Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Adjournment Debate

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

10:00 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for providing me with the opportunity to raise this important issue. It is closely related to the first Adjournment matter raised this evening by my constituency colleagues, Deputies Coveney and Clune in respect of the serious flooding incidents in parts of our constituency last Wednesday evening. I believe the lack of the Cork lower harbour sewerage scheme was a contributory factor in the flooding incidents that occurred last week in areas including Glenbrook, Passage West, Monkstown, Rochestown, Carrigaline and the Minane Bridge area. I witnessed at first hand the devastation that occurred to a number of homes, particularly in Glenbrook, which was highlighted on the RTE News last week. An extremely serious incident occurred that could have had far more serious consequences involving serious injury or even the loss of human life but which thankfully did not occur. Even in Carrigaline, my constituency office was flooded although the consequences were quite minor, in that a new carpet must be put down. However, the devastation of people's homes is an altogether more serious matter and I hope Members can give every possible assistance to those who are affected and towards ensuring this does not happen again. In this regard, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, has responded quite swiftly and I spoke to him a number of times last week following the incident. Cork County Council has now been encouraged to submit an application for funding as soon as possible which will be given favourable consideration by the Office of Public Works, which already has been on-site at the worst affected areas.

This brings me to the purpose of the Adjournment matter I have tabled. In 2004, Cork City Council completed the main drainage scheme for Cork city and suburbs including the Douglas area. This brought enormous environmental benefits to the Cork city region. In respect of the River Lee for example, people now swim there again, fish stocks have re-emerged and the amenity use of the river has greatly improved because of the completion of the main drainage scheme there in 2004. The purpose of this motion is to seek to accelerate a comparable scheme for the county area of my constituency. This scheme is called the Cork lower harbour main drainage scheme and at present is going through the lengthy process involved in getting an infrastructural project of this scale up and running. However, it is of critical importance for the area I represent to have this scheme implemented as soon as possible. For example, approximately 1 billion gallons of untreated foul sewage is simply discharged into the lower harbour every year with enormous environmental consequences. This highlights the urgent need for this issue to be addressed. The scheme would cover the areas of Carrigaline, Crosshaven, Passage West, Monkstown, Shanbally, Ringaskiddy and the wider lower harbour area. Its implementation would bring significant environmental benefits, as well as leisure benefits for the use of the lower harbour area. It is essential to proceed with this project as soon as possible.

In addition, not only is the lack of the main drainage scheme in the harbour area a possible contributory factor in the case of flooding, it also has been put forward as a reason for not proceeding with major road improvement works that are required. For example, in the town of Carrigaline where I live, the main street is a shambles. It is in appalling condition but for many years, the council has cited the forthcoming or planned main drainage scheme as a reason for not carrying out major works on the roads. Given that this scheme has been in the pipeline for several years and may not happen for some time yet, it is unfair to use it as a reason for not investing in improved road infrastructure in that area. In addition, in Carrigaline and elsewhere in the lower harbour area, there is a highly inadequate drainage system as a result because a combined surface water and foul sewer system is in place rather than the separate systems that are required.

I acknowledge this is a major scheme which is going through the process. An Bord Pleanála has approved the environmental impact statement for the waste water treatment plant in Ringaskiddy. It was approved last summer and the preliminary report has been submitted by the council to the Department. Some comments have come back and I understand the council intends to submit a revised report to the Department before Christmas. I understand that in excess of €70 million will be required from the Department's water services investment programme and this evening I seek confirmation that this funding is available to proceed with the scheme in the shortest possible timeframe, that the council will be encouraged to prioritise this project and that the Department will treat it with the seriousness it deserves once the revised report comes before it, in order that this drainage scheme can be implemented.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I will be taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for raising this important issue. The Cork lower harbour sewerage scheme is included for funding in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government's Water Services Investment Programme 2007-2009, at a current estimated cost of almost €92 million. The proposed scheme involves the upgrading of the existing sewerage networks in the main population centres of Carrigaline, Cobh, Crosshaven, Monkstown, Passage West and Ringaskiddy in the lower harbour area and their connection to a new waste water treatment plant to be built at Shanbally, north east of Carrigaline. Cork County Council is currently reviewing the preliminary report for the lower harbour scheme and expects to submit revised proposals to the Department shortly.

The length of time it takes to advance a water or sewerage scheme to completion largely depends on the nature and complexity of the scheme and the statutory processes involved. The Department's involvement at individual stages of schemes in the water services investment programme can vary from two to four occasions, depending on the value of the scheme. It approves the local authority's design brief and preliminary report for all schemes and in some instances it also approves the contract documents. In the case of public private partnership contracts, the Department additionally approves the local authority's tender recommendation. Its involvement at key stages is necessary to comply with the Department of Finance capital appraisal guidelines and the Department's own obligations relating to management and oversight of Exchequer expenditure.

Local authorities have responsibility for all other aspects of a scheme, including appointment of consultants, statutory planning and other processes, site investigations, acquisition of lands and way leaves, tendering processes, appointment of contractors and carrying out of works. The time taken to advance a scheme will depend largely on how quickly these processes are completed.

The priority to be accorded to schemes in Cork County is a matter, in the first instance, for Cork County Council. In July 2009, local authorities were asked to submit an assessment of needs for water and sewerage services in their areas to the Department by 23 October last. The Department has just begun its consideration of these assessments, which will form a key input to the development of the 2010-12 water services investment programme. In conducting their assessments, local authorities were asked to prioritise schemes and contracts for progression over the coming years based on key environmental and economic criteria. Cork County Council will shortly submit its needs assessment return to the Department.

The 2010-12 programme is a three-year rolling plan for the provision of major water supply and waste water infrastructure. Strategic environmental and economic objectives have provided the rationale for investment in water services infrastructure since 2000. With the changed economic climate and the completion of the first cycle of river basin management plans by local authorities in the near future, there is a greater need than ever to focus on these key priorities. The 2010-12 programme will do this by prioritising projects that target public health and environmental compliance issues, support economic and employment growth, and offer best value for money.

The Department expects to publish the 2010-12 water services investment programme in early 2010. I assure the Deputy that the Department will work closely with Cork County Council to advance priority schemes identified in the programme.