Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 6 Nov 2018

Vol. 261 No. 1

Commencement Matters

Regional Development Policy

As someone who has grown up and lived in Naas all my life, I understand the situation regarding what is proposed for the town. Under the regional spatial and economic strategy, in the hierarchy of the regional planning guidelines, it is proposed that Naas be downgraded from a tier 1 growth town to simply a growth town.

As a result of its status as a tier 1 growth town, Naas was able to access funding in recent years, with €283 million of Government investment in the town. That included the Osberstown treatment plant, increasing the capacity of the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant, a €110 million investment in the Sallins bypass, the Osberstown interchange and the widening of the N7 to three lanes. It also included investment in schools. Mercy Convent primary school in Naas is currently being rebuilt and other schools have been proposed, including Naas community college. There was investment in Naas hospital and a business park in Osberstown. The State has invested heavily in all these things.

Tier 1 growth town designation means that housing development should be based primarily on employment growth, accessible by sustainable transport modes and quality of life rather than unsustainable commuting patterns. People may have thought that Naas was a commuter town but that is not the case. Some 11,000 people work in Naas while 7,500 leave Naas to work elsewhere. People travel from Dublin to work in Naas. The companies in Naas are not multinationals but indigenous companies, of which Kerry Foods is the largest. The Queally Group and Dawn Farm foods are located there and each employs 700 to 800 people. The county council offices are also located there. It has Naas hospital and the HSE has established a regional base there.

Naas should be considered a tier 1 growth town rather than a growth town, which is what it has been downgraded to in the current proposal in the regional, spatial and economic strategy. There is planning permission for more than 2,500 houses to be built. If those houses are built, it will mean Naas will have reached the population targets set out in the strategy. Naas is an economic zone outside of Dublin. It is the only one being proposed. There is no regional growth centre between Dublin and Cork or Dublin and Limerick. That is a major corridor between the three main cities. Naas needs to be upgraded to a regional growth centre, not unlike Dundalk, Drogheda or Athlone, because it is a growth centre for employment and should not be seen as a commuter town. In the 1970s, the Myles Wright report stated it should be designated an economic zone. There are 11,500 people working in Naas town. It needs to be upgraded to a regional centre. I hope the Minister of State will comment on maintaining Naas as a tier 1 growth town and upgrading it to a regional growth town.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to discuss the matter and bring some clarity to it. I welcome the opportunity to provide clarity and address any misunderstanding that may have arisen. We had some discussion of Project Ireland 2040 and the regional plans in the Dáil. We need to have more discussion in this House, in committee and the Dáil to tease out what we are trying to achieve with the roll-out of Project Ireland 2040 and the regional and county plans. There is a little confusion. People have talked about there being limited ambition.

The designation to which the Senator refers, that of tier 1 large growth town, forms part of the regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, which, in addition to the four Dublin local authority areas, includes the three mid-eastern counties of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. Those guidelines are being superseded by a new draft regional strategy and this may have resulted in some confusion. The designation, tier 1 large growth town, which was used in previous publications has been discontinued. In the new draft regional strategy such areas are now designated as a key town to simplify matters. They are not being downgraded. I want to allay the Senator's fears about that.

I understand he is concerned about the future of Naas and is committed to it, as is the Department. We see Naas as an essential town. It is a key town in Kildare and the region. Naas has been identified as a key town in the draft regional strategy for the eastern and midland regional assembly area. The draft regional strategy describes in detail the function and purpose of a key town and reflects the Senator's ambition for further job creation along with housing development and that the two be matched with the infrastructure needed. In the past, housing has been developed in counties such as Meath and Kildare but there have not been enough jobs. Naas has done well and has secured many indigenous jobs. Kerry Group was a major factor in that. We want to create and win more jobs. We do not want 7,500 or 8,000 people having to commute from Naas. The focus in the regional strategy is to match the two to make sure housing secures jobs and jobs secure housing and that we link them together. In the past we have had one or the other which is not good planning. There must also be all the other infrastructural services to go with it.

The national planning framework, NPF, published earlier this year together with the national development plan, NDP, as part of Project Ireland 2040 is intended to provide a strategic context for future planning, development and investment over the next two decades. In addition, the NPF represents the long-term strategy for Departments, State agencies, State-owned enterprises, regional and local authorities and others to support communities to achieve their potential for economic, social and infrastructural development through a shared set of strategic objectives and key principles. The goal is to achieve that potential in a logically planned way. As a strategic document, the NPF is being given further and more detailed expression at regional level through preparation by the regional assemblies of statutory, regional, spatial and economic strategies for the three regional assembly areas.

I understand the Senator is raising this matter in response to the publication of the draft regional, spatial and economic strategy for the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, EMRA, for which a ten-week consultation period commenced just last Monday.

The east and midlands regional spatial and economic strategy is the first of three draft strategies to be published by the regional assemblies during the coming weeks. They will replace the previous regional planning guidelines, all seven of which are by now outdated. The consultation period on the draft regional strategy will run until 23 January, and it is open to any interested party, including Senator Lawlor and others who are interested, to make a formal submission in writing to the regional assembly on the content of the draft regional strategy. We would welcome the Senator's involvement through discussion here or through formal submissions to outline clearly his concerns and fears if we get it wrong and his ambition for the town and what he wants to achieve for Naas and Kildare in general. We want our plans to be ambitious. We want to be very clear that the NPF will not limit the ambition of any town but to help grow it in a planned and co-ordinated way and successfully link the process of having well-planned housing in an area that has all of the services to go with it.

The finalisation of these regional strategies in the first half of 2019 will, in turn, prompt reviews and updates of individual county and city development plans to ensure strategic co-ordination and consistency between national, regional and local levels. The Senator has raised this issue in other conversations and I believe that much clarity has been brought to the process over recent weeks at regional level, in terms of future ambition and zoned lands. People will have had their concerns and fears allayed and I assume the Senator's councillor colleagues understand what we are trying to achieve through the regional plans. I hope this brings some clarity on what a key town is. We are just replacing the terminology used in the past.

Growth centres such as Sligo and Athlone are a little different. They are to drive the regions around them because we are trying to disperse the population into other regions that have experienced population decline. Sligo and Athlone have been picked as regional centres to try to drive activity not just in the towns but in the regions around them, whereas Naas is a key town for Kildare and the region.

We are well over the time limit but I will give the Senator ten seconds. He and Minister of State spoke for a long time and we have three more matters to deal with.

I did not realise that.

The Senator took five minutes and the Minister of State took another five minutes.

I appreciate what the Minister of State has said on "key town" being replacement terminology for "tier 1". We need clarification on the definition. The problem associated with tier 1 towns was population targets. I am concerned they will change as a result of which the impetus on creating employment will be lost. If we do not reach the population targets, house prices will increase and the incentive to establish Naas as a key economic driver for the Kildare region will also be lost.

I thank the Senator for this debate and I am happy to engage with him over the months ahead to try to get this right. The population targets are based on ESRI data but we believe there is enough headroom and space in the Kildare figures and in the various towns. This is something we can monitor over the coming weeks as we try to bring this process to an end.

School Accommodation Provision

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and I congratulate him on his appointment to the Department of Education and Skills. I look forward to working with him over the coming months and years or however long the Administration remains in office. I am based in north County Dublin where there are many educational issues. I already been in correspondence with the Minister on a number of these and I look forward to engaging with him constructively over the coming months.

Today I want to raise the specific issue of St. Joseph's secondary school in Rush, County Dublin. Rush is a vibrant young growing town on the coast with one secondary school.

Currently, there is a crisis facing the school and the town due to the fact that all the school places in first year for 2019 have been allocated and there are 102 children who have not been allocated a place. They are on a waiting list. This trend is set to continue in 2020, 2021 and after that given the current figures for students in the primary schools in the town. It is a very serious situation. Ultimately, the school needs a new school building because the current building is not fit to cope with the numbers at present and certainly not into the future. For example, there is no library in the school, no physical education, PE, hall and the science and woodwork rooms are undersized. I ask the Minister to work with the board of management and the principal to move forward with the plans for the new school.

However, to deal with the impending crisis in the town of Rush the school has made an application to the Minister for four extra prefab classrooms so the 102 children on the waiting list can be offered places for 2019. I ask the Minister to prioritise the application so the school can have certainty. There is great distress in the town. People want their children educated in their community and town. The neighbouring towns of Lusk and Skerries are also facing crises relating to oversubscription so it is not possible for the children to travel to those nearby towns. St. Joseph's has an excellent reputation in the town. It has a 100% rate of progression to third level or apprenticeships. It is a DEIS school and it has strong links with the Trinity Access programme. There is a very good community spirit around the school and it has links to various clubs and groups in the community. I ask the Minister to examine that application urgently to allow these children and their families to take part in the school community, to be educated in their own community and to give the school some certainty. He should then move on to considering a new school building for St. Joseph's in Rush.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht an cheist seo a ardú. Aontaím léi go bhfuil an-tábhacht ag baint leis an ábhar seo. I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to clarify the current position relating to my Department's plans to meet the demand for school places in the Fingal area and in St. Joseph's secondary school, Rush. My predecessor, Deputy Bruton, announced plans for the establishment of 42 new schools over the four years from 2019 to 2022. This announcement follows nationwide demographic exercises carried out by my Department on the future need for primary and post-primary schools across the country. The four-year horizon will enable increased lead-in times for planning and delivery of the necessary infrastructure.

This announcement included three new post-primary schools to be established in the Fingal area as follows: a new 1,000 pupil post-primary school to serve the Donaghmede-Howth D13 school planning area to be established in 2019; a new 800 pupil post-primary school to serve the Blanchardstown west D15 and Blanchardstown village D15 school planning areas as a regional solution to be established in 2020; and a new 800 pupil post-primary school to serve the Donaghmede-Howth D13 school planning area to be established in 2021. In addition to the new schools announced, my Department’s capital investment programme also provides for devolved funding for additional classrooms for existing schools where an immediate enrolment need has been identified. The requirement for new schools will be kept under ongoing review and, in particular, would have regard for the increased roll-out of housing provision as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

With regard to St. Joseph’s secondary school, my Department received an application for additional accommodation from the school. I am pleased to advise the Senator that it recently issued approval, in principle, to the board of management for the rental of two science laboratories, one technical graphics-design communication graphics room and one general classroom, as an interim measure, pending delivery of the permanent school building. The Senator will also be aware that a major building project to provide a new replacement school building for St. Joseph’s secondary school, Rush, is included in my Department's six-year construction programme. A site is required for this purpose and this is currently being pursued.

It is very good news that the Minister has issued approval in principle for the additional temporary accommodation.

I take his point that a site for a new school building is being actively pursued but I put it to him that this should be a matter of urgency because the enrolment figures for the primary schools in the town of Rush show that next year there will be a similar level of demand. It is not a once-off and, as a result, more and more temporary accommodation will be required on a very small site. There are already 17 prefabs in place there. When the four new units are added in, there will be 21 prefabs. The school is urgently needed. I ask that this be made a priority. A lot of housing is being built in Fingal.

The Minister referred to Donaghmede and Blanchardstown. They are not anywhere near Rush; they are significant distances away. The people of Rush do not have any connection with Donaghmede or Blanchardstown and would not be sending their kids to either location. I ask the Minister to keep Rush and north Fingal, the area in which I live and in which the youngest and fastest-growing population in this country resides, in his thoughts.

I absolutely take the important issues the Senator has raised very seriously. We have to plan for the future. The context for planning does not relate only to schools but to housing. Where there will be more housing, there will be additional pressures. As part of the ongoing conversation regarding where people are going to live and go to school and how they will travel to school, I take the Senator's point. Fingal is a big geographical area and there are more than 8,000 places in post-primary schools there alone, which gives one a glimpse of the population dynamic that exists.

I also accept what the Senator stated in the context of ensuring that this matter is kept on the radar. A number of her colleagues have also raised this issue with me. In my short time in this new post I have seen that the pressure on high-population areas to ensure that they have quality educational centres is very important to the politicians who represent those areas. However, I want to work in tandem with the different frameworks that we have including the capital plan for the period 2016 to 2021. Obviously, we also have the ten-year capital plan. The latter provides more than €8.4 billion for education, which is double the money provided in the previous ten years. All of that funding will be needed. Pressure is coming on the sector. When it comes to land acquisition, as prices rise we have to ensure that we get in there as competitively as possible, although when a need is identified and increases in population are projected, I will certainly pay very close attention.

Schools Building Projects Status

I apologise for having to slip outside for a moment. I am out of breath after sprinting down to the Chamber. First and foremost, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I am genuinely thrilled for him. It is much deserved. As a former teacher, he has a long history in this sector so I am excited about what he will bring to the role.

This might be the first time the Minister is dealing with the issue before us but he is the fourth Minister or Minister of State with whom I have raised it. Unfortunately, progress has been slow. Going through the planning process has been an eight-year campaign. Just last week, the most recent planning application was refused. It was the third such application. At this stage, the level of frustration, anger and disappointment among the school-going community in Ballinteer is the highest I have ever seen. The fact that there seem to have been no pre-planning meetings between the Department and the county council is extremely disappointing and worrying. We assumed that when this most recent application was submitted, this would, after such a delay, finally be it and that we would see the permanent school opening on the identified site off Wyckham Way. This is vitally important to the local community. There is massive development taking place in the area and there has been a dramatic growth in population. This primary school needs to open in a permanent building. It will not be needed for the first time in six or 12 months; it was needed years ago.

I do not know where we stand in respect of this matter. A meeting is due to be held in the school next week. I am sure the Minister's office has been inundated with countless parliamentary questions.

I am genuinely happy that the Minister is taking this vitally important Commencement matter at such short notice. I am appealing to him and to his officials because something needs to be done. The plans for the school are sound. The planning issue that exists is very small. The Department of Education and Skills needs to intervene and to work proactively with the local authority to get this school project through. There are children in this school who will never be taught in the new school building. They have spent five or six years in prefabricated classrooms and they are now in a temporary school location in Churchtown, which is nowhere near Ballinteer. It might look quite close on a map, but the two population centres are nowhere near each other. This is possibly the most pressing education issue in my local area.

I welcome the Minister to this job. I thank him for being here for this debate. On behalf of the people of Ballinteer Educate Together national school, I ask him to make it a priority to get this project through.

Ní raibh an Seanadóir ró-mhall. Bhí sé ceart go leor. I thank him for raising this matter and giving me an opportunity to update the House on the current position regarding the provision of a permanent school building for Ballinteer Educate Together national school, which is a co-educational school under the patronage of Educate Together.

The brief for the project we are discussing is the provision of a new 16-classroom school and a two-classroom special needs unit, together with all ancillary accommodation, on the St. Tiernan's Community School site at Parkvale, Balally, Dublin 16. This project, which is included in the six-year capital programme of the Department of Education and Skills to proceed to tender and construction in 2018, was assigned to the Department's rapid design and build delivery programme in March 2018. Architectural planning commenced immediately. An application for planning permission was lodged with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in September 2018 following a pre-planning meeting with the council.

A notification of decision to refuse permission was received by the Department's consultants on 2 November 2018. A copy of this notification was received by officials in the Department yesterday afternoon. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council outlined two reasons for its decision to refuse planning. First, the proposed exit-only link onto Wyckham Way, which is a heavily trafficked distributor road, would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard or obstruction of road users and the proposed development would therefore be contrary to the proper planning and development of the area. Second, the proposal to utilise the existing access to St. Tiernan's Community School through Parkvale to serve an additional 16-classroom school is not acceptable on the grounds of the impact on the residential amenity of existing Parkvale residents. The proposed development would be seriously injurious to the residential amenity of Parkvale and would therefore be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

The remarks I have made in reply to the Senator are obviously in the public arena. They arise from the decision that has been made by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Officials from the Department of Education and Skills will now review this decision. I appreciate the disappointment of those who have been campaigning on this issue for eight years. I assure the Senator that having reviewed this disappointing decision, the Department will consult its advisers and technical team to decide how best to make progress with this project. The possibility of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála will be considered in that context.

I thank the Minister for his response and for his interest in Ballinteer Educate Together national school. I cannot over-emphasise that this was the third application to be made in respect of this project. This has been going on for eight years. There are children who will go through their entire primary school cycle without ever seeing the inside of the proposed permanent building. There are teachers who are preparing to retire who will not get to teach in the proposed permanent building.

The two issues that were flagged in the local authority's recent planning decision are not new. The issue of access to Parkvale has been going on for the entire 40-year history of the neighbouring secondary school. There was a lengthy public campaign against allowing access to Parkvale. Similarly, the issue of access to Wyckham Avenue is not a new one.

I appreciate the Minister's commitment to reviewing the local authority's response and to considering the possibility of an appeal. While I welcome that, something more is required. I ask the Minister to organise a meeting at the highest possible level between the CEO of the local authority and the school principal to see whether we can get this over the line. It is no longer sufficient to rely on appeals and reviews.

Serious action is required. The Minister must take the matter in hand and deliver this school.

I reiterate my disappointment at the delay. A school community does not just arrive but, rather, results from a campaign involving many people who have expectations and hopes for the project. When a roadblock is encountered, it can be very difficult. I will ensure that there is contact between my officials and the chief executive of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Drawing on his days on that council, the Senator will have suggestions and opinions that might help to move this matter forward. Obviously, the decision on whether to take the matter to An Bord Pleanála is under consideration.

Hospital Facilities

I welcome the Minister of State. He is aware of and familiar with the issue of the accident and emergency department at Beaumont Hospital. I have visited it on several occasions and I am sure he has also done so. The staff of the department are dedicated and hardworking, but there is a need to upgrade the physical environment in which they operate. There are other issues relating to the department of which all present are aware, such as the ageing demographic in the area, staff requirements, etc., which must be addressed by the Department of Health. However, it has long been acknowledged that the need for a new emergency department is a top priority for the staff.

In the dying days of the previous Government, a plan was formulated with senior hospital officials for a €45 million refurbishment of the emergency department. The Minister of State has made me aware that good news is forthcoming relating to the plans for the department and I know that €100,000 has been allocated in respect of the design phase. However, I have searched for a reference to the €40 million which the Minister of State indicated has been allocated to the refurbishment or reconstruction of the accident and emergency department and cannot find it. Deputy Brendan Ryan tabled parliamentary questions on the matter on my behalf. The responses state that it is a matter for the HSE. I have searched the capital plan for mention of the project but cannot locate any references to it. Where is the €40 million allocation the Minister of State announced on several occasions? If it exists and is contained in the capital plan, I ask for an indication as to the timeline for the refurbishment of this facility, which, as the Minister of State and I know, is badly needed by communities on the northside.

I thank the Senator for raising this very important issue. I accept his point regarding the physical condition of the accident and emergency department at Beaumont Hospital. It is important that I update the House on the provision of a new emergency department. As the Senator is aware, A Programme for a Partnership Government includes commitments to new capital developments at the hospital, namely, a new emergency department and a dedicated cystic fibrosis unit. The Department, the HSE, the RCSI hospital group and Beaumont Hospital are very supportive of these projects. It is recognised that the developments are needed to support the delivery of key services to patients served by Beaumont Hospital.

Following on from the commitments in A Programme for A Partnership Government, significant appraisal and planning work has been carried out by Beaumont Hospital, the RCSI hospital group, the HSE acute hospitals and estates divisions, supported by the Department, to progress these capital developments. In preparation of the capital plan for 2018 the HSE confirmed that funding of €100,000 would be made available in 2018 for the design phase of the new Beaumont Hospital emergency department project. The HSE gave written approval for the funding, which allowed Beaumont Hospital to go ahead with the EU procurement process for the selection and appointment of the design team for the project. The national development plan, announced earlier this year as part of the Project Ireland 2040 policy initiative, provides €10.9 billion for health capital developments across the State, including both national programmes and individual projects across acute, primary and social care. The money will come out of that budget. Health capital projects and programmes currently under way will continue. I am happy to confirm today that both the emergency department and the cystic fibrosis unit capital projects have been included in the national development plan and the timeframe for the completion of the emergency department project will be informed by the work of the project team. This work will be undertaken in conjunction with Beaumont Hospital and the HSE.

As the Senator is aware, the hospital site is quite restricted and much work has been carried out by Beaumont Hospital and the HSE around site selection. I understand that this selection report is due in the coming days. Furthermore, it is my clear understanding that the emergency department project will proceed to planning in early 2019. These are both positive developments as we all move forward.

The delivery of national development plan projects and programmes, including the projects at Beaumont Hospital, will result in healthcare facilities that allow for implementation of new models of care and for delivery of services in high-quality, modern facilities. The cystic fibrosis unit project will be underpinned by the model of care for people with cystic fibrosis in Ireland which has been developed by the national clinical programme for cystic fibrosis. I believe there is a meeting today on this issue in the audiovisual room in Leinster House. This will set out standards for the physical and human resources to be provided for the treatment of cystic fibrosis patients from a national perspective. Investment in healthcare infrastructure, including these projects, must be considered within the overall capital envelope available to the health service.

The HSE will continue to apply the available funding for infrastructure development in the most effective way possible to meet current and future needs, having regard to the level of commitments and the costs to completion already in place.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. There is a bit in his reply which is not in my copy, which I find a bit strange. The Minister of State made reference - which is not in the reply I have here - to restrictions on the site or issues relating to the site. Perhaps the Minister of State might expand on that please.

On the timeline, I am not sure if they are written in notes that he has done himself from his own knowledge of dealing with officials or if there is a reason the two scripts are different, but I would be interested in getting that information in written form if that is in order.

There are a couple of slight changes. The Minister of State will supply that.

Yes I will supply that. The information on the site change just happened in the last 20 minutes. We are expecting a report and a site selection result in a matter of days. I will come back to the Senator with the details.

Is that for the emergency department?

Yes. That is the first thing.

The second aspect is the planning. We will proceed to planning in early 2019. While we are discussing the emergency department and planning I want to let the Senator know that the cystic fibrosis unit will go to planning later this month. As I said earlier, the site selection for the emergency department is due in a few days.

On the issue of the €40 million, that figure came from a Department of Health briefing with the HSE in January 2018. I was looking at different particular options. I am the person who put this into the programme for Government.

The Government is committed to planning, designing and building a new emergency department at Beaumont Hospital. This commitment is in the programme for partnership Government and the NDP. The timeframe for completion of the emergency department will be informed by the work of the project team. This work will be undertaken in conjunction with Beaumont Hospital and the HSE. The campus site selection report is due in the coming days and the project will proceed to planning in early 2019.

Beaumont Hospital is one of Ireland's foremost medical institutions. It has the reputation of delivery of high quality, innovative and safe care to the people in north Dublin and nationally. This has been achieved through the commitment, hard work and professionalism of all the staff. I thank all those working there for their great work and assure them we will support the hospital in developing its infrastructure and services. We intend to move as quickly as possible. I hope to have a ministerial meeting with the officials of the Department of Health and the HSE over the next week or two to further push this agenda. I will contact the Senator with the further details.

Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.