Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
15. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if consideration will be given to extending the local improvement scheme to areas of Cork city which were formally Cork county and should not be disadvantaged as a result of the boundary change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27833/21]
I will be brief because I know that we are under time constraints.
I would like to ask the Minister about the local improvement schemes and the community involvement schemes, in particular, in areas that were formerly within the boundary limits of Cork County Council, and which now, on account of the boundary change, find themselves within the boundary limits of Cork City Council. As a result of the change, they are no longer eligible for funding. I ask the Minister to comment on the matter.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The local improvement scheme, LIS, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas which are not under the normal maintenance of the local authorities. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the local authorities. I launched the 2021 LIS on Friday, 14 May. I was also pleased to secure a 5% increase in funding for the scheme, bringing the funding available for this year to €10.5 million.
Local authorities in Dublin and the city councils in Cork and Galway have not been eligible for funding under the LIS. This is due to the nature of the scheme, which provides funding for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas and is typically linked to access to agricultural land. I have no plans at present to broaden access to the scheme to the city councils.
However, I do acknowledge that there were areas of Cork that were previously eligible under the scheme but are now not eligible as a result of the recent boundary change. If both local authorities in the county were agreeable to including these areas affected by the boundary change as part of the scheme for County Cork, it is open to them to submit a joint proposal to my Department for consideration. I have indicated this previously. Any such proposal would need to be made in the context of the existing allocation provided to the county, and without any additional funding requirement from my Department. Roads selected for inclusion in the scheme would, of course, have to meet the criteria of the scheme.
I hope that brings some clarity to the Deputy.
I received the same response to parliamentary questions that I submitted previously on the issue. The difficulty is that it is very unlikely that Cork County Council will share its own limited budget with Cork City Council. That is the realpolitik of local authorities.
To make the case again, these communities were located within the county council boundary and now find themselves within the boundary of the city council, despite the boundary extending in nonsensical ways, for example, 20 km into rural hinterland. They are communities that were lined up to deliver on the scheme proposals. They had dealt with local engineers, had money in the bank and had collected their own percentage in preparation. Unfortunately, now they find themselves on the wrong side of an arbitrary boundary after doing all of that hard work. They have been left in no man's land. That is the reason for the appeal.
It comes against the backdrop of the publication today of a report by the All-Island Research Observatory of Maynooth university. I do not know if the Minister has had a chance to look at it yet. The report found that roads in County Cork, in particular, are massively underfunded in comparison with the national level. It is in that context that I make the appeal to the Minister on the issue.
I must say, the Department is willing to be flexible in this situation. If both councils come together and come to an agreement on how the areas impacted by the boundary change can be covered, we are happy to work with them. I recommend that they take that course of action. There will be no net increase in the funding allocation to Cork, but the Department is happy to accommodate a proposal whereby areas affected by the boundary change are included. They have the choice to do that. Some €10.5 million in funding was announced this month for repairs and improvement works. Cork will receive an increase this year in its budget. Cork actually has the highest allocation in the country and of course is the biggest county. By the end of the year, Cork will have seen investment of some €5.3 million in rural laneways under the LIS since 2017.
I am not going to dispute that the allocation has been increased this year for Cork. The Minister is right to state that Cork has the longest road network in the country. Indeed, the northern division of Cork has a population equivalent to places like County Kilkenny. West Cork, for example, has the largest road infrastructure network in the country. It is for that very reason that per head of population, Cork does receive less funding from any of these projects, whether it is in terms of roads, as I am speaking about now, or CLÁR programme funding. County Cork was massively underfunded in terms of that programme.
That is the case with roads, which I am speaking about now, while County Cork's share of CLÁR programme funding is massively underfunded. As regards LEADER funding, Cork is among the lowest in the country in terms of what it receives. In the case of the town and village renewal scheme, Cork has more settlements than any other county in the country, and it is estimated in the report issued today that it is likely to be 11 years before certain settlements in Cork receive their fair share. Cork is a massive county and I believe it deserves special consideration. I am not just saying that from a parish pump point of view. It is the reality on the ground that,per capita, it does not get its fair share.
I thank the Minister for answering the questions about the LIS. Mayo is one of the largest counties and has the greatest number of LIS roads as well. In addition to the severe underfunding and the impact it has, the fact that people are now paying property tax but do not have access to their homes is a major problem. Will the Minister along with the Department look at the number of LIS roads that have been taken over by local authorities? One of the main problems is that once the LIS roads are done they are not being taken in hand by the local authorities. That means the number is not reducing all the time, so there are more roads taking out of the same pot. An instruction and resources must be given to the local authorities to enable them to take over the LIS roads and bring them under the councils.
I thank both Deputies for raising this. I am very familiar with local improvement schemes and I understand the issues the Deputies have raised regarding funding. I will outline a little of the history of the LIS. It was originally a Department of Transport scheme. In fairness to my predecessor, Deputy Ring, he recognised there was a clear need for the scheme and he reintroduced it under the Department of Rural and Community Development. However, the scale of the backlogs in local authorities is far beyond the resources of my Department alone. I have raised the issue of co-funding with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. He did not rule it out, but his budgets for this year are committed. I will continue to raise it with the Minister and, perhaps, he might have some unspent moneys in other areas that we could divert into the LIS. I urge local authorities to spend what they have this year. If there is any spare money at the end of the year, I will certainly do what I can or examine the situation at that stage.