Thursday, 14 June 2018

Ceisteanna (14, 16)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

14. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the work of the Action Plan for Rural Development specifically relating to the revitalisation of towns and villages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24822/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Deering

Ceist:

16. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the status of the commitment contained in the Action Plan for Rural Development to rejuvenate more than 600 rural and regional towns. [25804/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

I will forfeit my 30 second preamble.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 16 together.

I thank the Deputy for her question. The town and village renewal scheme is a key component in revitalising towns and villages and sustaining our rural communities. It was introduced in 2016 and allocated €10 million to 170 projects in its first year of operation. In 2017, as part of the Action Plan for Rural Development, I launched an enhanced town and village renewal scheme with a focus on projects that could bring a positive economic impact to our rural towns and villages. Under last year's scheme, I approved €21.6 million in funding to 281 projects. I launched a further round of the scheme in April of this year, with an allocation of €15 million. The closing date for the submission of applications to my Department is 30 June and I anticipate that up to 200 further projects will be approved arising from this call for proposals. These projects will be completed over a 12 to 18 month period.

In addition, my Department provided €7 million in CLÁR funding to 231 projects in 2017. More than 400 applications have been received under this year's CLÁR programme and I will be announcing details of successful projects shortly. I also allocated €1.4 million to Tidy Towns committees throughout the country last year to mark the 60th anniversary of the competition in 2018. I made €812,000 available towards the running costs of agricultural shows around the country. These shows attract many extra visitors to rural towns and villages.

The new €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund, which was announced by the Government recently as part of Project Ireland 2040, will provide an opportunity to deliver ambitious and integrated projects that further support the revitalisation of our rural towns and villages. I will be announcing full details of the fund later this month.

On the basis of the progress made to date, the target in the Action Plan for Rural Development to support the revitalisation of more than 600 rural towns and villages over the period 2017 to 2020 will be exceeded. My objective is to ensure that the investment made in these towns and villages has a sustainable impact that will make them more attractive places in which to live and work and to visit.

Speaking as someone from a rural constituency, the Minister's portfolio is one of the most important nationally. His remit, particularly in terms of the Action Plan for Rural Development, has the potential to do much for towns and villages, which have been stripped of services down the years. Their post offices, Garda stations, shops and banks have closed, but the Minister has it within his gift to put fire in the belly of communities to see a revitalisation of their towns and villages.

Of the €21.6 million that the Minister allocated for 2017, how much has been spent? Will he meet his target? What are his ambitions for the 2018 allocation? Will there be an increase in the action plan or will that stay as is?

The Minister referred to CLÁR funding. Tunnyduff national school in my community is dependent on such schemes. We are into the summer months and the school is breaking up for the summer. The announcements were meant to be made in May. I hope that the Minister will clarify when they will be made.

I thank the Minister for introducing these schemes in recent years. They have been of considerable benefit to rural Ireland. CLÁR, town and village renewal schemes, community involvement schemes, CIS, and local improvement schemes, LIS, have been crucial.

Will there be a timescale this year for money to be spent under town and village renewal schemes? Will there be a definite funding stream annually? Will the amount be the same or will it grow in subsequent periods?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. I will not be political, but there have been many closures of small shops in recent years. They are finding it difficult thanks to the Internet and so on. People sometimes forget that many small shops are closing because multinationals have entered their areas. I have seen this happen in my own area. It is not always a good thing. I would prefer small shops employing local people, but that is how life has turned.

Deputy Smyth asked a valid question about the CLÁR programme. I am trying to get the scheme out as quickly as possible. The Deputy is correct in that many CLÁR programmes deal with lighting, safety schemes for schools, etc. They need to be notified quickly because they would like to get the work done between now and September. I am putting pressure on the Department to try to get the announcements made as quickly as possible. As the Deputy knows, there are three aspects to the scheme. I will try to get the safety element in particular announced as soon as possible, as that important work needs to be done while schools are closed.

Both Deputies asked whether there would be further funding for the town and village renewal scheme. I have sat down with local authorities. A stream of funding is guaranteed for the next number of years. To be fair to local authorities, they did not have the capacity to deliver some of these schemes because they did not have funding. Now that they know that there will be a continuation of funding for a number of years, they will be able to build capacity and employ people and the schemes will continue.

The town and village renewal scheme will last for 18 months. We expect that any funding allocated this year will be spent in 2019.

Has the Department met its targets for 2017's €21.6 million? Has all of it been spent? Will the Minister increase funding for the Action Plan for Rural Development in 2018? He mentioned small shops in towns being crucified by large multinationals, but the main problem is broadband. It is a major issue for the Government in the revitalisation of towns and villages throughout the country. The Minister is right, in that many shops have been put to the pin of their collar because of online purchasing, but it is up to the Government to ensure that broadband is available in our small towns and villages so that they can compete with multinationals and online buying. The Minister's Department will play a pivotal role in putting fire in the belly of communities throughout the country.

One of the main advantages of the town and village renewal scheme has been how it has given communities another opportunity to re-engage with themselves in the first instance, join together and formulate plans. That approach has been missing in recent years.

An important element is something that the Minister referenced in a previous answer. Extra staff need to be available to assist communities in putting action plans and applications together. Some applications can be detailed, so assistance is required. Is the Minister confirming that extra staff will be available at local authority level to assist communities in that regard? I believe I heard him say that in a previous answer.

In 2016, I approved an allocation of €9.8 million. Of that, €9.7 million was spent. That is 92%.

The point that Deputy Deering raised was one of the complaints that I received from local authorities. I met the CCMA, which complained that many schemes had landed on authorities quickly and they did not have the necessary resources.

They know now. I actually wrote to them to give them a timeframe indicating when the schemes would open, when they would be closed and when they would be announced. Now they know that there will be a continuation of funding for the next several years and they can plan for that. They could not plan for it in the past.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.