Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Other Questions. - Resorts Scheme.

Liz McManus


21 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has completed the review of the pilot tax relief scheme for certain seaside resorts; the terms of reference of the review; the assessments, if any, which have been carried out on the results in terms of the renewal and updating of tourist facilities in these areas and additional tourism business attracted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21428/97]

The pilot tax relief scheme for certain resort areas was introduced, under the Finance Act, 1995, on 1 July 1995 on a pilot basis for three years. The purpose of the scheme is to assist in the renewal and updating of tourist amenities and facilities in the areas designated.

An interdepartmental group comprising representatives from my Department, the Department of Finance, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Revenue Commissioners, Bord Fáilte and Shannon Development is currently reviewing the impact of the scheme. The review will assimilate all key data concerning developments currently taking place in the designated resort areas, including the total number of projects; the total number of projects by type of enterprise; the total capital investment, the total level of tax relief granted; the total number of jobs created; the geographical spread of uptake; and the qualitative aspects.

When I receive the review findings, I will examine them in consultation with the Minister for Finance. At this stage, I clearly cannot anticipate those findings. I had hoped to have them before the end of this year but as the Deputy knows, the scheme will run until the end of next year. I anticipate we will have the findings before that time.

Will the Minister clarify in more detail the length of time he expects this review to take before completion? He must be aware that certain towns expect this scheme to be extended. I was glad the last Government initiated the scheme and included the town of Arklow, in my own county. I know the Minister will accept that it is a good idea to learn from experience, but will he not agree there is now an urgent need to ensure the review is completed? Does he perceive this review to be completed in the context of him expanding the scheme? Does the Minister intend to expand the scheme because the current scheme will soon come to an end? Many people are working on the basis that the scheme will be extended but the Minister has not actually stated that. Will he state clearly that it is his intention to extend the scheme, even if it is altered or refined as a result of this review, or does he intend to terminate it?

I cannot answer the Deputy's question about extending the scheme until I receive the report. I am sure she understands that. Problems have arisen in certain areas of the scheme. This was an excellent scheme from my point of view because it rejuvenated areas which were neglected. Like all good policies introduced by various Governments, this scheme tended to be abused. Problems arose with the scheme in some areas, particularly the environmental area, and in regard to the profile of certain specific areas. It was unfair to highlight one or two of those and castigate the rest as a result.

We will have to consider the scheme in a different light and, if it is extended, certain aspects of it will have to be changed. Many representatives of the local development groups to whom I spoke indicated the scheme would have been much more appropriate had it applied to the introduction of leisure facilities rather than some of the areas it covered. We have up until next year to review the scheme and I anticipate the report will be completed by next February or March. At that time we will review the scheme in conjunction with the Departments of the Environment and Local Government, Finance and the Revenue Commissioners.

Will the Minister agree that some ambitious projects, which have been delayed by An Bord Pleanála and in respect of which there are other planning difficulties, including those involving the Land Registry, will not come to fruition if the scheme is not extended? That is an important point for the Minister to consider in extending the scheme. Will he agree that a number of the less progressive resorts have not capitalised fully on the scheme to date and it is only now that the scheme is beginning to have an effect? If the scheme was terminated now, the benefits which have been acknowledged would not impact on those resorts.

I agree with Deputy Deenihan.

Many Deputies have approached me about the same type of problems concerning projects that are about to commence and have requested that the scheme be extended. However, that is a matter for the Minister for Finance, but I hope the hatchet will not be brought down immediately on projects which have a reasonable chance of coming to fruition and that the Department of Finance will look favourably on them. However, that is ultimately a decision for the Department of Finance, but the Deputy would have my support on this matter.

I congratulate the Department on this good scheme. Perhaps not all resorts use it to its full potential or exploit it in the wrong way. Does the Minister consider there is a possibility of extending the scheme to cover more peripheral regions; for instance resorts close to the Border such as Moville and Buncrana? There is a need for positive discrimination towards those areas. Is there scope in the scheme to expand it to include towns that have suffered as a result of other difficulties, where tourism is their only future and they have limited tourist facilities even though many people are doing good work to develop those areas? Will the Minister ensure peripheral regions, including the one I mentioned, are taken into account in a review of this scheme?

I am fully conscious of the effects of the devastation that has occurred along the Border. I hope, before my brief in this area concludes the Border area will recognise the benefit it achieved while I held this portfolio. The decision to extend this scheme is a matter for the Department of Finance. I would have no difficulty extending it to include numerous other areas and there is an excellent political reason for doing that. However, that is a decision for the Department of Finance, but the Deputy can rest assured the Border will be well and truly looked after.

I acknowledge the many benefits of the seaside resorts scheme but I regret north County Dublin was overlooked in the initial tranche. In reviving the scheme will the Minister take into account the environmental impact on some of the areas that have benefited from it and the hike in property prices in some areas which has meant that local people have been priced out of their areas, which in the long-term will be more damaging than any initial benefit the scheme may have. In Lahinch and Youghal the visual impact of the scheme has been a cause of much comment by members of the local community. When it comes to reviewing the scheme perhaps that should be a lesson on to how things should not be done.

The Deputy is correct. Those are two specific reasons the scheme must be revisited. One concerns the environmental impact of the scheme. In the areas concerned local development groups have told me that families and others trying to build houses on their own sites have found the price of sites have risen astronomically. Those concerns must form part of the balancing act in reviewing the scheme. The environmental impact on those towns and the price of sites in them are two detrimental effects of the scheme.

Will the Minister agree that it is extraordinarily surprising that the evaluation of this scheme has not progressed further. Is the Minister aware that six weeks ago I brought a delegation to the Department of Finance? To say the least I was not happy with the level of competence in that Department and the manner in which the evaluation of this scheme is being carried out. Is the Minister aware that as yet only one town has responded to the request for information, which is delaying the evaluation of the scheme? I expressed my alarm and the alarm implicit in Deputy McManus's question that towns like Bray which were excluded from the scheme will continue to be excluded unless the Department removes its collective digit and proceeds with matters. Will the Minister ensure the review is speeded up and give an early response on the long-standing request that Bray be included in the scheme? I remind the Minister that the Minister for Finance when he first advocated this scheme and last year in amendments which he sought to table to the Finance Bill suggested that Bray should be included in the scheme.

I will try to facilitate the Deputy by speeding up the review of the scheme and obtaining the reports. As I stated in reply to Deputy McManus's question, I tried to get the reports in before the budget so that a proper discussion could take place on the scheme, but Deputy Roche will understand this is a matter for the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill will not be published until the new year and this scheme can be discussed before that. I will encourage those areas that have been requested to furnish information to send it in as soon as possible so that we can have a proper basis on which to evaluate whether to extend this scheme.

I am alarmed at Deputy Roche's concern about officials in the Department of Finance. Will Clifden be included in the next scheme?

As I said before the Deputy came into the House, that is a matter for the Department of Finance.

I was here when the Minister said that, but I thought he would answer my question.

The Deputy's party promised to include it but it did not deliver on that.

I know the Minister cannot give a guarantee that the scheme will be expanded but, if it is, will he ensure that inland tourist resorts will be included?

Perhaps that is another innovative idea that should be considered.

Westport was included in the scheme. As Deputy Sargent said, there is a major problem concerning the prices of houses and sites in some of the resorts included in the scheme. Will the Minister ensure in the review of the scheme that where major developments are taking place and there is planning permission for the building of 20, 30 or 40 houses, half of those will be made available to young couples living in the area? In Westport 120 to 140 houses were built and are available for rent, but that is not good for the economic future of the town. Will the Minister ensure that if a certain number of houses are built in a town included in the scheme some of them will be made available for local people?

I addressed that matter before the Deputy came into the House. It is a major draw-back of the scheme.