Tuesday, 15 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report
45. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government his plans to designate certain areas including Bray, County Wicklow as municipal borough districts; the effect this will have for areas that are made municipal borough districts under the proposals as contained in the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1317/19]
I ask the Minister his plans to designate certain towns around the State as municipal borough districts. We do not know what that means. It includes eight towns throughout the State. Is this a fancy name change or are powers being designated to these new municipal borough districts, including additional funding? I would appreciate if the Minister could outline what exactly is a municipal borough district.
Section 22(a) of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended by section 19 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, provides for the naming of municipal districts, including the naming of certain municipal districts containing the administrative areas of former boroughs.
In December 2017 the Department established two local electoral area boundary review committees. The terms of reference of committee No. 1, which dealt with Wicklow, included a requirement that "each town which was formerly a borough or the population of which within the county ... is equal to or greater than 30,000 shall be designated as a distinct Municipal Borough District".
Statutory instruments for former boroughs have now been developed to achieve this designation. While it was initially intended that towns with populations greater than 30,000 would also be designated as municipal borough districts, it is not possible to do so in the absence of an underpinning amendment to primary legislation, which will be addressed this year. Notwithstanding this, the creation of local electoral areas and municipal districts around large towns provides an urban focus and strengthens town representation at plenary level within those local authorities.
The relevant orders to give effect to the committees' recommendations will shortly be laid before the Houses. The municipal districts specified in the orders will apply to the newly formed councils after the 2019 local elections.
Basically, they mean nothing at this point. This needs to be communicated to the local authorities. I spoke to senior management in Wicklow County Council just before Christmas and it really has not got a clue as to what is going on. It saw the report last year according to which Bray was to be designated as a municipal borough district. There was no communication after that. One local authority in Wexford, namely Wexford city, has been renamed Wexford municipal borough district, so what it appears to be is simply a name change. This comes at a cost because all the stationery and everything else will need to be changed. What the Minister of State is really saying is that there are no additional powers. Most of these towns would have been town councils prior to this, and the Minister of State knows only too well the powers that those town councils had. He needs to elaborate as to what exactly the plans are here because the local authorities have not got a clue what is going on.
The paper on municipal governance, which was proposed by the Department and agreed by the Government, is currently before the Oireachtas joint committee. I do not think it has yet got a chance to discuss it, but it goes into some of the detail to which the Deputy refers. Specifically identified is the return of some version of the old block grant that town councils used to have and which I would say was part of what the Deputy alluded to in his supplementary question. The paper also proposes that the members of the municipal borough district would be in a position to allocate these funds, which would be different from other municipal districts that do not have former town council areas contained within them.
To give the Deputy a flavour of some of the other things that are included in the paper, one of the measures that was taken on board by the boundary review committee was to ensure that urban centres would be strongly represented at full council level. The paper refers to a number of towns. One in particular on the west coast used to have a nine-seater town council and a population of over 30,000, but in the last local election only two county councillors were returned from within the town area. As a result of the redrawing of the boundary now, as well as the town and its immediate hinterland, no other rural areas are included, which will ensure that there will be seven councillors elected from that particular town to that local authority. Along with the possible return of the block grant system-----
That needs to be communicated to local authorities because there is real confusion out there. I and others are well aware of the changes that were put forward. For example, Bray has been split into two local electoral areas, two four-seaters, and people are aware of that. After that, however, they have not got a clue when it comes to municipal borough districts. As I said, senior management in Wicklow does not know whether it needs to go and get stationery or change the name over the door of the local authority office in Bray. These are small, simple things. The real crux of the question is when the legislation to underpin all this will come forward. Many of these towns, as I said, had previously been town councils, and with that came those additional funding streams and powers. The important thing is that people, local authorities and public representatives need to know. Can the Minister of State give a definite timeframe as to when this critical piece will be in place to give these areas, these municipal borough districts, the real teeth that, unfortunately, were taken away from them with the abolishment of town councils?
The commitment I can give the Deputy is that it is my intention to have the legislation in place before the new councils take office, which will be following the local elections at the end of next May. However, the Government is not responsible for the business of the House any more. The report to which I referred on additional powers for municipal districts across the country has been with the committee for over six months. I understand that it is the housing committee and that there are other things deemed by the membership to be more of a priority to consider, but it is my intention that the new council, once it is in place, will have the functions to which I referred in my answer.