Thursday, 16 June 2005
Swimming Pool Projects.
As I indicated in replies to similar parliamentary questions on the subject on 1 December 2004 and 17 February 2005, the local authority swimming pool programme administered by my Department has been closed to new applicants since 31 July 2000. Moneys provided under my Department's multi-annual capital envelope for the programme are being committed to completing projects being progressed under that programme. The financial provision for the programme in 2005 is €32 million, an 82% increase on the 2004 expenditure of €17.6 million.
As no application was made by South Dublin County Council by the closing date of 31 July 2000, the current programme does not include the provision of a swimming pool for Lucan. My Department is carrying out an expenditure review of the programme which will assist in the formulation of future policy, including the question of the introduction of a new swimming pool programme. The review is expected to be completed later this year.
Given that the question was tabled primarily to elicit an update of the position, will the Minister give a definitive timeframe on how long it will take for additional funding to come on stream in the event that the review's recommendations in this regard are in the affirmative? How quickly would local authorities be able to apply for such funding? Would it, for example, be available in the lifetime of the Government?
The Minister referred to the position with regard to Lucan, a matter I specifically raised on previous occasions. As he is aware, the town has a large population, far in excess of towns with a swimming pool such as Birr. Carlow will get two swimming pools whereas other rapidly growing urban areas, for example, Douglas in Deputy Boyle's constituency, lack swimming pools. If the outcome of the review is positive, will it be possible to make funding available within four months of the end of the year in order that local authorities can complete the process quickly and in the lifetime of the Government to avoid being caught up in pre-election posturing?
God forbid that any of us should ever become involved in pre-election posturing. Priority must be given to the large number of swimming pools still being processed. It is not proposed to re-open the swimming pools programme at present. However, the question of doing so will be considered following an expenditure review of the programme being carried out by my Department and which is expected to be completed later this year. The review is examining issues such as how the programme has worked to date, the benefits which have accrued to areas in which pools have been built and what amendments, if any, are required to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of the programme.
The current programme, under which 55 projects are being or will be dealt with, has been singularly successful. Local communities have benefited considerably. Twenty-five projects have been allocated grant aid, of which 15 have been completed. Construction work has been completed on two others which are due to open shortly and a further eight are under construction. Six projects are at tender stage, 15 at contract document stage and nine at preliminary report stage.
There are 73 local authority pool facilities throughout the country, of which 63 are indoor and ten outdoor. Some, however, are open only on a seasonal basis or are not operational, with several having been closed for some time. I have no doubt a new programme will be required once we have substantially proceeded through the current programme. I sincerely hope this will take place during the course of my term as Minister or that of my successor.
If and when the Department is designing a new swimming pool programme, will consideration be given to including dry facilities such as gymnasia, sports facilities and crèches in swimming pool projects? Funding is currently restricted to wet facilities. It is important to have a broad range of facilities available within health and leisure complexes. Will the Minister consider including other elements as qualifying for funding?
The maximum grant that can be allocated for a swimming pool is €3.8 million and this does not provide the dry facilities. The problem is that there are not enough resources to go around. When facilities are being put in place, local authorities must come up with funding and if they want dry facilities they must provide them themselves. The only other vehicle for dry facilities at present is the sports capital programme.
One of the main difficulties I have experienced in the Department in recent years is that each year the demands on funds increase. This is not just due to inflation but to the fact that people's requirements are greater. Where a club was satisfied with £10,000 in 1990, today €100,000 would be the minimum demand and often clubs come looking for €1 million. The sports capital programme simply cannot sustain that sort of demand. In the same way the swimming pool programme cannot sustain the demand upon it. In any swimming pool programme that comes forward it must be ensured there is a co-operative arrangement whereby local authorities will bear a portion of the burden. Otherwise we will not be able to provide any facilities. It will not be possible for me or any future Minister to include the dry facilities with the swimming pool because of lack of resources.