Thursday, 15 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Community Development Projects
101. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if there is scope to expand the community enhancement scheme to offer financial supports to communities that wish to undertake renovations on community centres or, potentially, construct new community centres; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38011/21]
131. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if there is scope to expand the community enhancement programme in order for it to offer more substantial financial supports to local communities wishing to undertake renovations to their community centre or perhaps build a new community centre; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38017/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 101 and 131 together.
I thank the Deputy for his question. The community enhancement programme, CEP, provides small grants to community organisations, with a focus on those organisations in disadvantaged areas. The funding is provided to each local authority area and is distributed by the local community development committees, LCDCs, on the basis of local need. In 2020, the CEP received a total fund of €7.2 million, including €5 million as part of the Government's July stimulus package for repairs or upgrades to community centres and community buildings. This year, on 10 May, I launched the 2021 CEP, with an allocation of €4.5 million. The key theme of this year's programme is supporting groups as they reopen their facilities, which were closed because of Covid-19. To allow flexibility, each LCDC can set its own closing date to best suit its area, but all closing dates must be no later than 16 July 2021. Groups should check with their LCDC for further details.
It is important to note that, typically, the CEP provides smaller grants and does not fund substantial renovations or the construction of new community centres. While community centres are funded from many different sources across Departments, agencies and local authorities, there is no dedicated stand-alone funding stream for capital works for community centres at present.
There is a benefit to the introduction of a dedicated community centre capital programme to provide large-scale capital grants for significant refurbishment, retrofitting and modernisation works across the network of community centres. My officials are exploring whether it is possible to secure additional funding for my Department to deliver such a programme.
I thank the Minister of State for the response. He has touched on the fact that there are two issues at play. First, it is a matter of filling in the gaps where there may be no community centres. Tramore is peculiar in this regard. It has a community of some 12,000 people, yet it does not have a community centre to serve it. It does not really have a village hall or shared community space to facilitate a large-scale sharing of views, small theatre groups and so on.
The second issue is that running a community centre results in substantial running costs. There is a genuine opportunity in this regard. With retrofitting, particularly the installation of renewables, for example, it will be possible to switch from incurring a cost to having a revenue source as we get feed-in tariffs. Having a dedicated source of funding is good and well worth pursuing within the Department.
There is a benefit to introducing a dedicated community centre capital programme to provide large-scale capital grants for significant refurbishment, retrofitting, modernisation and the construction of community centres. The need for more significant capital investment to support community infrastructure has become more evident during the pandemic.
A proposal for an increase in the level of capital funding provided for community development has been included in my Department's submission to the review of the national development plan, which is being undertaken by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Separately, my Department has developed a proposal for a community centre capital programme as part of a wider community-recovery investment fund. This was submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for consideration for inclusion in Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan proposals. Programming is under way for the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF. My officials have completed a screening questionnaire on the proposed funding in respect of ERDF co-financing. This has been sent to the Northern and Western Regional Assembly. The development of a dedicated community centre capital programme will depend on the success of the proposals.
I thank the Minister of State. A dedicated funding source would be one of several steps in the right direction. Many communities have to develop their community facilities in dribs and drabs, and there are small groups of volunteers chasing every funding source available. We should bring the strands together and help put the facilities into the heart of the communities.
In my home town, Tramore, there is a significant site for sale. We could lose it to residential use unless it is taken on board. It was formerly a school site. It has a large hall and the potential to be developed into an outstanding community centre. In a growing town the size of Tramore, there is a need for the kinds of community services in question to be brought together into one space and for the site in question to be handed over for the good of the community. I would welcome the Minister of State's comments in this regard.
There is strong interest in developing a programme like this. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is advocating it strongly. We hope there will be something in the revised national development plan to facilitate the need. There are gaps across the country. In deprived and lightly populated areas, there is a clear issue. Many community centre projects start and grow organically so we should match that community commitment to making improvements with some commitment from ourselves. It is certainly high on our agenda. A need has been identified and we need to act upon it.