Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Urban Renewal Schemes
Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh, agus má thagann an Teachta Barry, ligfidh mé isteach é. It is, incredibly, 1,000 days since the sod turning for the Cork event centre. It has been 1,000 days of missed deadlines, uncertainty and the people of Cork getting increasingly frustrated. It is not even as if that was the start of the story. We heard that work was due to start in the summer of 2015, then late 2015, before it went on to Easter 2016, late 2016 etc. It was February 2016, when the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, turned the sod in the teeth of a general election, that this whole train of events moved from process to high farce. It has become a matter of fact that it was an election stunt.
I want to be clear that I want this to happen and the people of Cork want this to happen. No one is raising concerns just for the sake of it. The potential is enormous. The project can bring much life to the city, major events and conferences and help regenerate that entire part of the city from North Main Street up to Barrack Street. Public confidence has, however, sapped away. As well as the landmark of 1,000 days, it is more than a year since the application for additional funding was made by Cork City Council to the Department in September 2017. Why has it taken so long for this application to be approved? The Government keeps telling us that it is committed to this project, but we still await approval.
I asked the Tánaiste in July whether he believed the Department would decide on that additional funding between then and the return of the Dáil in September. He said that was the intention but, so far, we still do not have sign-off. I recognise that the Government will say some of the responsibility for this project lies with other parties, including Cork City Council and the contractor, BAM, but the application for €10 million is with the national Government. Processing that application is one of the key steps to moving forward. Where is the Government decision on additional funding, when will it be made and when will final agreement on the additional funding be arrived at?
I want the Minister of State to explain to the people of Cork what the story is with the event centre, for which we have been waiting 1,000 days. The Minister of State's former leader, the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was pictured on the front page of the newspapers with a shovel turning the sod for the event centre. It is 1,000 days later and not a single brick has been laid on that site. It is a disgrace. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, was out front with his picture in the newspapers. It was an election stunt during the general election of 2016. The people of Cork need, deserve and want that event centre and they want to know the story.
The Tánaiste was on the front pages of the newspapers again the other day stating that meetings were taking place here, there and everywhere. I am sure meetings are taking place left, right and centre. What are the meetings discussing? They are discussing putting more taxpayers' money, more State money, towards the project and the big corporate interests behind this project. Originally, there was talk of €20 million and then an extra €10 million was being looked at. I understand there is also an extra €10 million for public realm funding. That is €40 million out of a €75 million to €80 million project. Half of the money is coming from the State.
The centre would have been open by now if it had been built by the State as a public project. That is what should have happened from day one. What is the story? The people are watching and they want to know. They are sick and tired of these excuses from the Tánaiste. Let us have some real news today.
I thank both Deputies for raising this issue. The Cork event centre project consists of the design, construction and operation of a new multifunctional event centre in Cork city with a capacity of approximately 6,000 people. It is envisaged that the event centre will be capable of accommodating a range of events, including concerts, festivals, family entertainments, arts, cultural, sports, exhibitions, conferences and trade shows. This is a project, as both Deputies know, led by Cork City Council. In December 2014, the development company BAM was selected by Cork City Council as the preferred tenderer. BAM in turn has engaged international events company Live Nation as the preferred operator.
The project is being developed and managed ultimately by Cork City Council. This means that Cork City Council is responsible for its delivery. A service level agreement has been signed between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Cork City Council. This agreement sets out the terms and conditions of the grant of €12 million, and the Department has paid €1 million to Cork City Council. In addition to the €12 million provided by the Exchequer, Cork City Council itself plans to contribute €8 million to the project. The total project cost of the Cork event centre when the tender was awarded to BAM by Cork City Council in December 2014 was €50 million. The latest financial projection provided by Cork City Council to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, however, indicates a significant increase in the cost of the event centre. In September 2017, Cork City Council wrote to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht seeking additional funding of €10 million for the project from the Exchequer. This would bring the Exchequer contribution to €22 million and total public funding to €30 million.
This project is very much in line with what the Government is seeking to achieve in terms of balanced regional development and sustainable urban development under Project 2040. The Cork event centre is a Government commitment and it also underlines the Government's commitment to culture. The new centre will provide a substantial addition to the cultural offering in Cork city and county when it is complete.
In the context of the application for additional funding of €10 million for the project, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as the sanctioning authority, needs to ensure that the project is robust, complies with the public spending code and will deliver value for money for the Exchequer. I am sure the Deputies will agree with me on that. Due to its size and cost, this project has significant procurement, state aid, legal and matching funding complexities.
Significant work is taking place by all parties involved to develop a sustainable project, culminating in a new cultural centre for Cork. I confirm that high-level meetings continue to take place regarding the legal and funding requirements in light of the additional €10 million funding request. Cork City Council is also reviewing a number of elements of the project, such as the revised application for planning permission which was submitted in August 2018 and funding of ancillary infrastructure near the event centre. I will restate this to both Deputies and the people of Cork. All parties are eager for this project to progress and to be delivered in accordance with the relevant Exchequer funding and legal requirements.
The Minister of State's response is not particularly clear, enlightening or encouraging. There is no timeline and he merely restated the process, with which we are more than familiar. The people of Cork are also more than familiar with it. The response speaks of the latest financial projections provided by Cork City Council for the Department which indicate a significant increase in the cost of the events centre. That is old news. There is also mention of an application for funding in September 2017, with which we are also all more than familiar. More delays are the problem. A total of €633,000 has been spent without one brick being laid. or perhaps it is more than that at this stage.
I note that meetings have been outlined by the Government and the Tánaiste recently in the Evening Echo. It is difficult for us to evaluate their value and whether they were fruitful, but I hope they were. If they were, surely it would be possible to give us a timeline as to when a decision is likely to be made on the funding application. Will it even be made in 2018 or will it drag on even further into 2019? I am not asking the Minister of State for a decision, but rather when will a decision be made on the application for additional funding?
I have looked at the Minister of State's reply and there are many lines I could pick from it. One indicates that the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has already paid €1 million to Cork City Council. Does the Minister of State know on what the €1 million has been spent? It has been spent on consultants and solicitors' fees. Not one single brick has been laid. The people of Cork were promised this project by Deputies Coveney and enda Kenny 1,000 days ago. They have been extraordinarily patient and put up with delay after delay. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is saying it will be sorted out in a few weeks and that construction will start in early 2019. I am not looking for ráiméis and old talk but for hard news and information. When will the project start?
Deputy Ó Laoghaire has said he wants the project to happen. The Government also wants it to happen and it will. I say to Deputy Barry that there is no stunt. As I mentioned, there are complexities owing to the size and cost of the project. As the Deputies know, there is significant procurement and State aid involved. It is really important that we deliver value for money. The development of the events centre in Cork is a priority for the Government. I speak on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and the Tánaiste in saying this. Our commitment to the project is as strong now as it was in 2014 when Cork City Council awarded the tender. It is not a question of it not happening; it will happen. It is clear that the events centre represents an important opportunity for business and tourism in Cork. The Government is committed to investing in Cork which both Deputies should be delighted to hear. The project is in line with the objectives of Project 2040 such as investing in our culture, language and heritage. It sets out indicative investment levels for the national cultural institutions, including €22 million for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. Both the Crawford Art Gallery and the events centre have the potential to contribute much to the cultural life of Cork and also its economic development.
It is a priority for all Deputies in Cork. As I mentioned, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is continuing to engage with Cork City Council and there are ongoing meetings about additional funding for the events centre. However, like all capital proposals of this size, it is subject to evaluation and appraisal in accordance with the provisions of the public spending code, as I am sure both Deputies will acknowledge.