Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Question 45: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if the CLÁR programme will be of assistance to the Achill Sound sewerage scheme, County Mayo in view of the fact that the polluter pays principle means that it is making the scheme economically impossible, as the scheme has already been cut back to a considerable extent and the local contributions sought are still too high; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22602/06]
Question 54: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if the CLÁR programme will be of assistance to the Achill Sound sewerage scheme, County Mayo in view of the fact that the polluter pays principle means that it is making the scheme economically impossible, as the scheme has already been cut back to a considerable extent and the local contributions sought are still too high; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22604/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 54 together.
The Achill Sound sewerage scheme is a public scheme costing €8.55 million and it has been approved under the water services investment programme in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for commencement in 2006. Discussions are ongoing between that Department and Mayo County Council with regard to addressing certain funding aspects of the project. There are no measures operating under the CLÁR programme for the funding or co-funding of major public water and sewerage schemes.
Can CLÁR programme funding be allocated to this scheme? The Minister informed me he has corresponded with Mayo County Council on the matter. The scope of the scheme has been reduced to not include houses on the Mulranney road. With this reduction, the marginal cost to Mayo County Council will be €2.4 million, equivalent to 38%. The council believes its contribution should be only 19%. As there is no existing sewerage scheme, the circumstances are unique. However, the polluter pays principle has sounded the death knell for a wastewater collection scheme in Achill, which has been on the cards since 1991. If the scheme was built then, the polluter pays principle would not be used. The result of having no scheme is that raw sewage flows into Achill Sound. Can a hardship provision be invoked? Can the CLÁR programme provide funding for the scheme?
The idea of the CLÁR programme is to establish schemes. Individual projects are not evaluated. Each scheme has to be agreed with the line Department, in this case the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. No situation is unique — we are all unique and we are all the same. This applies to the Achill Sound sewerage scheme. A delegation recently informed me not to worry about the situation in Achill because there is a unique one in County Clare. My village, Corr na Mona, does not have a sewerage scheme.
If I were to consider the Achill Sound situation under the CLÁR programme, the methodology would be simple. A scheme would have to be established. The success of the CLÁR programme is that schemes are devised that are open to various projects once they conform to the terms of the scheme. I cannot pick out individual projects to suit a scheme. A scheme must be devised to address an issue.
The Deputy claims there are areas in which the normal criteria used by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government do not apply. This is because of the polluter pays principle and the dispersal of dwellings in the area concerned. It must be accepted that the countryside cannot be covered with individual sewerage schemes. If one creates a scheme for the provision of sewerage systems, how does one confine it in such a way that people do not disperse further from villages and townlands to the point of it not being practical?
The Mayo county manager has conveyed his concerns to me on the Achill Sound matter. I had tentative discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the matter. I stress I cannot move on any project under the CLÁR programme without a scheme being properly devised. One attractive feature of the programme is that schemes must be introduced in a systematic manner and be universally applicable. For example, if I install flashing hazard lights outside one school, they must be installed at all other schools. There are serious challenges in devising a scheme that would not have an open sesame effect on projects because I do not have unlimited funds. The costings suitable for a sewerage scheme in a large town or agglomeration may not provide the basic services for areas with more scattered dwellings.
A possible model exists in the Shannon Basin district scheme. It was introduced by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Whether it could be applied universally is another day's work.
As no collection facility exists on Achill Sound, can its development be funded up to 50% by the CLÁR programme? Another reason for programme funding is that the scheme has not received priority in the past 17 years for one reason or another. If the scheme had been built in 1991, the polluter pays principle would not now be applicable and the estimated costs would be different. The Minister has claimed that those areas receiving CLÁR funding are deserving of it. I accept Achill Sound is not unique in terms of Belmullet and other areas without sewerage schemes. However, they are unique in the sense they do not have sewerage schemes. I suggest the Minister could ring-fence the funding for these areas and not extend it on a universal basis.
The Minister promised 50% funding for the further development of the Michael Davitt Bridge on Achill Sound. It is apt this year as it is the centenary of Michael Davitt's death. The project will cost €4.1 million, half of which the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will match. There is a verbal commitment from CLÁR to provide the other costs.
The swing bridge is in a precarious condition. In hot weather it cannot be opened because the metal expands, meaning six men would be needed to open it. There is also no pedestrian route across the bridge. Will the Minister address this matter?
The Deputy is straying far from water and sewerage schemes. The challenge when creating a new scheme under CLÁR is to keep it within a reasonable budget. This year €23 million has been allocated but consideration must be given for future schemes. The challenge is to have a scheme that is confined enough to be affordable and good enough to make a difference. I do not pick schemes by accepting people's ideas as I go along the corridor. The rules are clear, even and open. The situation at Achill is not unique. Off the top of my head I can list Corr na Móna, Carna, Kilternan and many other well-established villages which have no sewerage schemes. The challenge under the CLÁR programme in creating a scheme for wastewater disposal is to ensure a reasonable amount of money would make a difference and a larger problem would not be created of people moving further into the countryside.
CLÁR never promised money for the Michael Davitt Bridge. People must always read the small print. At a meeting in Achill Sound, I said if Mayo County Council prioritised funding of €2 million for the bridge under the Gaeltacht strategic roads programme, I would accept it as an eligible project. I normally do not engage in co-funded projects with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This year I made the rules handier for the counties in that I told the local directors of the department that if I give an annual allocation to a county, they can look at the totality of requirement for small piers, strategic roads, bóithre áise agus athnuachan baile, village renewal, and that they can take the whole ball of wax and decide where the priorities lie.