Under the rural towns and villages initiative announced in the 1999 budget, £80 million is being allocated over the four years up to 2002 for the provision of water and sewerage infrastructure to promote the development of smaller agglomerations and to combat rural depopulation. Over 60 individual projects have been approved and details are available in my Department's 1999 Water and Sewerage Services Investment Programme Annual Report, a copy of which is available in the Library.
In addition, £420 million is being made available under the National Development Plan 2000-2006 for the rural water programme, which includes a number of measures to improve and expand rural water supplies and waste water facilities. Under the small schemes measure, Exchequer grants of up to 75% of cost, subject to a cost limit of £250,000 per scheme, are available for small public water and sewerage schemes. Responsibility for the selection of individual projects, which are funded from annual block grant allocations by my Department to local authorities, has been devolved to the authorities themselves. I hope to announce details of this years block grant allocations shortly.
In the past fortnight I have also introduced substantive improvements in the grants and subsidies available under the rural water programme for the development and improvement of group water supplies. The increased level of grant aid now available should ensure that many schemes that up to now might not have been financially viable will be able to proceed. The approval of grants for individual group scheme proposals is also a devolved function of the local authorities within annual block grant allocations by my Department. Block grants for group schemes this year will be announced at the same time as those for the small schemes measure.