Thursday, 21 November 2019

Ceisteanna (9)

Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will introduce a funding programme for the local improvement scheme, LIS, in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48137/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

The LIS is of particular importance to rural communities and parishes. There is often a misconception regarding whom it benefits. In many instances, it is not two family homes located along the road or laneway but, rather, up to a dozen. Unfortunately, when the Taoiseach was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport he abolished the funding stream for the LIS. In recent years, some small-scale funding has been made available through the CLÁR programme, but it is not even nearly adequate. In light of the importance of the LIS to rural communities, I ask the Minister to put in place a funding stream for it in 2020 as was the case for many decades.

The decision taken by the Taoiseach while Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was forced upon him by financial circumstances. I have no doubt that he did not wish to make the decision he did. The Deputy is aware that the LIS is back in existence.

The maintenance of roads not taken in charge by local authorities is the responsibility of the relevant landowners. However, section 81 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides the statutory basis for the LIS. Under the scheme, funding can be provided to local authorities by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for the construction and improvement of non-public roads, that is, roads not taken in charge by local authorities, which meet the very specific criteria set out in the Act. A contribution from the beneficiaries is required in all cases. Section 81 states that assistance by a road authority under the LIS is conditional on a financial contribution by the relevant parties. It further provides that after consultation with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and with the consent of the Minister for Finance, another Minister may make a grant to a road authority in respect of non-public roads in accordance with a scheme made by that Minister. As such, State assistance may be provided under the statutory LIS, and up to 2012 my Department provided ring-fenced funding for the scheme. However, due to the major cutbacks in roads funding arising from the financial crisis, it was necessary for the Department to stop providing dedicated funding for the LIS in 2012.

Although there was no separate allocation for the LIS from 2013 to 2017, local authorities could use a proportion of their discretionary grant for the LIS. The allowable proportion of discretionary grant was 7% in 2013. It was increased to 15% from 2014 onwards. This approach was taken because it was considered that councils were best placed to decide whether to concentrate the limited grant funding available on public roads or operate an LIS for non-public roads.

In September 2017, my colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, reintroduced dedicated funding for the LIS. He continues to fund the scheme. In light of the significant funding being put into LIS by that Department and the pressing need to direct resources into maintaining and renewing public roads, it was decided that the option of allocating a proportion of the discretionary grant to LIS would no longer apply from 2018. I am open to discussing the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ring.

I would very much like ring-fenced funding to be allocated to each local authority. The Minister referred to councils being in a position to use the discretionary funding. Deputies are aware that the non-national road budget has been cut back through the years and that the county and regional road networks take priority, which is understandable.

Rural regeneration involves encouraging people to live in rural communities. One of the basic requirements of so doing is that people have an adequate road to their home. We are depriving people of the opportunity to build new homes on sites that may be given to them by their parents or siblings.

The LIS is a great investment in rural communities. I appeal to the Minister to reintroduce the ring-fenced funding that was available in bad and better financial times through the decades. It would benefit many communities and individuals and is essential for service providers and emergency services. In many instances, the roads also lead to community facilities and tourist attractions.

I understand what the Deputy is seeking. We have a situation which was probably not envisaged some years ago, namely, that another Minister has introduced funding for the LIS. I am open to discussions with the Minister, Deputy Ring, regarding the LIS and how it is being implemented. I must be conscious of the fact that funding for public roads remains below the level needed to achieve steady state. Almost €50 million has been allocated to the LIS by the Department of Rural and Community Development since 2017. As the Deputy will be aware, we are still funding the community involvement scheme. The fact that the Minister, Deputy Ring and I are in a position to fund the LIS means it would be useful for us to co-ordinate on this matter such that only one Minister distributes money in this way. It is of no comfort to the Deputy, but the intervention of the Minister, Deputy Ring, has released funds from my Department to be spent on public roads.

I would very much welcome an increase in funding, no matter what Department it comes from. We need a multiple of what is currently being allocated. In my county of Cavan, there is a ten-year waiting list. In the neighbouring county of Monaghan, there is an eight-year waiting list. There are people living in houses along laneways and roads that emergency services would not be able to access in the case of an emergency. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the funding provided in 2020 is a multiple of what has been provided in recent years.

The LIS has not gone away. In fact, it has been revived. Since 2017, the Department of Rural and Community Development has allocated significant funds to it. In 2017, €17.539 million was allocated, €20.8 million in 2018 and €10 million so far in 2019, giving a total of €48 million. A very substantial amount of funding has been allocated to the LIS. The Deputy stated that not enough has been provided and he does not care from which Department the funding comes. I do not particularly care from which Department it comes. It is a worthy scheme. I understand the point being made by the Deputy. It would be wrong to suggest or conclude from what he is saying that the LIS has been abolished. As he is aware, funding for the LIS has been distributed by a Department other than mine. I reiterate that this is an anomaly. I promise to discuss the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ring, and ensure a co-ordinated approach is taken.