Thursday, 15 July 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Events have now superseded this question. It was to ask the Minister about increasing funding for the local improvement scheme, LIS. I welcome the recent announcement that funding for this year will be doubled. This provides the Minister with an opportunity to tell us more about that doubling of investment.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The local improvement scheme supports the improvement of rural roads and laneways that are not normally maintained by local authorities but which represent vital infrastructure for rural residents. The scheme is funded by my Department and is administered through the local authorities. Nearly 2,400 roads have already been funded for repair works since the scheme was relaunched in 2017. Prior to then there was no funding for this scheme for a number of years. I launched the 2021 LIS on 14 May with funding of €10.5 million. This represented a 5% increase compared with last year.
As part of Our Rural Future, the Government committed to ensuring that the local improvement scheme is funded in the future. This reflects the important contribution that the scheme makes to connectivity in rural Ireland. It is against this background that I am pleased to confirm that I recently announced the allocation of a further €10.5 million to the local improvement scheme in 2021 to bring the level of funding to €21 million. This means that the level of funding is being doubled this year compared with the original allocation. This increase will be funded from expected savings elsewhere in my Department.
I continue to engage with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to explore the potential for further financial support from his Department. My Department is currently ascertaining the capacity of each local authority to deliver this additional funding and to complete works on additional roads before the year's end. Following this engagement, I expect to announce the additional allocations to individual counties shortly. This announcement will mean that almost €80 million will have been allocated under the local improvement scheme since it was re-introduced in 2017. This demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving connectivity in rural Ireland as outlined in Our Rural Future.
I thank the Minister for her reply. I welcome that new investment and increase in funding for the local improvement scheme because it is a vital scheme for access to homes and farms in rural areas via rural roads and laneways. A colleague in this House asked for the numbers of local authorities that had a waiting list until now but those figures were not available. Galway County Council has received 241 valid applications and the funding it has received up until now will allow 28 of those projects to proceed. It is clear that there is significant demand. That is just one local authority. I imagine that it is similar across the State. It is especially important for really rural counties such as Roscommon and Galway where there is a need and demand for the local improvement scheme. Will the newly announced funding cover the entire backlog?
I thank the Deputy. There was €10 million for the LIS in 2020, so I have more than doubled that this year, with funding of €21 million being made available. That is a 110% increase in funding, which is not bad going. I know the Deputy acknowledges that. I accept that the lists are long nationwide. That is why I have not been found wanting when it comes to providing additional funding. I am familiar with it. Like Deputy Kerrane, I am from a rural constituency and I know the benefit of this scheme. The Deputy will be aware that the LIS was previously funded by the Department of Transport and she will appreciate that that Department has a sizeable capital budget compared with my Department. I believe that the Department of Transport has a role to play here. If it started to provide matched funding, we could start to make inroads into these waiting lists. I have raised the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and I think he is open to the idea, but he has to discuss it with his own officials in the Department of Transport.
Does the Minister know what the backlog is? She is doubling investment in the scheme. Galway County Council had 241 valid applications and 213 could not be moved. Will Galway County Council be able to cover those projects with this new funding? I welcome what the Minister said about matched funding. She has engaged with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, which is welcome. Does she see that engagement coming to fruition and providing funding next year or ahead of the budget in October? I assume she intends to proceed with matched funding and that will be her intention in future for the local improvement scheme.
I do not have the details of every county but my officials have liaised with local authorities and asked how many lanes they can deliver. When I launched the scheme on 14 May, local authorities were given until 11 June to provide a list of roads to be completed. All of those have now been received and approved, with one exception, which is Westmeath, for some reason. We have shown flexibility for local authorities that required more time. Local authorities will now be able to claim up to 10% of the net cost. My officials have contacted local authorities again and asked them for another list for additional funding. They want to know that local authorities can give a clear commitment that they will be able to finish those roads by the end of the year. I do not want local authorities to submit applications for funding that they cannot deliver on. I want the money to be spent. We will distribute the funding across the different counties for those that are able to spend it on roads.