses completed in 1971-72 was an all-time record. A feature of housing output in recent years has been the spectacular growth in private grant-aided houses. Last year, 9,677 new house grants were finally paid by my Department and 14,373 were approved. This compares with 4,046 completions and 4,821 approvals ten years earlier. The high rate of approvals in 1970-71 and last year gives good ground for hopes that the number of grant-aided completions will for the first time exceed 10,000 in the current year. The increase in output reflects the recasting of the grants system in recent years and an encouraging aspect is that the expansion in private housing has not been confined to the Dublin area. Many of our provincial towns and their environs have shared in the growth.
Deputies are no doubt aware that system-built houses are making a valuable contribution in the private housing grant sector. So far, my Department has accepted for grant purposes proposals submitted by 32 firms for more than 70 different system-built house types.
The grants system is flexible and enables assistance to be channelled towards persons and categories which merit special help. It is good, therefore, to see encouraging signs that we, as a community, are beginning—even in a very modest way—to give practical evidence of concern for the housing needs of elderly persons. The number of the special grants paid by my Department for houses for the elderly increased from 80 in 1970-71 to 135 last year. The philanthropic bodies providing these houses deserve every encouragement, and I sincerely hope that the rate at which activity under this particular scheme of grants has increased in recent years will be maintained.
A special rate of new house grant is payable also to farmers and to certain other deserving categories and about 8 per cent of private houses built last year qualified for these grants.
Expenditure on house purchase loans and supplementary grants increased to over £11 million last year by comparison with £9.3 million spent in the previous year. New applications to local authorities for house purchase loans increased by two-thirds over the last year or so.
In talking about housing output, the general tendency is to concentrate on new houses. However, it would be unwise to overlook the importance of conserving and improving the existing housing stock. Much has been done in this respect and during the past ten years, 84,491 houses have been reconstructed with the aid of grants from my Department.
In the context of measures to secure the conservation of the national housing stock, I should like to remind Deputies that although we build an impressive total of new dwellings each year, it is the condition of the total stock that determines the level of our overall housing conditions. There is a need, therefore, for policies to secure the best use and to promote the maintenance and modernisation of the housing stock. It is desirable to get more reliable information on the structural condition of the housing stock and on such matters as the relationship between age and structural condition and between the lack of essential facilities and structural condition.
I have asked An Foras Forbartha to carry out a comprehensive sample survey of the stock with a view to providing the information that we lack at present and I expect this survey, combined with the statistical information about housing, culled from last year's census, to provide the basis for the formulation of a planned policy for the modernisation and maintenance of the stock—a policy which, undoubtedly, could affect our future approach to the reconstruction grants scheme. A provision of £10,000 has been included in subhead B of the Estimates for the survey.
In anticipation of any other developments which my review and the survey may show to be desirable, I decided some months ago to introduce a special grant for housing physically disabled persons. This new grant applies to work started on or after 1st February, 1972, where an extra room or other structural work is necessary for the proper accommodation of such a person in an existing house. Many Deputies will have come across cases where the building of an extra room or the provision of a bathroom and toilet facilities at ground floor level is essential for suitable living conditions for a physically disabled person and his family. The financial aids for such work have heretofore been inadequate but I hope that the new scheme will rectify that shortcoming. I have in mind that necessary works could include such structural adjustments as the provision of ramps, the widening of door opes, lowering of door handles, light switches, et cetera.
In the case of work on a non-vested local authority house or flat, a local authority may pay a grant of up to the approved cost of the work. In other cases, the authority may pay a grant of up to two-thirds of the cost of the work. My Department will recoup half of the cost incurred by the authority, subject to a recoupment limit of £400 in any case.
I am anxious that this new scheme of grants will be operated in a flexible manner and as liberally as possible. I hope that Deputies will help to promote it in their areas so that this deserving category of persons can get the type of housing accommodation they need.
I would like now to say a few words about the general administration of the grant system. While there has not as a rule been undue delay in dealing with grant applications, I realise that there has been some increase over the past few months in the average time taken to pay in individual cases. This has been due directly to the sharp upward trend in the numbers of grants being approved and paid. To improve the quality of the service provided, I secured the agreement of the Minister for Finance to the commissioning of a firm of consultants to advise on the introduction of a system of management known as "management by objectives" in the housing grants section of my Department. As a result of this exercise, the existing procedures for dealing with the approval and payment of most types of grant are being modified and generally streamlined. The changes are expected to yield a worthwhile reduction in the cost of administration and, at the same time, to enable grants to be approved and paid more quickly.
The amount provided in Subhead E. 1 of the Estimates for 1972-73 to subsidise the rents of local authority dwellings is £5,285,000. This compares with the original estimate of £5,192,000 for 1971-72. Loan charges on other forms of State assistance given in the past for the same purpose is costing a further £.4 million approximately.
Deputies will recall that a Supplementary Estimate brought before the House on 16th March last included a sum of £.7 million to meet arrears of subsidy liabilities which had accumulated from a more rapid submission and processing of claims for subsidy and from the expanded local authority programme of recent years. Because of this £.7 million payment in March last, the provision for housing subsidy this year is somewhat less than the aggregate amount provided last year.
In addition to the State subsidy, contributions this year from the rates to keep rents low will cost a further £6.2 million approximately. My policy is to ensure that these huge subsidies are distributed equitably on the basis of need and that no one has to be refused housing because of inability to pay rent. In pursuance of this policy, local authorities must let all new dwellings at differential rents. The rents range from a nominal minimum to the full cost of providing and maintaining the dwelling and—after certain allowances have been deducted—are generally equivalent to above one-seventh of the income of the family rehoused.
Income-related rents are generally accepted as the fairest way of assisting people who otherwise could not pay for housing. However, the year 1971-72 was marked by rent disputes in a small number of local authority areas and affecting a tiny fraction of all local tenants. The main demand of the tenants involved in the disputes was that rents should be assessed on the basic income of the tenant only and that overtime, bonus and shift payments and all other household income should be disregarded. Conceding these demands would lead to substantial increases in the already high subsidies paid by the general body of ratepayers and the purpose of the differential renting systems would be defeated inasmuch as the principle of ability to pay would be undermined and better-off tenants would benefit at the expense of poorer tenants and other ratepayers. Because of this, the demands have had to be resisted by the local authorities concerned. Following detailed discussions between representatives of the local authorities and the tenants concerned, the disputes were resolved in a number of areas and negotiations at local level are being pursued in the other areas concerned.
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 price, subject to the maximum limit applicable to local authority house purchase loans. This concession applies even where the tenant's income exceeds the normal qualifying limit of £1,500 a year.
Local authorities may also provide houses for sale as distinct from letting. Such houses attract the full range of private housing aids. One local authority recently introduced a novel scheme whereby persons on their approved list were given the option, when being notified of the allocation of their house, of either renting it on a differential rent basis or buying it on a tenant purchase basis. The response so far has been most encouraging and I intend to let all local authorities have details of the scheme and to suggest that they consider the introduction of similar arrangements in their own areas.
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. This provides that a tenant can buy his house at the current market or replacement value, less a discount based on length of tenancy of up to 30 per cent in built-up areas and up to 45 per cent in other areas. Some 70 local authorities have already made schemes under the Act covering over 60,000 houses, or two-thirds of the total remaining stock of rented dwellings, and at the end of the year 1971-72 well over 10,000 tenants had purchased or were in the process of purchasing their houses.
A highly significant feature of housing in recent years has been the rapid expansion in the operations of building societies. In the mid-1960s, the societies were advancing about £6 million a year in loans for new and existing houses. In contrast, they lent an estimated total of £31 million last year. In the short space of three years, the number of loans approved annually by the societies rose from less than 4,000 to about 9,500 in 1971-72. For new houses alone, the societies have quadrupled the numbers of loans paid and it appears that they are now financing more than half of all the new private houses built in the Dublin area. One of the primary policy objectives set out in Housing in the Seventies was to encourage the flow of private capital to housing. The expansion which has since taken place in the societies' activities is, therefore, particularly welcome.
During the past year, I had discussions with the member societies of the Building Societies Association about the scope for extending arrangements for the guaranteeing by local authorities of loans made by the societies. This type of arrangement was first introduced in the Dublin area to enable building society and assurance company loans to be provided for persons who were purchasing houses provided on a package deal basis by the Dublin local authorities and it worked so well there that I decided to explore the scope for extending the scheme to other parts of the country and to other kinds of housing. With the agreement of the societies, I circularised all local authorities in January last asking them to make guarantee schemes on the lines of the scheme which had been drawn up for the Dublin area.
The guarantee arrangements can help to fill gaps which might otherwise exist in the range of available house purchase facilities. For example, they can enable persons who live in areas in which building societies or other commercial lending agencies do not normally operate to obtain house purchase loans; and they can also help other persons in the lower and middle income groups to obtain the bigger loans that they require but would not otherwise be qualified to obtain. The circular letter which I have sent to local authorities envisages that they may guarantee loans of up to 25 per cent above the maximum loan available from the local authority concerned.
Life insurance companies too have been an important source of housing finance in recent years. While it would not have been realistic to expect the assurance companies to expand their investment in housing at the rate achieved by the building societies, nevertheless it is a matter of some regret that the number of house purchase loans approved by the companies has been falling in the last few years—from 2,352 in 1969-70 to 1,740 in 1971-72. I know that these figures do not take account of direct investment in the building of flats by some individual companies or loans advanced by them to local authorities, some of which money promotes housing by facilitating land acquisition. At the same time I feel that there is scope for an increase in the companies' investment in house purchase loans to ensure, at a minimum, that the amount involved does not decline in the real terms.
A development over recent years which I have specially endeavoured to encourage has been the emergence of co-operative methods of providing houses for owner-occupation. Self-help housing can be an important means of mobilising skills and savings for housing and of stabilising the level of house prices by achieving better organisation of demand. Experience in other countries shows clearly that co-operative housing can make a significant contribution to national housing output by getting people to take the initiative in solving their own housing problems.
Up to now, there have been about 50 co-operative groups in operation throughout the country and the number of houses which they have built or are building comes to about 900. These figures may not, at first sight, appear significant but, related to the short time over which the movement has been developing, they indicate the potential which co-operative housing has and which, given the necessary encouragement and assistance, it can realise more fully in the future.
I have been anxious to see that co-operative groups are facilitated as much as possible and I have advised local authorities on a few occasions of possible ways in which they can assist. These specific suggestions are, as far as I am aware, being implemented by local authorities generally. The most important requirement at this stage, however, is for a genuinely positive and helpful attitude by individual authorities to the problems and difficulties that co-operative groups for one reason or another tend to encounter.
The costs of the elements that go into the building of a house have increased rapidly and it would be unrealistic in these circumstances to expect prices to remain stable. For, example, labour costs rose by about 50 per cent between March, 1968, and March, 1971: materials prices also rose in the same period though not by as large a percentage as wages. Site costs too have risen. In the ultimate, of course, price stability on a sound basis depends on the building of enough houses to bring supply and demand into better balance and it is in this way I would aim to achieve stability.
The Committee on Building Land Prices which I established in January, 1971, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Kenny, to examine all aspects of the problem of building land prices met on several occasions during the past year and I understand that they have received submissions from several bodies and individuals on matters coming within the scope of their terms of reference. I expect to receive the committee's report in the autumn, and I hope that the report will point the way to some reasonable and workable solution to this most difficult problem.
Measures for the encouragement of greater efficiency in the building industry are continuing. These include the conversion of the industry to the metric system, modular co-ordination, rationalisation of building components, the preparation of new building regulations and the technical assistance grants scheme. There has been steady progress towards the realisation of the programme for the changeover to metric. The value of constructional work designed in metric is now some £62 million in the public sector and £27 million in the private sector.
An Foras Forbartha, in conjunction with my Department, continues to work on the steps necessary for the implementation of a modular programme for the standardisation of dimensions in building. An Foras has issued a series of 15 draft modular guides to keep the industry informed of developments and to enable it to comment on the proposed code. Comments received are at present under consideration by An Foras, which is also pressing ahead with work on the rationalisation of the design of individual building components.
The preparation in a form suitable for administration purposes of a draft set of building regulations based upon the technical specifications and recommendations prepared by the working party of An Foras Forbartha is proceeding in my Department. The final draft will be advertised for public comment and comments received will be considered before the regulations are made. Owing to the complex nature of the building controls involved, it is likely to be some time yet before the final draft is issued for public comment.
The technical assistance grants scheme provides for grants towards attendances at training courses by managerial, supervisory or technical personnel engaged in the building industry as well as by certain trade union officials and representatives. Grants are also available for visits abroad by representatives of management and labour to study specific aspects of the industry and for the engagement of consultants to provide advice on matters directed to the improvement of efficiency. The amount paid by way of these grants last year was £20,000 and £25,000 has been provided this year in subhead L for the purpose.
Entry to the EEC will have certain implications for local authorities and for the building industry. A Community directive deals with the co-ordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts. This directive provides that all public works contracts valued at over $1,000,000 must be advertised in the Official Journal of the Communities and tenders invited from all qualified persons, irrespective of nationality.
It has been ascertained that water schemes do not come within the scope of this directive and that a special contract award procedure may be applied in the case of housing under the guaranteed order project. The implications of this directive, the extent of its application and the procedural changes that may be necessary are being studied by this Department in conjunction with other Departments concerned with public works contracts. The housing construction section of the Department is co-ordinating this study and will consult local authorities in the matter in due course. A period of six months from the date of accession has been allowed in order to make the necessary procedural adjustments.
The council has set up a consultative committee for public works contracts, the function of which is to supervise the implementation of directives on public works contracts and to investigate complaints of non-compliance. Member states appoint one regular member and one deputy member to this committee. Ireland will have a representative on the committee.
I now come to a group of subjects which should be looked at together. I refer to the work done by the planning, sanitary services and environment services sections of my Department, now grouped in an environment division.
While the activities of my Department generally and of bodies such as An Foras Forbartha and the National Building Agency are related to assisting, guiding and stimulating the local authorities in their overall task of developing to the full the potential of their areas, the environment division is specially concerned with this aspect. The sanitary services are the immediate key to development, including development for housing and industry. It is the function of planning to facilitate this development and, indeed, to foster it. By development we mean not merely economic advancement, but a concurrent improvement in the quality of life. The two processes are interrelated.
The better its environment, the more attractive a place becomes for industry and for tourism. Growing economic standards mean more income, more leisure, and so a demand for better conditions in which to live and work. The quality of the environment can be both preserved and enhanced. Preservation, or rather conservation of our national heritage, thus acquires a double value. At the same time, we should be providing throughout the country better facilities for community activity and for leisure activities. I shall deal in more detail with the various services and schemes which my Department operates to these ends, but I should make it clear that the role of my Department is basically a support role for the local authorities.
We are fortunate in having a comprehensive system of local planning and development, which enables the planning authorities to take a full view of the potential and needs of their areas and to take all considerations, including economic, social and environmental ones, into account, in framing their development plans. They have a specific obligation under the Planning and Development Act to preserve and extend the amenities of their areas. Many other interests are also concerned in preserving and improving amenities such as Bord Fáilte through their resort development schemes and Tidy Towns competitions, the Industrial Development Authority through its policy of promoting a high standard of factory design and landscaping, voluntary bodies such as An Taisce, and the many excellent local development groups who are contributing in no small way to developing a concern for a better environment.
I dealt in some detail in presenting last year's Estimates with the subject of regional planning and described the work of the regional development organisations and the Regional Development Committee. This work took on a fresh urgency during the year with the progress of the EEC negotiations and the desire of the Government to formulate an overall regional strategy. All regional organisations completed their reports and presented them to my Department in connection with the review of regional planning policy carried out with the aid of the Regional Development Committee. I believe that the regional examination of the social and economic problems of the nine planning regions and the analysis of development potential was an extremely valuable exercise. The reports drew up broad aims for each of the regions and set out population objectives designed to reduce emigration and to stabilise or increase the population in the various regions. The reports, too, supplied valuable information on infrastructural facilities such as roads, housing, communications, and availability of land for development. The report on the mid-west region, comprising Counties Limerick, Clare, Tipperary (NR), took on the special form of a land use and transportation study which compared the implications of different development strategies. I take the opportunity at this point to pay tribute to the regional organisations for the work they have done. Their role as an advisory and co-ordinating body is still evolving but they have shown that it can be a useful one and it is my intention that they should continue to receive assistance and advice from my Department.
The inter-Department Regional Development Committee reported to me its conclusions as a result of the review of regional policy it was requested to carry out. This review included consideration of the regional reports I have referred to and other relevant material, including the regional industrial plans for the period 1973-1977 prepared by the Industrial Development Authority. The Government have considered the whole question of regional policy and, as indicated in the recent statement issued by the Government Information Bureau, have decided to adopt an overall regional strategy as the basis for action over the next 20 years or so.
The strategy is designed, not merely to seek the attainment of required national growth rates, but also to provide for the maximum spread of development, through all regions, giving an increased and wider range of economic and social opportunities and so minimising population dislocation. It provides for the development of Dublin to accommodate the natural increase of its existing population and for expansion at Cork, Limerick-Shannon-Ennis and other named centres, and the development of other large towns of strategic importance in each region, including relatively large expansion of towns in areas remote from existing major towns. It also envisages substantial growth in other towns generally and, of course, provides for the continuation of special measures for the development of the Gaeltacht. So as to provide guidance for physical planning programmes and infrastructure, population ranges for the larger cities and towns have been indicated in the strategy.
These projections do not constitute targets as such for town sizes but indicate the potential scale of development within which planning can proceed. The strategy must be flexible in time and detail as the rate of implementation will depend on the resources available at any particular time—including such aids as may be available to us after accession to the EEC from the European Investment Bank and other Community sources. Progress will accordingly have to be reviewed periodically and adjustments made if circumstances so require but, in the light of the strategy, the public capital programme and Departmental policies can be co-ordinated and phased so as to get the best results.
The implementation of the new strategy will place special responsibilities on the local authorities. Local development plans will be the main instrument for the implementation at local authority level. This points up the necessity for good realistic local plans which take cognisance of the potential of their areas. Regional organisations which have performed well in their first assignment will have the job at regional level of co-ordinating local endeavours. In this they will work in close liaison with the Industrial Development Authority and other agencies.
The distribution of public capital to services such as water and sewerage and other infrastructure will demand careful consideration by my Department and the local authorities. The final responsibility for the co-ordination of local development plans and objectives falls on my Department and this role gains new importance with the formulation of the overall strategy. The evolution of regional policy measures in the EEC will also require careful attention.
Only a couple of planning authorities had not completed the formal making of statutory development plans under the Planning and Development Act before the end of the year. Progress on these indicates that this will be done during this year. Indeed, in most areas the five year statutory review of the first development plans is now under way. This entails, for each planning authority involved, an examination of the operation of the provisions of their plan in the light of any changed circumstances, the availability of up-to-date studies on planning problems affecting the objectives and in the light of their practical experience of the implementation of the plan. The procedure for making variations in development plans is generally similar to the making of the plan. Advice on this procedure was issued by my Department during the year to facilitate planning authorities.
Returns from planning authorities in respect of the number of applications for planning permissions for new development received and dealt with by them in the year ended 31st March, 1972, are not yet complete; the returns so far received, however, indicate that the upward trend in the volume of applications has continued and it is estimated that the total number of new proposals received by the planning authorities in that year was in the region of 32,000, compared with just over 29,500 in 1970-71. It is estimated that the number of applications refused in the year 1971-72 was about 4,500 compared with about 3,900 in the previous year. The heaviest concentration of applications and refusals continued to be in areas where development pressures are at their greatest. An increase in the number of applications to planning authorities and in the number of refusals by them appears to be automatically accompanied by an increase in the number of appeals received by me. In 1971-72, a total of 2,779 new appeals was received, compared with 2,491 appeals in 1970-71 and 2,279 in 1969-70.
Despite the increase in the intake of appeals in 1971-72, however, I am glad to say that the overall appeals position improved during the year because of the more rapid clearance of appeals. Although 2,779 new appeals were received, a total of 3,190 appeals were disposed of, so that the number of appeals on hands was reduced from 1,956 on 1st April, 1971, to 1,545 on 31st March, 1972. This welcome reduction was achieved by the clearance of 841 more appeals in the year 1971-72 than in the preceding year and over 1,400 more than the clearance rate achieved in 1969-70. The position about oral hearings of appeals has also improved substantially; requests for oral hearings received during the year totalled 508, but the number of hearings disposed of increased to 625, and the number of requests for oral hearings on hands was reduced from 313 at the beginning of the year to 196 at the end of it.
I am gratified to be able to record this improvement in the appeals position and I hope it will be possible to maintain it and to reduce the time taken to deal with individual appeals to the irreducible minimum. Deputies will recall that measures designed to change the appeals system are contained in the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1969, which is still on the Order Paper. As I have already informed the House, the Parliamentary Secretary and I have been examining this Bill in the light of our experience in dealing with appeals and I hope to bring my proposals before the Government shortly.
A sum of £2,074,000 is being provided this year as State contributions to loan charges incurred by local authorities on sanitary services works. This is an increase of £291,325 over the subsidy paid in 1971-72. In addition, a sum of £210,000 is being provided to recoup county councils the amounts of supplementary grants paid by them in respect of domestic water supply installations to farmers who would have been eligible under the scheme of domestic grants formerly operated by the Department of Agriculture.
I am glad to be able to inform the House that the capital provided by the public capital programme for the financing of water and sewerage schemes in 1972-73 again shows an increase on that provided in the previous year. This annual increase in the capital provision for sanitary services, which has been a feature of the programmes since 1966-67, is, I feel, sufficient evidence of my awareness of the importance of the programme and my anxiety to ensure that its pace will continue at a level which will ensure that all essential needs will be met as early as practicable. Adequate water and sewerage services are vital parts of the infrastructure necessary for economic expansion. Without them the industrial, agricultural, tourist and housing programmes would be seriously impeded. It is therefore my policy to provide water and sewerage systems in all areas sufficient to enable each area to develop to its maximum. At the same time, it must be recognised that, having regard to all the competing demands on available capital resources, it would not be possible to provide unlimited capital for sanitary services in any year. It is, therefore, essential, that local authorities who have not done so should place the water and sewerage projects which they have in planning in an order of priority so that the most urgent will have first call on available capital.
Again, since the water and sewerage needs of any area are not static it is desirable that local authorities review their priority lists from time to time and make any adjustments which local developments may call for. In this regard, local authorities will no doubt take account of the regional industrial plans, 1973-1977, recently announced by the Industrial Development Authority. I may say that the great majority of local authorities are co-operating with my Department in this matter, and I would ask the few who are not to come into line. I can assure local authorities that they can continue to plan their priority works in the full knowledge that money will be available to pay for their construction in due course. Overall, of course, my Department and the local authorities will have to be guided by the Government's regional strategy in framing longer term programmes.
The amount of capital originally available for the financing of the sanitary services programmes in 1971-72 was £5.35 million. I am glad to say that in November last, in view of the good progress that was being made with the programmes including the completion of the planning of a number of major priority schemes, I decided, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, to allocate a further £.9 million to the programmes making the total capital provision for 1971-72 £6.25 million.
The programmes got a further substantial boost in January last when the Government decided to make additional capital available for their financing in 1972-73. The amount allocated for this year is £6.64 million. Since 31st March, 1968, approximately £30 million worth of priority water and sewerage schemes were released for commencement. It is estimated that as at the 31st March, 1972, works to the value of £17 million were still in construction or had been released for early commencement. In my opinion this must be regarded as substantial progress. I am well aware at the same time that much remains to be done and that it is of prime importance that we continue to press ahead with the programmes to the stage that all areas will be provided with a proper standard of services.
In the Dublin area considerable progress has been made with the two major schemes which are being provided to ensure that sufficient serviced land will be available to meet all needs:
(a) The Dodder Valley sewer which will provide some 6,300 acres of serviced land in the Tallaght and adjoining areas is now coming within sight of completion. Two of the four contracts into which the main trunk sewer is divided and which will take the sewage from Tallaght to a new treatment works which will be built at the Pigeon House, have been completed; the third is nearing completion and work has started on the final section.
(b) The Greater Dublin drainage scheme is designed to service some 11,000 acres of new land in the Blanchardstown, Clonsilla, Clondalkin, Lucan, Palmerstown and adjoining areas. Here again considerable progress has been made. One of the key sections of the scheme is the tunnel section which will run from Herberton Bridge to Maquay Bridge. I have recently approved the proposal of the corporation to accept a tender for the construction of this section. The cost of the section will be in the region of £4 million. The total cost of the Greater Dublin drainage scheme is currently estimated at about £6 million.
(c) Apart from providing such a large bank of additional serviced land in the Dublin area these two schemes will make a major contribution towards the elimination of pollution in several Dublin rivers, namely the Liffey, Dodder and Camac. A further major project which is closely associated with these schemes is the scheme for the provision of new treatment works at Ringsend where the flows from both the sewers mentioned will ultimately be treated in a modern treatment works. Tenders for the construction of the first major stage of the treatment works have already been invited by the corporation. This section alone is estimated to cost about £2.2 million.
The planning of the remaining section of the overall treatment works scheme is proceeding. The total cost of the new treatment works is estimated at £5.5 million. The construction of these three projects and of the other lesser schemes which are also in construction or advanced planning in the Dublin area will undoubtedly result in a rapid and significant improvement in the condition of Dublin Bay and the rivers mentioned.
(d) The provision of extra water to meet the industrial and domestic needs of the newly developed areas is, of course, as important as the provision of sewers. Since 1960 the Dublin County Council has had in construction different contracts of an overall water improvement scheme designed to give an adequate supply of piped water to all areas in the county. All the main sections of this scheme are now almost complete and the total cost will be approximately £2.3 million. Further water supply schemes are in construction or in planning by the corporation and the county council to ensure that the water supply in the Dublin area will be adequate to meet all needs. These schemes are, in total, designed to increase the supply for the area from 47 million gallons per day to 76 million gallons per day and will cost an estimated £5.5 million.
In the Cork area several major sewerage schemes to service new land have also been undertaken. Schemes completed since 1966 or in progress will provide 10,000 new sites in the city area and about 21,000 sites in the county area adjoining the city. These works are costing £1 million. A major water supply scheme which is designed to meet the needs of the Little Island area was approved during the year and tenders have now been received for this work. The planning of a further major water scheme which will ensure an adequate supply for the city and environs to meet all foreseeable industrial and housing needs is continuing.
In Waterford city a new dam has been built which will impound 274 million gallons of water and provide for a daily draw off of 2¼ million gallons. This project together with ancillary works cost approximately £900,000. It will ensure that the water needs of the city are secured for very many years ahead. A main drainage scheme to provide the city with an up-to-date sewerage system is being planned.
In Limerick city the first section of a major scheme to augment the city's water supply is in construction and further sections are being planned. The cost of these works will be approximately £1.4m.
In other major urban areas such as Galway, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda and Athlone substantial schemes have been approved since 1968. Many of these have now been provided and are helping to ensure that water supply and sewerage facilities will be available to enable them to develop to their maximum potential. In many other towns, big and small, schemes have also been provided or are in the course of construction. However, I fully realise that in many of these areas what has been done to date represents only a first instalment and that much more remains to be accomplished. It will be my concern to continue with these programmes as rapidly as practicable.
While the emphasis in the programme continues to be on the provision of services in built-up areas, with special regard to the needs of areas where rapid development is creating unprecedented pressures on existing water and sewerage systems, the needs of rural areas are not being neglected. A number of the schemes approved during the year were designed specially to provide sources for group scheme development.
Over the past ten years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of water and sewerage grants paid by my Department. In 1961-62, 2,030 grants were paid. Last year, the number paid was 12,594. Taking last year's figure, water was installed in 11,207 houses and sewerage in 4,790 houses with the aid of grants from my Department.
Last year, I approved proposals for providing headworks and trunk mains in a number of public water supply schemes and also proposals for augmenting such schemes with the intention that group schemes will infill many of the adjoining areas. The volume of this type of activity has continued to increase steadily and schemes catering for 200-300 houses and many miles of pipeline are replacing the smaller projects of the past. There is still much valuable work to be done by the small genuinely localised groups. In the last few years, however, the cost of group schemes rose considerably due to the fact that areas of low density housing are now being catered for, and schemes in many western areas are expensive because of difficult terrain. Because of these rising costs, I increased the maximum combined grants from my Department and the local authority from £120 to £200 per house, where group schemes started on or after 1st February, 1972.
Of the 11,207 houses in which water supplies were installed with the aid of grants last year 5,391 were served by group schemes. This compares with 3,768 grants for group schemes paid in 1970-71. Up to the 31st March last, 748 schemes, catering for 8,766 houses were completed and there were 1,811 proposals at other stages.
In group schemes, we have a very good example of local community efforts integrating with the plan and programmes of local authorities. The organisers of these schemes are making a significant and positive contribution to solving the needs of their areas, and at the same time, co-operating closely with the local authority in this activity. I am only too well aware of the trials and tribulations of organisers of group schemes and am pleased to take this opportunity of thanking them for their dedication and self-sacrificing work. I would also like to pay a tribute to the close co-operation received from local authorities at all times and in particular to those who have, with my approval, appointed or are in process of appointing staff to assist groups by designing schemes at a nominal charge and by supervising work in progress.
Public interest in conservation and pollution is growing rapidly. This is a world wide phenomenon. There is concern everywhere about the impact of economic development on the environment. In this connection I attended as head of the Irish delegation at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm between 5th and 16th June. The conference was designed to focus world attention on the urgency of environmental problems, to provide guidelines for national action and to consider arrangements for more effective international action in the case of environmental problems which are of wider concern.
The conference was concerned in the first instance with environmental problems of an international character. The conference considered these problems under a number of heads, including urban settlements, natural resources, pollutants of special international concern, educational and social aspects and the connection between the environment and the development process.
The conference adopted over 100 recommendations for international action in these matters, including recommendations for the setting up of a global system for monitoring pollution and for research and exchange of information, particularly in regard to national activities which could affect the environment of other countries. It is envisaged that these recommendations will constitute an action plan for the future. Agreement was reached on the establishment within the UN of a governing council for environmental programmes to promote international co-operation and to provide policy guidance on UN environmental programmes.
It was also recommended that a voluntary fund should be set up to provide additional financing for appropriate programmes, especially those of regional or global interest. Those recommendations of the conference will fall to be considered in due course by the General Assembly of the UN. An aspect of special interest to the Irish delegation was the close consideration given by the conference to the problems of marine pollution. As I informed the conference it is the intention that Ireland should sign and ratify the Oslo Convention controlling dumping in portion of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The conference urged the use of conventions of this kind and that further work towards international agreements on the prevention of ocean pollution, which is at present in progress and to which this country is a party, should be pressed ahead urgently.
The conference also made many recommendations to Governments under the various headings which I have described above. These will be considered and any appropriate action taken. I can say that the formal and informal discussions which the delegation had with delegates from other countries have served to confirm that our environmental problems here are comparatively limited and that our approach to dealing with them in such areas as regional and physical, including amenity, planning and resource management stand well in comparison with what is being done elsewhere.
On the other hand, I am more than ever convinced of the importance of maintaining our environmental programme, and in some respects of strengthening it as development accelerates, if we are to avoid serious adverse side effects in the course of national economic expansion. This applies particularly to water pollution and underlines the importance of the work undertaken by the interdepart-mental working group on air and water pollution which I refer to later. This group was represented in the delegation.
I may also mention that we are keeping ourselves fully informed on developments in relation to environmental policy at the EEC. Here, I may say how important it is that any new international standards that may be adopted should take account of the development needs of the less industrialised countries, and of the relatively unpolluted conditions of their natural resources. If the development process, or rather the manner in which development has been pursued, has led to great environmental problems in some countries, we must remember that it is to the same process basically that we must look for resources not alone to increase employment and exports but also to deal with our own environmental problems and to make the heavy financial investments that will be needed to preserve high environmental standards in the future. We must ensure that we do not suffer the deterioration in quality that the more industrialised countries have suffered, but we must not take so un-balanced a view as to inhibit the development of our economy.
Under the planning code, the local authorities can ensure that development is such and has such safeguards attached to it that it adds to rather than detracts from the environment. They themselves are responsible for much development and in their activities, such as housing, roads and sanitary services, local authorities should bear fully in mind their responsibility to future generations as well as the present.
As Minister, my immediate concern is to see what is necessary to deal with the pollution we have and to provide for the greater pressures that must be expected as national development accelerates.
It was in this context that I set up the inter-departmental working group on air and water pollution, with representatives of the Departments mainly concerned with those problems. This group was asked to report on the nature and extent of the air and water pollution problems; on the different approaches that might be made to remedying these problems; on the costs associated with these approaches and how the costs might be shared between the parties concerned; and on the need for reviewing or strengthening existing legislation. I have recently received a progress report from the working group and an undertaking to let me have an interim report, dealing with the water pollution aspects, in the near future.
The inter-departmental group has had to collect a great deal of information before they could begin to come to conclusions. In the past much of the discussion about water pollution has been on a subjective basis and it was necessary to try to establish the real facts. A number of special studies and surveys were undertaken. These include a survey of local authority sewage systems which will help to identify those which are causing trouble. Another survey is being made of polluting industries and of the way in which planning conditions which are imposed with the aim of preventing water pollution work out in practice.
I refer elsewhere to the Foras Forbartha national survey of rivers, a report which was published recently. The report covers the main water systems in the country—121 rivers to a total length of nearly 3,000 kilometres. Seven hundred and sixty-five sampling stations were used for chemical and biological examination of the condition of the rivers. The report gives us for the first time a clear picture of the problem we are up against. The basic facts are simple— about 7 per cent of the total length of rivers surveyed are seriously polluted; about 10 per cent give cause for concern; the rest—over 80 per cent— are free of significant pollution. These figures relate, of course, to the surveved rivers. The percentage of the total length of main river channel seriously polluted would be much less than 7 per cent.
It is clear there has been some grossly exaggerated, and alarmist, talk about the extent of water pollution in our rivers. That is not to suggest that I am satisfied with the position indicated by the report. I am not satisfied: indeed. I would not be satisfied to think that pollution existed on any stretch of river. It will be my concern, therefore, to work towards eliminating pollution where it exists, as well as ensuring that we are properly equipped to deal with future problems.
I gave the House a fairly full account of the various steps which are being taken to control and improve the position in regard to water pollution, pending completion of the current review of organisational and legislative arrangements, in the debate in Private Members' Time on the Waters Preservation Bill, 1972, on the 18th April. Here I will confine myself to a brief reference to these matters again, while emphasising that the whole position will be re-examined in the light of the working group's report.
In the case of existing water pollution problems, I have urged that local authorities will make full use of their existing powers. These include their powers under the Planning and Development Act to enforce conditions attached to planning permissions, and powers under older legislation in other cases. The question of extending the existing powers under the Planning and Development Act, which are on the whole more effective than the older powers, is being examined.
In regard to new development, planning permission is required for all significant development and conditions, including conditions to avoid water pollution, may be attached to such permission, and are enforceable in law.
Some of the most difficult water pollution problems, and potential problems, relate to agricultural activities. These include the use of modern fertilisers, silage making and, most of all, the effect of certain intensive agricultural operations such as large scale piggeries and poultry units which can, without safeguards, create exceptional pollution problems. The arrangement by which intensive agricultural units of this kind are exempted from planning control is at present being examined; it may be time to extend planning control to at least the large projects of this kind. I have also advised local planning authorities, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, of a new approach to enlisting the co-operation of the farming community generally in measures to prevent water pollution, in their own interests as well as the interests of the community generally. The idea is that full use should be made of the agriculture advisory services to get abuses remedied by agreed action.
This is likely to be more effective towards abating pollution than crude compulsion in cases where it is difficult to prove an offence or where the offender may not realise the consequences of what he is doing. Of course, where persuasion does not work, the powers of compulsion can and should be used. I am hopeful that this initiative, and the projected amendment of the exempted development regulations will go a long way towards reducing water pollution from agriculture, but here, again, the position will be further examined more comprehensively as part of the general review of arrangements which is in hands and which I have already described.
The working group, to which I have referred, is also looking into the air pollution problem, and they will report on this separately and as soon as possible. In the meantime I am ensuring that a constant check will be kept on the level of air pollution, particularly in the larger urban areas. Certain interim measures are being taken to deal with particular problems.
With regard to monitoring of air pollution, measurements are taken at recording stations in six of the larger urban areas. It is my intention to increase the number and coverage of monitoring stations and I have requested sanitary authorities to arrange, in consultation with my Department, for the setting up of more adequate monitoring arrangements in towns with populations over 15,000. Arrangements with the local authorities in the Dublin area are nearing completion for the setting up of additional measuring instruments in suitable locations in the city and adjoining areas. Similar arrangements are also under way in some of the other larger urban areas, including Cork. I intend that the extended monitoring programme will become operative in these areas with the minimum delay.
The responsibility for introducing arrangements for the clearance of oil pollution has been assigned to my Department and steps are in hands to make both interim and longer term arrangements to deal with this problem. Basically, the local authorities concerned will be responsible at local level. I have already asked them to make whatever arrangements they can as an immediate step. I expect to be in touch with them again in the near future with advice on arrangements and organisation and on the preparation of a contingency plan. The question of legislation to give expression to the local authority responsibility will be considered but I do not regard this as an immediate priority. Powers exist in the nuisance provisions of the sanitary services code and under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, to enable local authorities to deal with oil pollution in their areas. I will expect all local authorities concerned to make reasonable arrangements to put themselves in a position to deal with this new problem having regard, in particular, to their general concern as planning authorities to ensure the preservation and development of amenities.
Arrangements for dealing with oil pollution at sea where coasts are threatened present special difficulties and will call for the co-operation and assistance of a number of agencies. Inter-departmental discussions have already taken place and I envisage the setting up of a standing liaison committee to organise the framing and running of a system which will enable us to make the best possible use of the resources available in dealing with oil slicks or spillages at sea which pose a threat to our coasts. In view of the urgency of the matter I have asked that these arrangements be pressed forward as quickly as possible.
There is provision in subhead G for a new scheme of amenity grants. The provision is £300,000, compared with one of £120,500 for 1971-72 for the old scheme of amenity and derelict site grants.
In reshaping the old scheme, I have aimed at concerntrating the funds on the works of more positive value to the community. I have notified the grant allocations to the various local authorities. Taking account of commitments on last year's schemes and of the fact that the local authorities having more independent action under the new scheme, are likely to spend all or the greater part of their allocation in the financial year, I have allocated in all approximately £250,000, which with local contributions will give a volume of expenditure of about £500,000 on new schemes.
The volume of applications for grants both from local authorities and voluntary organisations has been very substantial and covers a wide range of projects. With so many schemes seeking to share in the allocations permissible under the grants provision it is clear that a selectivity policy is essential. I have examined lists of the schemes submitted from each area and I believe that the best value can be got from the grants by giving priority to schemes which provides leisure and recreational facilities and promote community activities. There are pressing social arguments for encouraging projects which will give people, particularly younger people, an opportunity to develop leisure interests. This is relevant to rural areas as cogently as to larger centres of population. Prominent in this respect are certain schemes of the type I have noted amongst those submitted for grants—community centres, pitch and put courses, basket-ball courts, tennis courts, equipped playgrounds and playing pitches of various types and schemes designed to facilitate boating and other water-sports.
Accordingly, in making allocations for 1972-73 to local authorities who have submitted accepatable proposals for amenity grants, I have asked that preference should be given to schemes designed to promote leisure activities and develop community interest. There is a very considerable devolution of responsibility to the local authorities for the selection, design and execution of the schemes. I trust that they will justify the responsibility I am placing in them, show sense in their judgement, taste in design and efficiency in execution. In this way they will confirm the case for more and more devolution to them.
My Department's swimming pool programme is a further important element in this policy of improving the quality of life in our community which must go hand in hand with economic development.
A swimming pool is an amenity, in my view a very special kind, for which separate financial arrangements are available. The programme for the provision of pools continues at a reasonably satisfactory pace and definite progress has been made throughout the country, especially in built-up areas.
Since 1967, 45 local authority and local authority-assisted pool projects have been approved. Thirty-five of these were approved since June, 1970. Sixteen of the 45 are in use, ten are under construction and the remaining 19 are at various stages of planning. At least three of the ten under construction are expected to be opened this year, during which work will commence on other pools. Of major interest is that tenders for three new pools for Dublin city, at Ballyfermot, Ballymun and Finglas, were approved last March. Thus in about two years the corporation will have six modern pools.
A review is being undertaken to see to what extent further proposals can be approved, in the light of the available capital for which, needless, to say, there are pressing demands for a number of services.
A new guideline specification for swimming pools has been prepared and circulated to local authorities. The specification is available free of charge to any persons or bodies interested and there has been a good demand for copies.
As I have said, I regard a swimming pool as a very special kind of amenity. For young people it gives the opportunity to learn how to manage themselves in water and opens up to them a new kind of enjoyable experience. Because of it some of them will eventually save themselves or others from death through drowning. But one does not have to be a youngster to enjoy swimming and a pool provides opportunities for enjoyment for all ages. It also provides a focal point for healthy social and recreational activity of a kind which is sadly lacking in many towns. It is my intention that the swimming pool programme will be pushed forward as quickly as possible within the financial constraints that have to be observed, and, indeed, that the programme should be gradually expanded as additional resources become available.
I am very pleased with the progress achieved by the Irish Water Safety Association—An Comhlachas Snámha is Tarrthála—which I set up in April, 1971, to teach basic swimming and life-saving in all parts of the country. The assocation also trains water safety instructors, awards certificates and badges and promotes water safety publicity.
County committees of the association, on which local water safety and swimming interests and sanitary authorities are represented, have been set up in each county to plan and implement local programmes of instruction.
During the summer of last year over 200 classes of instruction in basic swimming and life-saving were held throughout the country as a result of which over 2,000 persons qualified for life-saving awards and over 4,000 received instruction in basic swimming. Senior and junior life-saving championships were held at county, regional and national level.
The association prepared a memorandum for guidance of sanitary authorities in regard to water safety measures and also arranged for the testing of about 100 applicants for posts as beachguards.
During last winter the association held 60 classes at various venues throughout the country at which more than 500 persons qualified for life-saving awards. The increased number of heated indoor pools made these classes possible. In pursuance of the policy of making swimming and life-saving instruction available in all parts of the country, the association provided subsidised transport on a limited scale from outlying areas to places which have pools.
To cope with the huge demand for instruction, residential courses for 70 potential instructors were held. There are now 150 instructors and 40 examiners giving voluntary services. I should like to stress the fact that the association is an entirely voluntary organisation and the enthusiasm and dedication of all its instructors, examiners and members is most heartening.
The association provides films on swimming and water safety free of charge to county committees and film shows and demonstrations of artificial respiration are given to organised groups.
The association is financed by contributions from sanitary authorities, its own fund-raising activities and a grant from my Department. During the year ended last March sanitary authorities contributed £6,685, the association collected £3,421 through its fund-raising activities and my Department made a grant of £10,000. The figure for contributions from sanitary authorities includes very generous contributions from a number of them and I trust that all sanitary authorities will continue or increase their support of the association. There is provision in this year's Estimate for a grant of £15,000 from my Department.
The loss of life and the destruction of property resulting from fire must be a cause of deep concern to everybody. No doubt, these losses would be many times greater but for the splendid work being done by fire brigades to preserve life and property, for which the country owes them a huge debt of gratitude.
Recent tragedies have highlighted the necessity of ensuring that the fire service is itself adequately geared to minimising loss when fire does occur and that everyone, factory and business managers and staffs and householders, should be fully aware of the all too common fire hazards and of the simple precautions which it is imperative to take to prevent them.
The fire service is provided and maintained by local authorities pursuant to the Fire Brigades Act, 1940 and is organised on a county and county borough basis with most urban brigades merged into the county organisation. The growing awareness by these authorities of the importance of the service can be gauged from the fact that the amount of money provided from their resources towards the operation of the service has increased fourfold in the last decade. In addition, much progress has been made in the erection of new fire stations and the acquistion of modern fire-fighting equipment to help bring local brigades up to desirable standards. The capital cost of the provision of stations and equipment amounted to approximately £1 million in the past ten years. While there are some gaps yet to be filled, I am satisfied that for most areas the stage is being reached where premises and equipment are up to reasonable standards.
In order to derive the maximum benefit from this modern and expensive equipment and to ensure that the training of fire brigade personnel would be brought to a high uniform standard throughout the country, my Department has stepped up the training programme initiated some years ago and this coupled with the instructional films which have been made available to local authorities for training purposes should go a long way towards achieving the goal of a highly efficient and fully operational service.
The building up of an adequate fire prevention system—to stop the fires before they start—is a matter of immediate concern to me. The out-break and spread of fire in buildings and particularly the risk to life and property can be appreciably lessened by ensuring that adequate structural fire precautions and the provision of proper means of escape are incorporated in buildings at the planning stage. As I have already said, a new code of building regulations is being drafted and these will cover the fire aspect. It will be some time yet before these complex regulations are finalised. In the meantime fire protection standards, recommended by my Department, are widely used by fire officers.
The expense of establishing effective fire prevention machinery, supported at national level by educational and publicity campaigns, would be repaid many times over by reduced fire losses. The first priority in building up such machinery is the extension of the fire prevention activities of local fire brigades. This is being actively pursued by my Department whose objective is to make arrangements at an early date towards securing that every brigade will have improved preventive services. The proposals include the establishment of a special training course in fire preventions techniques and allied technical subjects and the selection of suitable fire brigade personnel to undergo this training course.
The position of the fire service in the general Local Government structure is also being examined in the context of the proposals contained in the While Paper on Local Government Reorganisation and of the recommendations of the McKinsey group. The McKinsey consultants, at my request, gave special attention in their examination of the staffing and grading of local authorities to the position of the fire service. In order to speed up the examination of the McKinsey recommendations consultations have been held by my Department with the managers and the staff representatives involved and it is proposed to set up a working party which will consider the McKinsey report and examine also the question of co-ordination of the various interests in regard to fire prevention and legislation.
Elsewhere in my speech I refer to various activities of An Foras Forbartha. Here I wish to make a more general reference to it. There is provision under subhead I for a grant-in-aid of £281,750 to An Foras. This grant-in-aid relates to the activities of An Foras in urban and regional planning, environmental planning and conservation, building and construction and water resources. An Foras also receives a grant from the Road Fund as the national centre for road research.
An Foras Forbartha is now entirely financed from Irish funds, the initial assistance from the United Nations valued in all at $750,000 having ended during the last financial year. I should like, again, to thank the United Nations for this valuable aid. The establishment of a national environmental research institute has put us in a position to cope with the many pressing environmental research needs of a growing economy and population. Other countries are now increasingly beginning to realise the need for environmental research to improve the quality of life; we are fortunate that we took timely steps in this regard.
An Foras is mainly concerned with applied research to solve key issues in public environmental policy. It is now increasingly accepted that the main objective of public investment in research should be to serve the research needs of public policy. Much of the work undertaken by An Foras has followed requests from me in respect of issues arising in the operations of my Department which require independent research by specialists.
For instance, An Foras has undertaken from the outset major research projects to assist the development of regional planning policy. The Buchanan report was part of the work done under the arrangements with the United Nations. In the past year, An Foras completed and published planning reports on the Cork sub-region, on the Connemara Gaeltacht and on the Gaeltacht areas generally. These three studies have provided the necessary valuable information and proposals on which planning policy decisions in relation to these areas may be based. A series of workshops for planning staffs have been initiated with special relevance for regional planning, dealing with such planning techniques as population projections, statistical methods, industrial locations, urban development costs, et cetera.
A major development during the last year has been the inauguration, with financial support from county councils, by An Foras of a conservation advisory service which provides specialist advice to county councils in ecology, botany, zoology, geology, archaeology and on items of architectural and historic interest. The effect of this service will be to assist greatly the work of planning authorities in conserving our national heritage. The Carnegie Trust has assisted this work by a special grant to support the establishment of a biological records centre.
Our coastline is one of our great recreational and tourist resources. At the joint request of the Minister for Transport and Power and myself, An Foras and Bord Fáilte jointly undertook a study of our entire coastline which gives detailed advice on how we might best develop each stretch of our coastline without destroying its natural amenities, as has happened in other countries. This study has now been completed and will shortly be published.
I have asked An Foras to undertake a number of important and urgent tasks in building and construction, some of which I mentioned already when dealing with housing. These include the provision, with the aid of an advisory committee representative of the building industry, of the necessary documentation and guidance to enable the industry to convert to full metric working, and the production of guidelines for the conversion of building design and components to a system of co-ordinated modular dimensions. The conversion of our building industry to metric co-ordinated dimensions is a major step in creating a more efficient and, therefore, lower-cost building industry.
Special studies of house-building productivity have been carried out by An Foras in co-operation with the National Building Agency and house-building firms. I understand that it is hoped to publish the result shortly and that they will indicate the management measures house-building firms could take to improve productivity significantly and thus lower housing coasts. The construction management courses of An Foras are strongly supported by the Construction Industry Federation and its members and in these courses the research findings on productivity, project planning, financial management, et cetera, are imparted to about 500 construction managers annually. An Foras also provided during the year courses and seminars for about 300 professional members of the construction industry.
In collaboration with the Central Statistics Office and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, An Forass has now succeeded in establishing an agreed methodology for a regular building price index which it is hoped to publish as from 1st January next. This will be a valuable contribution to better management of our building resources.
Builders have frequently complained that requirements for roads and services for the development of residential areas vary from local authority to local authority. Unnecessary variations of this kind are not helpful for efficient operation. I have, therefore, asked An Foras to draft standard housing development specifications and this work is currently in hands. Our new residential areas represent very costly permanent investments which should meet the human and social needs of the families as fully as possible. I have, therefore, asked An Foras to prepare recommendations on planning standards for residentail areas under such headings as community facilities, pedestrian and car circulation, recreational facilities, landscaping and open space and density of development. These recommendations should help in achieving essential minimum standards for new residential areas.
The water resources division of An Foras Forbartha became fully operative during the past year with the completion of its laboratories and the recruitment of its highly-skilled staff. It has very efficiently completed its first major task, to survey water quality in all seasons in our major river systems. Apart from providing a scientific basis for policy decisions to combat pollution this survey is also of considerable value to the Industrial Development Authority in the siting of industry and the survey was assisted by a special grant from the IDA. An Foras has also completed special regional surveys for the IDA on the availability of water for large water-consuming industries. Water resources survey are now being undertaken by An Foras for reginal development organisations which will enable the regions concerned to have a long-term development plan for their water resources to match their development proposals.
I should like once again to express my thanks for the contribution to the work of An Foras Forbartha made by so many persons involved professionally or vacationally in environmental matters. This includes members of the board of directors, of the consultative panel and of the many advisory committees and working parties who help to guide the various research projects and give expert and specialisat advice on them.
I have spoken many times on the integration of itinerants into the community; I know that an amount of constructive and rewarding work has been done on this programme by local authorities and by voluntary groups but I am not yet satisfied with the rate of progress in provision of sites and houses. Indeed, I will not be satisfied until a suitable opportunity of settlement has been given to all families in their areas by local authorities, that is, either a dwelling unit on an individual or group site, or a local authority house, according to the degree of development of the family or in the light of the local housing possibilities. It has been shown that some families can be encouraged to buy their own houses under local authority loan schemes. The circumstances in each case will determine the best solution.
We all know the immense difficulties associated with the itinerant problem. We know that there are some families who many not wish to settle and we expect that a certain percentage of those who try to settle may fail in the first attempt for one reason or another. Nevertheless, in the few years since the programme began to be implemented, we have concrete evidence not only of the desire of itinerants generally to settle but proof of their ability to adapt themselves to take their place in society. Those close to the problem have seen the excellent respose of most of these families when they have a home of their own to take pride in, when the womenfolk have facilities to wash and clean and cook and when it becomes a practical possibility to keep their children regularly at school. Those actively helping in rehabilitation see a growing selfrespect and sense of responsibility; a gradual change, especially in the children and in young adults. Some few are attaining secondary school education and there is no reason why some may not go further. Speaking generally one can say that the rate of adaptation has been greater than even the most optimistic hoped for.
To date well over 600 families have been provided with accommodation, about half on camping sites and the remainder in normal houses. I would like here to pay tribute to the local authorities and voluntary groups who had the courage and perseverance to overcome the local opposition, which occurred in most cases, and to tackle the problem. I want to say a special word of thanks to the dedicated voluntary workers who continue in the face of many difficulties and frustrations to help the families to adopt to their new way of life, to find suitable employment and to assist in the pursuance of educational arrangements. There is no denying that local official and voluntary bodiess taking constructive action in this difficult field have had attendant problems to a lesser or a greater degree, but in most cases the response from the itinerant families brings its own reward. If the local authorities wish to help the voluntary bodies with their organisational expenses I think they should be free to do so and I have conveyed this to the managers already.
In this regard I would like to point to the advantages of employment by the local authority of a whole-time social worker. I cannot emphasise too much the part such an officer can play in easing problems and hastening progress, and in paving the way for acceptance of settled itinerants in a community. The cost to local authorities will be minimal because 90 per cent of the salary and incidental expenses will be recouped by my Department, so far as the social worker is engaged on itinerant work. A social worker can of course render valuable assistance with many other facets of local authority work.
Local authorities have prospects of accommodating a further 200 families or so, but as yet the rehabilitation process has started or is soon to start, for perhaps only half, of the itinerant population and this is just not good enough. Local authority attitudes range from those who have faced up to their local problem fully to those who have been relatively inactive or have abandoned proposals on account of the opposition of individuals. In particular some are slow to make the effiective, decision to provide sites, although it is well known that many families need some time in the environment of a group site before moving into conventional housing schemes. A defeatist policy, or a policy of inaction, will do nothing to remedy the local problem; with neglect, the local problem is likely to get worse.
Furthermore if opponents of settlement succeed in blocking progress in one area, this can make things even more difficult for other areas where the local authorities have made a real effort to deal with their own programme. There must be a combined drive on the part of all authorities to solve this problem. I appeal to all authorities who have not yet met the needs of their local situation to reexamine their position and carry the necessary proposals through to completion during the next six months, so that the next school year may be a starting point for those young enough to benefit from education and so that next winter many more itinerant families will be spared the hardships of the roadside.
When I replied to the Debate on my Department's Estimate in October last year, I discussed the White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation in some detail, particularly those sections of it which had been the source of some controversy, both in the debates in this House and in the country generally. I do not propose therefore to go over these matters again. At present, legislative proposals arising out of the White Paper are being considered, taking account, of course, of all the views and comments submitted to me. I hope to be able to introduce legislation on this matter in the not too distant future. The House will then have an opportunity of debating the proposals fully.
The overall structure of local government is not the only problem: the question of more efficient staffing and procedures also arises. At the request of the local authority staff representatives and managers, I undertook to carry out a review of the existing position and to assist in the review, I engaged a firm of consultants to study and make a report and recommendations on the staff structure and processes of the local authorities. The consultants have completed their report and copies of it have been laid before the House. I have made arrangements to have the report printed and published in full and for the widest possible consultations with local authorities, staff associations and other interested persons.
Pending the completion of these consultations, it would not be appropriate for me to go into the merits or demerits of the report. However, I can say that it covers a very wide field embracing such matters as the introduction of programme budgeting to local authorities, the provision of computer services and staff training and development. In summary the recommendations in the report are designed to achieve four objectives: to ensure that all authorities are viable units, by matching staff resources to the responsibilities of the authorities; to outline a staff structure that will enable each authority to carry out its functions effectively; to strengthen the management processes that assist local authorities and the Department to plan and control the provision of services and to ensure a balanced allocation of resources across the country; and to improve the management of the staff resources of local authorities by strengthening the policies relating to recruitment, training and career development.
Many important recommendations are made affecting the administration of local authority services; for example, the report proposes that in local authority staff structures the emphasis should be on programme or service areas rather than on separate administrative and professional groupings. The report goes on to recommend that as county staff structure develops and becomes more self-sufficient, the Department should be able to delegate more functions to local authorities, reducing to a minimum the controls which have been exercised over individual local authority projects. When the report has been circulated to all interested persons, it is my intention to arrange a number of explanation sessions for those who wish to question or discuss the many recommendations in the report.
Finally on this subject I should add that I have already put on record that I do not accept the view advanced in the report that a population figure of 12,000 should be the requirement for the retention of urban districts and I wish also to reaffirm that it is the Government's intention to retain the county as the basic unit.
With regard to local finance and rates in particular, I would reiterate the fact that the whole system is being fully examined. The Government have made known their intention to publish a separate White Paper dealing comprehensively with local finance and taxation. Consideration of the proposed White Paper is at an advanced stage and I am making every effort to have it prepared for publication at the earliest date.
In my speech last year I referred to some of the interim steps which had been taken to ease the burden on ratepayers. I mentioned the introduction of schemes for the payment of rates in instalments spread over ten months of the year and for the waiving of rates by local authorities in the case of necessitous persons; I referred to the termination of the rates concessions available in the case of newly erected or improved office blocks, supermarkets, luxury houses, et cetera, and also to the contribution being made by the State towards the expenditure of local authorities in the form of grants and subsidies.
In the year ended 31st March last the total amount of State grants towards local authority expenditure, including the health grant, was approximately £90 million; in the current financial year the comparable figure for the total of State grants will be approximately £108 million. The amounts so contributed by the State cover half of all local authority revenue expenditure and are by far the most important single element in the protection of ratepayers from the full impact of increasing costs of local services.
With regard to the rates waiver schemes the position is that in 1970-71 48 local authorities operated schemes which gave full or partial relief to over 11,600 persons. This represented a big improvement on the preceding year when 45 authorities operated schemes from which just over 6,400 persons benefited. Last year 51 local authorities adopted rates waiver schemes; detailed statistics in regard to the numbers of persons afforded relief are not yet available but it is certain that the number who have benefited will show a further substantial increase.
Under the combined purchasing system, local authorities made purchases in the 12-months period ended 30th June, 1971, to an estimated total of £7 million. The bulk of these purchases were commodities manufactured or processed in this country. In the nature of this scheme, it is necessary to review each year in consultation with local authorities and suppliers the commodities which it embraces, the standards for these, the units in which supplied, et cetera, in order to ensure that the scheme keeps closely in line with the true requirements of the bodies it serves. In addition, the entire structure of the system has recently been reviewed and I shall shortly be considering in the light of this review how far and how best the system should be reshaped, so that it may continue to serve the needs of local authorities for a further period.
Another service provided by this Department is local government audit. The cost of this service in 1972-73 is estimated to be about £105,000 including salaries and travelling expenses, of which an estimated £42,000 is recoverable by way of audit fees charged to the local authorities and other bodies whose accounts are audited. This is a continuing service which needs no special comment, except to emphasise the importance in a democratic state of maintaining a high standard of public accountability for the large funds passing through the hands of local authorities and other public bodies.
The Department is conscious of the potential of modern concepts of financial management with special emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness. Local government audit must likewise carry these concepts into the field of public accountability.
During the past year the question of reducing the voting age to 18 has been raised in the House on a number of occasions. As Deputies are aware, reduction of the voting age for Dáil and Presidential elections and referenda requires an amendment of the Constitution which can only be affected by a constitutional referendum. The voting age for local elections, however, can be changed by ordinary legislation. On 22nd March last I announced in the Dáil the Government's decision to hold a referendum on the voting age in the autumn. The intention is that the necessary Bill to amend the Constitution will be introduced shortly.
If the people approve of the reduction of the voting age at the autumn referendum, legislation to effect a similar reduction for local elections will be introduced immediately afterwards. In accordance with this programme it will be possible to have persons aged 18 and upwards on the register of electors which will come into force on 15th April, 1973, and these young people will have the right to vote at the next Presidential election which is due in the period April to June, 1973 and at the next local elections.
Under existing legislation, local elections, are due to be held in June of this year. On the 15th March I indicated that the Government had decided to seek leave to introduce legislation providing for the postponement of these elections for a period of one year. The Government's decision was based on two considerations. In the first place legislative proposals relating to changes in the structure of local government arising from the White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation are being prepared. It would not have been possible to have this legislation dealt with before June. The other consideration was that it would not be desirable that nationwide elections and the referendum on accession to the European Communities should be held so close to one another. The necessary Bill in this matter is at present before the Oireachtas.
On the subject of roads administration, I am carrying forward the development of policy on planning and construction, traffic management and accident prevention in a way which I hope will not merely match, but will anticipate, the demands of the foreseeable future. It is of increasing importance that roads policy be viewed in an international context and that it should seek the closer harmonisation of the interests of public and private transport. The planning and research measures taken in recent years and those now being pursued are designed to further these objectives. Their orderly implementation will be governed by whatever investment policy we adopt.
The reclassification of roads has established the network of national primary and national secondary routes. Classification of the regional roads is advanced and urban roads will follow. This process provides a practical basis on which to plan, measure and distribute investment in roads. The principle is illustrated in the spread of grants allocated from the Road Fund for this year. The total allocated is £14.4 million, an increase of £2 million over the amount allocated last year. Every county has got an overall increase in the amount of grants allocated last year, the current amount being related to the priority of works and the principle of preserving local employment. An outline scheme of planned programme budgeting has been drawn up by my Department and when this principle is finally adopted, it will provide a measurable basis for all future roads operations.
Historic and social factors made it necessary in the past that we expended relatively large amounts of annual revenues on the rural roads. We now have an enviable record in the proportion of rural roads which are dust free, considering our very high mileage of roads to population by international standards. The black-topping programme is being pressed to its conclusion and I have again allocated £1.87 million for county roads in the current year. Allocations to main roads this year have been increased by £583,000 to £4,683,000. For county borough and urban roads, an additional £337,000 has been provided, bringing the allocation for this purpose to £2.395 million. The annual allocation of £400,000 for Tourist roads has been repeated and I am considering for the future how the principle of this grant can best be fitted into an overall plan for the national and regional routes. The current pace of developments in transportation oblige us to quicken the rate of costly investments in improving the primary roads which, although they comprise only 1,600 miles out of a total of 54,000 miles, carry 30 per cent of all traffic. I have accordingly increased the grant allocation for national primary roads by £1.08 million for 1972-73. As the House is aware, the full financial responsibility for the national primary network now falls on the Road Fund, without requiring any contribution from local rates. It is the intention that the national secondary network will similarly be financed directly, without charge to local rates, when this becomes practicable.
Within the overall allocation grants for traffic management schemes have been increased this year by £200,000 to £667,000. It is not sufficient, however, to plan for the elimination of deficiencies in the capacity of existing roads. The continuing growth in traffic is already creating a future pattern of deficiencies where none now exist. Efficient road communications are essential not only to private and public transport but are a critical element in agricultural and commercial development.
The comprehensive studies of capacity, safety and pavement conditions on rural sections of the national primary routes, completed during the year by An Foras Forbartha in co-operation with the Department, have provided a scientific basis for the development of a multi-year programme for the improvement of these important routes. The studies have indicated that out of the 1,400 miles of rural sections of the system 140 miles are in very poor condition, 114 miles are in poor condition and 348 miles are in fair condition. To achieve maximum efficiency—something that is absolutely essential in a country having such a high mileage of roads relative to population as Ireland— we must make full use of the most up-to-date techniques in road construction and maintenance. The road materials laboratory which I opened last year provides the testing facilities so necessary nowadays to ensure better quality road pavements.
We have therefore to press ahead with current planning and construction of improvements, including the provision of dual carriageways, and we must as soon as practicable initiate a motorways programme and planning for this has already commenced. The Government have authorised me to prepare the new legislation necessary for the provision of motorways and I will not delay in bringing my proposals before the House.
The Government have also authorised me to prepare new legislation to enable local authorities to establish a traffic warden service in their areas. The drafting of proposals is well advanced. This legislation would formalise the present administrative arrangement whereby the traffic wardens in Dublin city are under the control and direction of the corporation and the experience which the corporation have gained in the operation of this service will be available to other authorities. This does not imply, of course, that other local authorities need adopt the parking meter as a form of parking control. There are other means available adequate to local circumstances. A warden service can be seen as a complementary measure to the provision of car parks which are currently being financed out of Road Fund moneys.
Research projects have provided us with a sound framework on which programming is going ahead in many aspects of traffic management. The study report Transportation in Dublin presented to me and to the road and transport authorities for the greater Dublin area, in November last, defined the transportation problems to be faced over the next 20 years. It pin-points the desirability of co-ordinating the interests of public and private transport. It also recommends possible courses of action for the solution of these problems. The report and its recommendations are being examined in detail by the road authorities concerned and by my Department in the light of the financial resources likely to be available for roads and road transport in the future.
Good progress has already been made on detailing some of the major projects involved, such as the outer ring to circle the city from Santry in the north, by Castleknock, Clondalkin and Sandyford to Booterstown in the south. I have arranged to bring forward an engineering survey which will enable the national primary route from the west of Ireland through County Kildare and County Meath to be linked directly with the plans for the Dublin area. I expect work will proceed this year on the Tallaght roads, Dublin-Bray road, and other major schemes. Good progress is being made with the Finglas bye-pass and the Naas Road.
Dublin Corporation is engaged in a study, to be completed during this year, of traffic management in the central city area. To meet the special problems of Dublin city and county I increased the Road Fund allocation to the city by £430,000 to a total of £1,969,730 and by £216,000 to £961,000 for the county. I have also arranged that selected suburban roads in Dublin county will be financed on the same basis as corresponding city roads for which the Road Fund pays 100 per cent of cost.
The research work being carried out on road safety is contributing greatly to our knowledge and understanding of this very complex problem. Indeed, it is now becoming increasingly apparent that there is no single field of activity on which we can concentrate in our efforts to stem and reverse the unfortunate trend in road casualties; rather we must pursue the problem vigorously on a broad front. Scientific evidence is increasingly pointing the finger at alcohol as the largest single factor contributing to traffic accidents. The legislation to deal with this problem will not achieve its full potential until the public develop a far more responsible attitude to drunken driving. In the meantime, we must pursue road safety with all the other resources at our disposal. Scientific knowledge as to how these resources may be applied most effectively is vital if we are to make worthwhile progress.
Many other countries throughout Europe and the western world have experienced similar trends in road traffic and road accidents as Ireland has in recent years. This has led to increasing international co-operation in the pursuit of solutions to the problem. The OECD international cooperative road research programme, initiated in 1968 in which An Foras participates, is now feeding back much valuable scientific and technological information to assist governments in decision making on urgent road and transport problems. One of the problems which has been the subject of such research during the past two years is that of speed limits on rural roads. The OECD report, to be published shortly, supports the conclusion that where speeds have been reduced by speed limits there has been an accompaying overall reduction in the frequency and severity of traffic accidents; also where limits were removed speed and accidents subsequently increased. However, the study also shows that not enough is known in detail on the statistical significance and scientific validity of the accident reductions, or of the adverse affects of speed limits and that it is unlikely that those questions could be answered by isolated experiments in individual countries.
The report recommends that an international co-ordinated experiment be carried out to determine scientifically the relation between changes in speed limit policies and changes in accidents. The carrying out of this experiment is under consideration by the European Conference of Ministers of Transport at present. Pending the conclusion of such an experiment it would be manifestly unwise to change the general limit in Ireland.
After taking a long look at the effectiveness of our annual expenditure on road safety promotional activities, I came to the conclusion that we should attempt a new approach. I am now devising a national programme of accident prevention which would offer the opportunity of practical participation to a wide range of groups and organisations. The outlines of the programme have been prepared and detailing will now proceed. The continuing rate of increase in road deaths, personal injuries and property damage should not be looked on as an inevitable consequence of the machine age. It is a truism that many accidents can be avoided but it should be recognised that no amount of rules and regulations and paper can ensure that the individual driver will change his behaviour. That is why I would like to see the direct participation of motoring organisations, insurance companies, the motor trade, professional and social organisations and other groups in a co-ordinated programme. Road users must get the direct message that road accidents are costing them £10 million a year in insurance, not to mention the unquantifiable cost of personal tragedy and suffering. They must accept that there is something they can do about it individually and collectively. I think it is worthwhile trying this approach instead of relying on general enforcement levels and penalties as the whole counter to individual carelessness or irresponsibility.
For my own part, I have several projects which I will initiate directly. I propose to apply the results of research by An Foras Forbartha on accident black spot locations, by selecting priorities and paying local authorities 100 per cent of the cost of remedial works. I have notified local authorities that the full cost of providing improved public lighting on main traffic routes through towns may in future be charged to their Road Fund grants. Expert staff has been recruited and equipment has been purchased to enable the first phase of the proposed scheme of vehicle inspection to be launched. This will complement the existing driving test operations which are now running efficiently.
I have arranged to extend on a firmer basis the experimental scheme of road-side warnings which I started last year and which commenced with the slogan "No Road Deaths This Month Please". The co-operation of the local authorities in the new scheme has already been sought, with a view to its initiation this summer. It is a fact that while last summer's scheme operated, there was a distinct drop in monthly road deaths, although I am not claiming that the poster campaign was the sole reason for the drop. The overall programme of road accident prevention which is being organised by my Department will be published when it is in final form. Its effects will be assessed relative to the trend of accidents in each of their horrifying categories. This is not a short-term concept but one the effectiveness of which can only be assessed according as it progresses.
The Road Fund accounts show that apart from the payment of grants to local authorities for road works, there are other charges to be ment to the extent of approximately £2 million. The cost to local authorities through local registration offices, of operations such as the issue of driving licences, the collection of road tax, issue of tax discs, registration of ownership and changes of ownership, are recouped to the local authorities from the Road Fund. They will get about £450,000 on this score in the current year. I hope, incidentally that a great deal of this work can at some future stage be computerised.
By law, the Road Fund contributes annually to the expenses of the Garda in administering the Road Traffic Acts. Last year the payment was £690,000 and the Book of Estimates shows that the Department of Justice anticipates a contribution of £720,000 this year This payment, incidentally, includes the cost of pay and equipment of traffic wardens, which is at present borne by the Minister for Justice through the Garda Vote. The cost of road safety campaigns and films, on which £86,000 was spent last year as well as the expenses of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety amounting to about £40,000, also came out of Road Fund overheads. I hope to increase expenditure on road safety this year, including expenditure on signposting. The Foras Forbartha gets its annual grants for its roads, road traffic and road safety division from the Road Fund also. The amount of grant this year will probably be about £180,000. I hope that this summary disposes of the interpretation floated out recently that the £2 million a year in overheads charged to the Road Fund goes in remuneration of the Minister and his officials in the Department.
The international aspects of roads policies are probably not seen by the House in the perspective in which they effect the formulation and implementation of policy. We participate in the functioning of such bodies as the International Roads Federation, the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, to which we contribute the conclusions arrived at through the legislative policies adopted by this House and from which we derive the benefits of experience elsewhere as an aid to domestic policy formulation. We are guided by or subscribe to international conventions such as those on road signs and on international circulation. On entry into the EEC we will take this process further, for example by adopting into our Vehicle (Construction, Equipment and Use) Regulations certain safety aspects of directives and where appropriate by participating in rationalising further international aspects of road and road traffic administration.
In so far as the Commission's directives on the type approval of vehicle components have implications for my Department's functions under the Road Traffic Acts, I am examining the extent to which it will be desirable to incorporate in our vehicle construction, equipment and use regulations the standards which are set by the Commission for the purpose of eliminating barriers to trade.
A further example of the implications for our roads policy of present Community thinking arises from the international regulation of the weights and dimensions of vehicles. Whereas France appears to favour a higher axle weight than Germany, I find our position closer to that of the UK, having regard to the standards of our roads. I am making my views known to the Community that our existing 10 ton limit is the most suitable to Irish conditions. I am hopeful that when Community law is being finalised, the balance of opinion will tend towards our view.
In the meantime, I have received the report to which I referred in presenting the Local Government Estimates last year, of a committee established to review our present system of permits for vehicles which exceed the standard weights and dimensions. I hope to announce shortly some amendments to the present permit system, which will in particular facilitate the construction industry in the movement of their modern machinery.
The international harmonisation of weights and dimensions of vehicles is associated with the prospect of harmonising the related tax rates, in the interests of trade. This is a subject on which my Department has been engaged on the home front. Statistics show that transport economics tend to favour a trend from lighter to heavier commercial vehicles. It would seem reasonable in the circumstances that a rationalisation of our tax structure for commercial vehicles generally should be undertaken to facilitate this trend and I am looking into this.
Since third party insurance is compulsory under our Road Traffic Acts, an agreement exists with the insurance companies for the purpose of seeing that no one is refused cover, unless it is in the public interest to do so, or is not offered cover at a price which is tantamount to refusal. Control of the rates of premiums is not, of course, a function for my Department. Another body, the Motor Insurance Bureau, considers claims made where death or personal injuries result in the case, for example, of hit-and-run accidents, or non-insured drivers. Furthermore, for the purposes of international traffic, the Irish Visiting Motorists Bureau issues green cards to Irish owners for travel abroad and handles claims where a visiting motorist is involved in an accident in this country. The whole system has worked well in the circumstances in which it was developed. When the report of the insurance industry committee which was established by the Minister for Industry and Commerce becomes available, I will consider whether changes should be proposed in the circumstances of today. For example, the EEC proposes that the domestic insurance policy should give communitywide cover for third party risks so as to free the movement of vehicles within the Community. This would probably require amendment of our laws if it is adopted.
During 1970, I reviewed the code of regulations which govern the licensing and operations of small public service vehicles, better known as taxis and hackneys. I undertook at that time to review within two years the effects of the series of revised regulations which I subsequently made. I satisfied myself that a better and continuous means of communication was necessary between all the interests concerned with the taxi business—the owners, The Garda, the local authority, Bord Fáilte, CIE and my Department. In response to my suggestion, the Dublin City Manager was good enough to set up such a continuing committee and from the reports I have seen of its meetings, this is a useful body. It is concerning itself with the practical effects of statutory regulations for licensing, fares, the location of and order at taxi ranks, adequacy of services, the display of fare cards for passengers, and so on. I am hopeful that this experiment will prove a useful guide to the establishment of similar local committees in Cork and other taxi meter areas in the future.
I have no doubt that the brief review of roads activities which I have given the House illustrates the range of activities with which my Department is concerned in transportation policy and points to further increases in the costs of roads, traffic management and accident prevention. For the current year alone, the increase in grant allocation is £2 million bringing the total allocation to £14.4 million. Against this total, the net amount available to me on the current basis of Road Fund revenue would be marginally above £12 million. The sources from which to fill this gap are confined. I am urgently considering what financial measures would be appropriate in these circumstances to fulfil our commitments for this year and hopefully to provide a base for future expansion.
A provision of £500,000 has been included under subhead K Local Improvements Scheme, which is administered in association with grants from the Road Fund. This sum has been allocated to county councils in proportion to the relative demand for grants in each county as reflected in the numbers of applications and in the extent to which grants have been taken up by the various councils in past years. It will be recalled that the provision made in 1970-71 was also £500,000 and that last year, substantial supplementary provisions were voted for the scheme. The supplementary provisions helped to reduce a backlog of desirable projects and to provide increased opportunities for employment in the counties concerned in the absence of increased Road Fund grants. In the current year, notwithstanding that Road Fund grants to local authorities have been increased by £2 million and, the increase in amenity grants I have arranged to repeat the provision of £500,000 for the Local Improvements Scheme.