Thursday, 16 February 2012
Topical Issue Debate
Water and Sewerage Schemes
I will not have to elaborate too much on this issue as the Minister of State and I share the constituency of Galway East. He will appreciate that there was a unique decision by the members of Galway County Council in 2006 or 2007 to provide funds solely from the council for the Kiltormer sewerage scheme. This decision stemmed from the frustration of councillors, who found it difficult to get approval for a sewerage scheme in a small village like Kiltormer. There were funds available from development charges and the building boom in 2006 and 2007 so the council was able to make up to €1.1 million available for a scheme like this. I understand there were two small villages in County Galway earmarked for funding from the development charges.
There were efforts made by me, the councillors and, I am sure, the Minister of State to try to get group sewerage schemes set up with funding under the CLÁR programme but they all seemed to fail. In the case of Kiltormer, consultants were appointed, a site was identified as a treatment plant and the costing in 2006 and 2007 was approximately €1.1 million. I do not know what the figure would be today and the Minister of State might indicate if it could be less than that. A special fund was allocated from planning and development charges levied by the county council.
There were many reasons given for the delay in approving the scheme, and I would class many of these as excuses. For example, when cryptosporidium appeared in the Galway city water supply, it was given as a reason a small scheme like that in Kiltormer could not go ahead. I do not accept such a reason. There always seemed to be an issue about funding going to bigger cities and towns, and that is true even within County Galway. The needs of industry were often prioritised as well.
This raises the question about a scheme for this small village. The county councillors had agreed to provide the funding. They had won the battle for east Galway within the council. Many villages in that part of the county had been unable to make progress. As the Minister of State knows, Kiltormer used to have a particular problem with its water supply. This was sorted out when the Ballinasloe regional scheme was developed. Now that the water supply issues have been resolved, it is time to secure the funding that was made available five or six years ago. It should be ring-fenced for Kiltormer village. This would be an ideal scheme. If the funding can be provided, it will be possible to make a start on this project. I hope the Minister of State will be able to say whether this is possible.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter . I am responding on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The water services investment programme, which is administered by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, is the principal means by which the strategic objectives of capital investment in water and waste water services are achieved. A rolling three-year programme approach was adopted in 2000 for the development and roll-out of the programme. Funding is also available for smaller public schemes through the rural water programme. Responsibility for the rural water programme is devolved to local authorities. The selection and progression of schemes under the programme, within the allocations and parameters set by the Department, is a matter for the local authority concerned.
I understand that a proposal in respect of a sewerage scheme for Kiltormer was received by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government from Galway County Council as part of the development of the 2005-07 water services investment programme. The Kiltormer sewerage scheme was rated 22nd on the list of sewerage schemes that was submitted by the council in response to the Department's request to local authorities in 2003 to produce updated assessments of needs for capital works in their areas and prioritise their proposals on the basis of those assessments. In light of the level of competing demand for the available funding and given the priority afforded to the scheme by the council, it was not possible to include the scheme in the 2005-07 programme. For the same reasons, it was not included in the subsequent programme, which ran between 2007 and 2009.
The current water services investment programme, which covers the period between 2010 and 2012, aims to prioritise projects that target environmental compliance issues and support economic and employment growth. This programme followed the comprehensive review of water services capital investment that was undertaken in 2009 and 2010. All projects included in the previous programme which had not substantially advanced were reviewed to ensure the contracts and schemes that were proceeding were fully aligned with key programme economic and environmental priorities. The focus of the programme is on water conservation; environmental and public health objectives, particularly works that are required to respond to judgments of the European Court of Justice and priorities that were set in the first round of river basin management plans; and economic objectives, including works to support the development of hubs and gateways and employment creation.
A key input to the development of the current programme was the assessment of needs that was prepared by local authorities, including Galway County Council, in response to the Department's request to local authorities in 2009. These proposals were subsequently appraised by the Department. The Kiltormer sewerage scheme was not among the list of projects that were put forward by Galway County Council as part of this assessment. Therefore, it was not included in the programme. While significant resources have been provided over the past decade for water services, the availability of funds and strategic priorities determines the selection of individual projects for advancement. Consequently, it has not been possible to advance proposals in relation to the Kiltormer sewerage scheme.
I am a little disappointed with the Minister of State's reply. I am anxious to find out what happened to the €1.1 million in planning and development charges that was allocated from the council's own resources. The Minister of State is responding on behalf of the Minister - I appreciate this is not his Department - so perhaps he does not know. The councillors decided that the village of Kiltormer should get a small sewerage scheme, which it badly needs. I represented the Kiltormer area, which the Minister of State knows as well as I do, at county council level for 17 years, including when this project was first proposed. If I live for another few weeks, I will have been representing the area in the Oireachtas for 37 years. I have been pushing this scheme for a long time.
It is disappointing that the Minister of State has been unable to provide information on where the money went. Did the consultants who were appointed draw up a report? What happened the site that was identified for the treatment plant? There must be some record of what happened the money and the preparations that were made for the scheme. One of the reasons I have been approached on this issue is that people will soon have to pay €5 or €50 to register their septic tanks. People in Kiltormer think that if this scheme had been completed in 2006 or 2007, they would not have to pay €5 or €50 to register their septic tanks. That is a fair comment. No one is objecting to that on those grounds. The point that is being made by those who feel rural Ireland is being discriminated against is that the €5 or €50 charge that is being imposed on everybody with a septic tank will not have to be paid by those whose properties are served by sewerage systems. It has been suggested that people whose septic tanks need to be improved will have to pay up to €1,700.
I do not think the Minister of State has answered many of the questions that are being raised in this regard. I ask him to get back to me. Perhaps he can contact the Department to find out what happened the funding that was made available by councillors in good faith? I refer to receipts from the development charges. If that information is made available, it might be possible to make a start with this scheme.
I will do everything I can to advance the provision of a sewage treatment plant in Kiltormer. If Deputy Kitt sends me an e-mail reiterating the points he has made, I will raise them directly with the Minister, Deputy Hogan. It is important to point out that the Minister and the Department give local authorities a large degree of autonomy to assess their own water and waste water needs. The most recent assessment that was conducted by Galway County Council, which fed into the preparation of the 2010-12 water services investment programme, did not include a proposal for a sewerage scheme in Kiltormer. The first port of call for Deputy Kitt and me - and perhaps other Members of the Oireachtas who represent Galway East - might be the local authority to establish why the scheme in Kiltormer was not prioritised. In fact, it was not even included in the most recent list that was submitted by Galway County Council. As the Deputy suggested, I will seek to ascertain where the €1.1 million fund ended up. Perhaps it was invested in other schemes. It might be found in the depths of the coffers of Galway County Council or the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I will work with the Deputy and the other Members of the Oireachtas from east Galway to advance this scheme as quickly as possible.