Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Beidh mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis an Teachta Colm Burke. Having listened to the previous speaker, the Minister of State is probably going to become an expert in water and water quality. Deputy Burke and I wish to speak about the issues relating to Carrignavar wastewater treatment plant, which is just 10 km north of Cork city. We could probably name a dozen villages in the greater Cork area affected by this issue, but the specific issue at Carrignavar deserves scrutiny, given that its potential for development in the coming years is limited as a result of the difficulties with its wastewater treatment plant. Knockraha, Cloheen and Kerry Pike are just a few villages that are experiencing wastewater treatment issues, not to mention bigger towns such as Midleton, or Ballyvolane on the north side of Cork city, where the issue has been resolved recently.
As I stated, Carrignavar is 10 km from Cork city centre. It is a village of approximately 600 or 700 people, with probably another 1,000 people in its wider hinterland, and it has significant potential for growth in the coming years as it is so close to the city and is on the new BusConnects route. It is well set up for development into the future. The difficulty in respect of Carrignavar, as Deputy Burke will also summarise, is that the wastewater treatment plant has been at capacity and overloaded since I became a councillor in 2014. I refer to various reports by Irish Water through the years. An environmental report published in 2019 states the plant is non-compliant, which is no surprise to us. It has failed every aspect of its effluent monitoring report each year because it is overloaded. The current organic loading is more than double the organic capacity of the plant.
An Bord Pleanála recently decided on the application for a replacement school for Scoil an Athar Tadhg in the village. Unfortunately, one of the conditions on the planning permission for the school is that it cannot increase its student population. The school is indefinitely restricted to a student population of 338 pupils, along with 62 staff. The student intake is restricted. Not only that, the difficulty for the school is that it has a significant population of students with special needs. There are difficulties there. We are trying to encourage the school to grow and take on more students with special educational needs but it is restricted from doing so because of the indefinite plans relating to the wastewater treatment plant. Does Irish Water have plans to upgrade the plant in the short term?
I join my colleague, Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan, in raising this matter. It is so serious that the Inland Fisheries Board objected to planning permission for the school and took the matter all the way to An Bord Pleanála. As a result, there is now a condition that means the school cannot increase its numbers. I understand that the new county development plan will allow for only ten additional houses to be built in the area over the next five years. A large number of people want to live and rear a family in the area but now we have the problem with the school. There are more than 350 students in the school. As my colleague outlined, the school is dealing with students with special needs. It was so important to build a new school because 70% of the buildings in the existing school are prefabs. Despite this, the matter went all the way to An Bord Pleanála because the Inland Fisheries Board was so concerned about the treatment plant not having the capacity to deal with any increase in numbers in the school, let alone an increase in housing.
I thank Deputies Pádraig O'Sullivan and Colm Burke for raising this important issue concerning plans to upgrade the Carrignavar wastewater treatment facility.
Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services, planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. Irish Water takes a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning, investment and meeting customer requirements. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects and programmes is a matter for determination by Irish Water.
Irish Water delivers its services in accordance with its statutory water services strategic plan for the period 2015 to 2040, which sets out a high-level strategy over 25 years to ensure the provision of clean, safe drinking water, the effective management of wastewater, environmental protection and support for economic and social development.
The Minister's primary responsibility and focus are to ensure Irish Water has a policy direction, through the water services policy statement, that is properly structured to deliver effective and efficient public water services and to ensure it is funded sufficiently in respect of domestic water services. The programme for Government commits to funding Irish Water's capital investment plan for water infrastructure on a multi-annual basis. The national development plan for the period 2021 to 2030 commits to a capital investment of almost €6 billion in Irish Water, which everyone welcomes. Of the investment, more than €4.5 billion will be voted Exchequer funding in respect of domestic water services.
As part of budget 2022, the Minister secured more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion for domestic services provision by Irish Water. This investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies right across urban and rural Ireland and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine areas.
To get to the nub of the question that both Deputies asked on the facility at Carrignavar, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, understands from Irish Water that the Carrignavar wastewater treatment facility has not been listed as a high priority by Cork County Council in the small towns and villages growth programme. Irish Water will consider the position in the context of future investment planning, having regard, in turn, to Cork County Council's priorities for its land-use planning responsibilities.
Both Deputies mentioned that 70% of the school is prefabricated. They stated there was an objection to the planning permission by the Inland Fisheries Board. Considering what both of them said, Cork County Council will have to revisit the fact that this has not been listed as a high priority.
I should have acknowledged initially that there was a great investment in water infrastructure right across the country as part of the last budget. However, the Minister of State said Cork County Council and Irish Water have not prioritised the matter. I have seen the council's wastewater treatment plant priority list. Carrignavar comes somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, however, it is the call of Irish Water, which said there is no funding for the project. This is unfortunate. The Minister of State is saying a strategic, nationwide approach is taken to these matters but the problem in Carrignavar is symptomatic of a wider problem. It is one village but we could name 20 or 30 across Cork county. There are probably hundreds of villages across the country whose development is on permanent pause. It is unfair on people in Carrignavar, the school-going community and the principal, who will try to get more staff and attract more pupils to the benefit of his school. I hope that on foot of this morning's question, Irish Water will revisit the issue and carry out whatever assessment is appropriate to improve the chances of Carrignavar getting what it needs. As Deputy Burke and I both said, to restrict a village ten minutes from the city centre to ten units over the next six years is somewhat incredible.
There is a large number of towns and villages across Cork county but I understand that only six have been prioritised in total. That is a very small number for the county overall. Maybe it is time that the Department started considering public–private partnerships in respect of the development of necessary infrastructure because we cannot afford to wait. The populations of Cork county and city are growing dramatically. Nine of the world's top ten pharmaceutical companies are based in Cork. The employment number is increasing the whole time. Therefore, the number of people who reside in the area is increasing.
Once again, I thank the Deputies for raising the matter of the Carrignavar wastewater treatment facility, County Cork. Irish Water, the public water utility, has developed a long-term investment perspective to address strategically the many deficiencies in the public wastewater system. It is optimising investment decisions to ensure it utilises scarce capital by making investments that deliver the best possible service improvements for communities. Irish Water will have to consider its investment plans in line with the significant funding being made available to it now and in the years ahead over multiple investment cycles. Maybe it would be a good idea to raise again with Irish Water the fact that sufficient ring-fenced funding has been provided under the national development plan for the next five years. There was a matter in my constituency that I have since raised because of the extra funding that has been provided.
The Minister is ensuring that Irish Water is on a sustainable funding path and has the significant sustained investment required to ensure the continued operation, upgrade and repair of the county's water and wastewater infrastructure to support housing delivery and economic growth in the years to come, including in areas such as Carrignavar. I have no doubt but that this matter will be raised on the floor of the House again and that we will hear more about Carrignavar and the expansion of the school.