Thursday, 14 July 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to discuss the village of Castlemagner in north County Cork. Castlemagner is a beautiful village situated almost midway between Kanturk and Mallow. There was significant development in the village more than 15 years ago. We have been working for some time with Cork County Council. Councillor Bernard Moynihan put considerable work in with the council and Irish Water. We were delighted that Irish Water announced earlier this year that Castlemagner would be included in the small town and village scheme for the upgrade of its sewage treatment plant. Once that is in place, it will allow the village to further develop. It is in a very central location, almost at the heart of Munster. The upgraded treatment plant will allow much-needed houses to be built in the village. In the debate on the summer economic statement and in multiple debates here every week, housing is very a important issue. Housing is not just a Dublin or city issue. It is very important for rural areas. Many people have moved back to rural communities, including Castlemagner.
While Irish Water has announced that Castlemagner is on the scheme, I want to ensure it progresses in the shortest possible timeframe. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices and those of his Department to liaise with Irish Water and Cork County Council to ensure this is expedited. The upgrade to the existing system has been taken over by Irish Water therefore allowing the village to further develop. Many people would be looking at Castlemagner as a place they would build homes. A number of homes could be built there.
It is very important that there is no delay. We want Irish Water, Cork County Council and the Department on song to ensure that this development happens. Over the years, many projects have been delayed because funding was not in place. We have got that commitment from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and Irish Water. We are very grateful for that and for the work done by the Cork County Council, the Department and Irish Water to bring it to this level. However, we cannot rest on our laurels at this stage. We are into the second half of 2022 and we want to ensure that what was announced for 2022 happens in 2022 and that plans are developed. I am aware that engineering works, etc., need to be carried out. We need the full support from all the stakeholders who have stepped up to the plate and made it a priority. We now need to ensure that it happens in the shortest possible time.
I agree with the points made about Castlemagner. They apply to all our small towns and villages.
We launched the Croí Cónaithe towns fund this morning. A lot of Government policies are converging to try to attract families back to living in small communities. It is vital that such communities can grow in a sustainable way.
I will outline the position in regard to Irish Water’s responsibility on this issue. I know Deputy Michael Moynihan raised the issue directly with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister recently had the opportunity to visit the site in question with the Deputy in May. The Minister is aware of the importance of the delivery of this upgrade and is fully committed, through the Department, to supporting Irish Water in its delivery of the project.
The Water Services Acts 2007 to 2017 set out the arrangements in place for the delivery of water and wastewater services by Irish Water, and for the scrutiny and oversight provisions that apply in respect of these arrangements. As the Deputy will understand, the provision of facilities in Castlemagner is a matter for Irish Water in the first instance. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water takes a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning and investment, and meeting customer requirements. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects and programmes is a matter for determination by Irish Water.
My Department has made inquiries of Irish Water on the issue mentioned by Deputy Moynihan, and I am informed as follows. In October 2021, Irish Water announced the upgrade of the Castlemagner wastewater treatment works as part of its small towns and villages growth programme. This announcement instigated a series of steps towards the development of an upgraded wastewater treatment plant to provide for residential growth in the village in accordance with the proposed Cork county development plan. The initial steps involve an assessment of needs process: the collation of this data is under way and a number of upgrade scenarios will be developed and considered, ahead of a scope of works being agreed. Once this scope of works is defined, the project will move to detailed design, undergoing statutory planning, tendering and procurement stages, as required.
Again, both the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and I recognise the importance of these upgrade works and our Department will continue to work to support Irish Water in the delivery of this project.
The Government is aware that significant and sustained investment is needed to ensure the continued operation, upgrade and repair of the country’s water and wastewater infrastructure and to support economic development in the years to come. In this regard, as part of budget 2022, my Department secured funding of more than €1.57 billion to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area. I hope this response is of use to the Deputy.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I am pleased that he and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, are committed to the funding of the wastewater treatment plants in the small towns and villages growth programme. It was on the scheme in October 2021. The Minister of State outlined what Irish Water said. The initial steps involve the assessment of needs process. The correlation of data is under way. When will the data be ready? We welcome the commitment of the Government and the Minister, who visited the site recently and gave serious commitment to it. What we are looking for here is to make sure that Castlemagner is prioritised, given all the projects that are being developed around the country. There is real scope here for houses to be built to alleviate the national crisis in housing. After today’s discussion, I seek that a clear indication would be given on the project. The initial steps involve the assessment of needs and the correlation of data. When will the data be ready and the scenarios developed and considered? There is a lot of work to be done in regard to scoping of the work that is needed and the detailed design and planning. That will all take time as going through the statutory process takes time. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices and those of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to make sure that there is no delay in Castlemagner and that there is a clear indication of when the project will commence. Perhaps after today's discussion, the Minister of State might seek information from Irish Water and report back to me on the exact timing of the steps that are required and their timeframe on a monthly basis to make sure that this project becomes a reality in the short term. It is hugely important that the work is developed as a matter of urgency for the community and to make sure that housing is provided for people.
I again thank the Deputy. We can work with Irish Water to get a timeline, as that would be useful for the Deputy and the community in terms of when the collation of data will be completed and the different upgrade scenarios that are to be developed. The project will then have to go into a scope of works and move into the project design and statutory planning stage. There are a number of steps involved in the process but it would be useful for both the Deputy and the community of Castlemagner to have the timeline for the steps laid out in clear terms. I will work with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, to try to achieve that and expedite this project in as quick a timeframe as possible, noting the urgency for this upgrade and that there are developments waiting to take place pending the upgrade. We will get that information for the Deputy to help try to move this project along quicker.