Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Local Improvement Scheme
53. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there are very long delays in having essential road improvements carried out under the local improvement scheme at present; if he will provide ring-fenced funding for this scheme as existed previously; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15606/21]
61. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide ring-fenced funding for the local improvement scheme as existed up to 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15605/21]
As the Minister knows, up until 2012 there was a specific funding stream within the Department of Transport for the local improvement scheme. Since that funding stream was abolished, there has been a huge dearth in and lack of activity to bring local improvement scheme applications forward. Unfortunately, there is a huge backlog in applications now. There is a much smaller scheme funded through the Department of Rural and Community Development. If we are to tackle the backlog in the local improvement schemes nationally, the funding stream that existed in the past needs to be reintroduced and we need meaningful funding on an annual basis towards the local improvement scheme for each local authority.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 61 together.
The maintenance of roads not taken in charge by local authorities is the responsibility of the relevant landowners. The Local Government Act 2001 provides the statutory basis for the local improvement scheme, LIS. Under that scheme, funding can be provided to local authorities for the construction and improvement of non-public roads, that is, roads not taken in charge by local authorities, which meet the criteria set out in the Act. A contribution from the beneficiaries is required in all cases.
Up to 2012, my Department did provide ring-fenced funding for this scheme. However, due to the major cutbacks in roads funding arising from the post-2008 financial crisis, it was necessary for the Department to stop providing dedicated funding for the local improvement scheme in 2012 and there was no funding for the local improvement scheme in that year. After that, from 2013 to 2017, while there was no separate allocation for the local improvement scheme, local authorities could use a proportion of their discretionary grant for the local improvement scheme if they chose to do so. The reason this approach was taken was that it was considered that councils were best placed to decide whether to concentrate the limited grant funding available on public roads or to operate a local improvement scheme for non-public roads.
In September 2017, the then Minister for Rural and Community Development, given the nature of that Department's responsibilities for communities and rural development, assumed lead responsibility for the LIS and introduced dedicated funding for it. In light of the significant funding being put into the LIS by the Department of Rural and Community Development and the need to direct resources into maintaining and renewing public roads, it was decided that the option of allocating a proportion of my Department's discretionary grant to the LIS would no longer apply from 2018. The context for this decision was the continuing budgetary constraints relating to the regional and local road grant budgets.
Project Ireland 2040 provides for a gradual increase in funding for regional and local roads but it will take some time to reach the level of investment needed to ensure that the public road network is being maintained adequately. For this reason, funding continues to be directed primarily at the maintenance and renewal of the public regional and local road network, with some limited investment in road improvement projects. I understand that funding for the LIS will continue to be available from the Department of Rural and Community Development in 2021.
I sincerely ask the Minister to review this matter. When there was specific funding for the local improvement scheme, the Department conducted a rigorous examination, in conjunction with the local authority officials, to ensure the funding went to the particular scheme for which it was intended. I am talking about roads that may have nine or ten households on them plus farms and perhaps some minor businesses as well. It is a complete misnomer to talk about non-public roads. The reason they are non-public is because there has been no State investment in them. In the 2000s and in the late 1990s, there was a huge investment that was necessary and welcome in order to bring those roads up to the standard that the people deserve. I mention the people living down the long laneway. They are paying their taxes, contributing to society and working hard. They are as entitled to have a road up to the proper standard as the person living in Dublin 4, Dublin 6, Cork city or anywhere else in urban Ireland. We all fight to get public lighting and paths developed in towns and villages. Our people in rural communities deserve to have a standard of road leading to their homes.
We all do. We all deserve that for safety and the maintenance of vehicle standards and so on. I would argue that the involvement of the Department of Rural and Community Development in this is appropriate. Similar to local authorities, its specific remit is for rural communities in particular. These roads, by definition, tend to be where there might be a small number of houses in rural locations and they are non-public roads. One can argue as to why that is so but they are roads that are not in the charge or responsibility of the local authorities. One of the other reasons the Department of Rural and Community Development is well placed is that it is also involved in the community involvement scheme, which it has been ring-fencing funding for since 2017. My understanding is that this role to permit local community participation in the repair of public local roads has been successful and has been beneficial to local communities. It is also an area where the Department of Rural and Community Development has real expertise.
I would argue that the Department of Rural and Community Development has no statutory responsibility for roads. When Deputy Ó Cuív was Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the CLÁR funding was a top-up in addition to the local improvement scheme funding that came directly from the Department of Transport at that time. We need to have investment to reduce, in a meaningful way, the huge backlog. In my county of Cavan, our council is dealing with applications that were submitted in 2009. With the present level of funding for the existing applications, it will take 35 years to repair those laneways. That is not acceptable for any community and it is not acceptable for any individual or family living along a road in such poor condition. I ask the Minister to ask the Department to review this matter again. The funding that comes from the Department of Rural and Community Development is welcome but it is not near enough. The Department of Transport is the main Department with responsibility for roads and I implore the Minister to take responsibility back and to put in place adequate funding.
The key actors in this are the local authorities. Whichever Department is involved, be it the Department of Rural and Community Development or the Department of Transport, the decisions, applications and checking on whether money is correctly spent or whether the investment is the right one are all the responsibility of the local authority. We have a real job of work to do with the local authorities but the key task we have is in maintaining the local public road network, where there are also real budget constraints and a need for investment in steady State maintenance so that road network is maintained in a proper order. I have listened carefully to what the Deputy has said and I will talk with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, who has responsibility, and look to see what further measures may be carried out in co-operation between the Departments. I want the Deputy to be aware that the constraints that are there in our roads investment spending are real. Various Departments working together is the best way to solve this problem. I will commit to work with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys.
The next question is in the name of Deputy Duncan Smith, who is not here but it is linked with a number of questions that are all in the name of Deputy Durkan. We have less than two minutes left so I invite Deputy Durkan to grasp his opportunity for half a minute.