Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Development Plan
71. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the way the revised national development plan will strengthen rural economies and communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55850/21]
110. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide an overview of national strategic outcome No. 3 of the National Development Plan 2021-2030; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55849/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 110 together.
My role as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has involved setting the allocations for capital expenditure across a number of Department's relevant to this national strategic outcome. National strategic outcome No. 3 seeks to strengthen rural economies and communities. This applies in terms of the traditional pillars of the rural economy as well as those emerging from such developments as improved transport connectivity, national broadband delivery, climate action and rural economic development.
The sectoral strategies here include Our Rural Future, the town centre first policy, Food Vision 2030 in agriculture, the investing in our culture, language and heritage strategy, the Linking People and Places tourism strategy and the national sports policy. An extensive number of projects are already being rolled out through the €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund. Applications for funding have already been approved for 139 projects across rural Ireland with a total cost of €239 million. Examples include the Cahersiveen town centre regeneration project in Kerry and the Cahir town regeneration project in Tipperary.
In addition to maintaining the regional and local road network in good repair, it is a priority to carry out targeted improvements to sections of the network. The Carrigaline western relief road and the Coonagh to Knockalisheen project are under construction, while other projects where the main construction work is due to commence shortly include the Tralee northern relief road, the Shannon crossing-Killaloe bypass R494 upgrade and the Athy southern distributor road.
Under the national broadband plan, which commenced roll-out in 2020, 1.1 million people living and working in more than 544,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with almost 700 schools, will receive access to high-speed broadband. The on-farm capital investment scheme under Ireland's 2023-27 CAP strategic plan will provide significant support to farmers looking to invest in capital projects on their farms to increase environmental efficiency and develop their farm enterprises. Major capital investment projects of up to €180 million are under way and planned in fishery harbour centres around the country.
Investment in our international tourism marketing infrastructure also helps to stimulate business from overseas markets. This is critical when every 1,000 additional overseas tourists support 20 jobs in the domestic tourism industry, many of which are in rural Ireland. These are just some of the many investments across rural Ireland that are being scaled up under this new national development plan.
I thank the Minister. One of the small silver linings of Covid - and, let us be frank, there have very have been very few of them - has been people returning to rural Ireland and the vibrancy we are once again seeing in our villages. To take as an example Kilkee in County Clare, my party colleague, Councillor Cillian Murphy, has often bemoaned the fact that only one in three people in Kilkee are permanent residents. People go during heatwaves in the nine or ten days we typically get in an Irish summer and they are gone again. People are back living in Kilkee. They are job hunting and house hunting. This is leading to other problems but for tonight we can say the national development plan is injecting huge amounts of money and hope into rural Ireland. I want to briefly reference a number of issues. The progressing of the Killaloe bypass in Clare is good. The light rail system proposed from Limerick city to Shannon and Bunratty is very welcome. Are there timeframes for these projects? I worry somewhat that while they are backed and contained in the national development plan, some of the planning logistics could make them a little bit further down the line than we would like. We need some streamlining of the process.
I thank Deputy Crowe. I join with him in acknowledging the good work of Councillor Murphy and others in Kilkee. I agree with his point that one of the fall-outs from Covid has been that it has opened up opportunities for rural towns and villages throughout Ireland because remote working is here to stay to some extent. We will see a blended form of working in future. This means more people spending more time in their local communities. This will enrich these communities and allow people to spend more of their money locally, volunteer their time and become more active in community life. If we look at the national development plan and the overall Project Ireland 2040, the target is that 75% of the growth in population of Ireland to 2040 will be outside Dublin. This underlines the level of opportunity and ambition there is for rural communities. Time does not allow me to go into individual projects. Perhaps we can engage on a bilateral basis. I will seek to get whatever information I can on timelines for individual projects. I thank the Deputy for raising them.
I thank the Minister for his positive remarks. I want to reference a project about which I have spoken privately to the Minister many times. It is the Limerick northern distributor road. He referenced it in his contribution. Phase 1 is well under construction and, hopefully, in a matter of months vehicles will be travelling on it alleviating traffic congestion in the north suburbs of Limerick city and making it possible for Clare people to get to and from work. Phase 2 stands somewhat in a state of flux. There is a roundabout at Knockalisheen in Meelick where phase 1 ends. We do not know what will happen with phase 2. It is not referenced in the national development plan but there are a lot of statutory phases ahead of it. We would like to know whether it will progress in some form over the coming years. The key aspects to note are that it will alleviate traffic, provide connectivity across south Clare and provide a knowledge corridor from Limerick Institute of Technology, which is now part of a technological university, and the University of Limerick. There are teething problems along the route line; I will not say there are not. Many of them relate to some of the routing through Parteen and Cloonlara. This needs to progress through consultation with the community. We would really like to know whether this is dead in the water or is something that can still progress over the coming years.
I thank the Deputy. It is important to underline the point that the national development plan is not a comprehensive list of every project that will happen over the coming ten years. It is fundamentally a high-level document that sets out the overall strategic priorities for the Government and the financial framework available to support capital investment over the period. The fact an individual project is not explicitly referenced does not preclude it from being progressed or from being fully delivered over the course of the national development plan.
I am familiar with the Limerick northern distributor road and I know Clare County Council is the lead authority on the project under a section 85 agreement with Limerick City and County Council. This project was raised with the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland when they appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in early November to discuss the NDP. They confirmed their intention to go to a second round of public consultation in January and that the northern distributor road, with public transport provision on it, was included in their first document. They also propose to include it in their second document. I will work with the Deputy, other colleagues in the region and the Minister for Transport on this important local road project.