Tuesday, 14 November 2023
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
5. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development what measures she is taking to address the funding shortfall and the limiting criteria to qualify under the current local improvement scheme, LIS, to ensure the required necessary upkeep and maintenance of rural minor roads in view of recent major deterioration of rural roads due to flooding and weather events; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49683/23]
12. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development for details of the latest local improvement scheme, LIS, waiting lists, including number of roads and estimated costs per local authority; if she has received a response from the Minister for Transport regarding whether his Department will co-fund the scheme in the future; if she has considered opening the scheme to private contractors to help clear lists where local authorities have limited capacity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49667/23]
The local improvement scheme has been very successful in supporting rural communities to repair the key part of the road network, the first couple of hundred metres that people drive each morning and the last couple hundred metres that they travel on as they make it home at the end of the day. It is essential funding on a key part of the road network. Roads have taken a real hammering again with the weather over recent weeks. Is there a plan to release additional funding and improve that scheme so that this part of the road network can be repaired?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 12 together.
As part of Our Rural Future, the Government is committed to ensuring the LIS is funded into the future. This reflects the important contribution the scheme makes to connectivity in rural areas.
LIS was reintroduced by my Department in 2017 following several years with no dedicated funding. Since then, almost €130 million has been allocated towards repair works on approximately 4,000 non-public roads and lanes, benefiting more than 16,000 landowners and residents in these rural areas. In 2023 alone, I allocated almost €30 million in funding for the scheme. This is the third consecutive year in which funding allocated to the scheme has increased. This reflects the priority that I have afforded to it in recent years.
My Department works closely with local authorities to ensure that allocations are fully utilised each year. While my Department funds LIS, it is administered by local authorities, which prioritise road projects and establish eligibility as per section 81 of the Local Government Act 2001. However, there is a waiting list of roads to be completed nationwide. Some 3,500 roads were listed as on hands by local authorities in June of this year. My officials continue to engage with local authorities on the management of this waiting list. For example, works completed under this year's scheme are not reflected as the end-of-year claims process is ongoing and lists across local authorities are not compiled in a uniform manner.
It is also important to note that not all these road projects can be delivered in the short to medium term. This arises for a variety of reasons, including the availability of contractors to undertake the work and the historical nature of some of the applications on hand.
Recent inclement weather has reminded us about the importance of measures to address the impact of flooding. While my Department is pleased to support efforts to ensure a high standard of roads in rural areas, primary responsibility for the upkeep and repair of public roads remains within the remit of the local authorities and the Department of Transport. Flood relief initiatives and associated schemes are funded via the Office of Public Works and local authorities. I have, however, instructed my officials to provide flexibility on completion dates for LIS works this year for those counties most impacted by flooding issues.
I have continued to engage with my colleague the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in an effort to secure further financial support for LIS from his Department. While the Department of Transport has not indicated that it will make a contribution to the funding of the scheme, I will continue to work with local authorities to ensure the scheme continues to deliver real benefits in rural communities throughout Ireland.
It was very welcome news when the scheme was reopened a number of years ago because it is a very practical scheme, supporting the rural road network. The conditions were modified at that point and they have caused a great deal of difficulty for some people. Even with a cluster of houses on a road there is a requirement for the landowners and herd numbers to be recorded as part of the application. That is not always practical because in some rural communities the land might be let, somebody might be in a nursing home or the neighbours may not see eye to eye. There are umpteen different reasons it may not be possible to get everybody on that road as part of the application. That impedes the application; it blocks them altogether. Is there a way of opening that out again so that the communities living on those roads would be able to have access to that vital funding?
By my estimation, almost one in five of those are in County Kerry. I constantly meet people who were down at 500 or 600 on the list. At the current rate of approximately 25 a year, the Minister and I will probably be long gone from this House by the time those roads are reached. Something needs to be done to address that. I drove around my own parish of Keel last weekend. I drove up a few little roads around Leasa Buí, Boolteens, Gortaneden and Caherfealane. Some of the roads are in dire condition. The people living on those roads work hard and pay their taxes, including their motor tax, but for some reason their roads are classified as non-council. They are public roads used by everybody else. They are used by An Post and other service providers but they are in dire condition. Some of those people are 400 or 500 on the list. It will be years before their roads are reached. The current system will not work for them.
It is an absolute disgrace that the Department of Transport is not chipping in to the fund. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has stepped up to the mark.
The Deputy is right that this year I allocated over €30 million. That is treble the funding that was available for the LIS a couple of years ago. Any time I find savings in my Department, the first place they go is into the LIS. That goes to show my commitment to the scheme. The Deputy knows himself that this scheme was previously funded by the Department of Transport, which has a very sizeable capital budget compared with my Department's. I believe the Department of Transport has a role to play here. If it were to start to provide matched funding, we could start to make real inroads into these waiting lists. I have raised this with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and have not made an awful lot of headway but I will keep trying. The Department of Rural and Community Development is not letting the side down. We have put over €130 million into the LIS since 2017. A lot of counties have their lists well down at this stage, but I accept that Kerry and Cork are big counties and need more.
Deputy Moynihan asked me about the eligibility criteria. I cannot start looking at that until I clear this backlog, and that is being straight with him. There is no point in making the list longer and longer. I will try to clear the backlog first, and then we can look at eligibility.
The recent storms have done so much damage to the rural road network, and right across the country various councils have been doing repair works. They have been applying for top-up funding to carry out those essential works. As regards the local improvement scheme, the council will not do any repair work on those roads at the end of the network. Those roads are just as likely to have taken the same hammering as any other roads around the county. There is an acknowledgment that there is a need for additional funding, and the local authorities have been applying for that. It would follow reasonable logic that additional funding would be made available for that part of the road network, that is, that last couple of hundred metres into people's homes. Irrespective of what badge is on it, whether the Department of Transport, the Department of Rural and Community Development or whoever else, can additional funding be made available for those roads in recognition of the huge damage flooding has done in so many areas?
Tá an scéim seo go han-tábhachtach do bhóithre áitiúla. Tá na daoine atá ina gcónaí ar na bóithre seo ag fanacht rófhada ar fad, go háirithe i gContae Chiarraí, in áiteanna cosúil le Corca Dhuibhne. Tá níos mó airgid ag teastáil uainn, agus caithfidh an Roinn Iompair airgead a thabhairt don Roinn Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail chun na bóithre seo a fheabhsú. Níl sé ceart go leor ar chor ar bith. Tá na daoine ag fanacht rófhada agus tá siad ag íoc a gcuid cánach ach níl na seirbhísí ag teacht ar ais. Caithfimid an córas seo a athrú agus caithfimid na bóithre seo a fheabhsú.
I have huge concerns about our minor rural roads in Carlow. I am working with a group of residents in Hacketstown, where there is one such minor road, a public road, that is absolutely unfit for purpose. I welcome the Minister's funding and I know her commitment, but we are now dealing with trees falling, we are dealing with huge climate change, we have flash flooding and we have drains that are blocked all the time. We are seeing this the whole time. I also ask that extra funding come to Carlow for these minor roads. We really need it. I believe we are not getting half as much as we should get.
I agree with what the Minister said that the Department of Transport should play a part in this. This is a huge issue across all counties, and I always feel the smaller counties such as Carlow are forgotten. I believe the Minister's commitment to this, but we have minor rural roads and laneways that really need to be done. They are really in a bad way.
The Minister was in the Cooley Peninsula and Carlingford recently. She saw some of the devastation there. We welcome the supports in the form of the humanitarian assistance fund and the emergency business flooding relief scheme. I hope there will be plenty of flexibility because sometimes we have more questions with every person we see.
Antóin Watters and I were at a meeting yesterday with some of the Minister's party colleagues and a great many farmers. There is a need for something specific for farmers. If we are talking about roads and roads infrastructure, and we have already seen the local authority do some sort of work, I imagine that an element of finance will be required from central government for that. A number of roads would have been dealt with under the local improvement scheme and have been absolutely devastated. We are talking about places that are absolutely impassable. In some cases, the locals have put in place stopgap measures, but we need to look at something specific. Everybody realises there will be huge assessment work done that will involve everyone from Irish Water to the local authorities right through to Coillte to make sure we can carry out what mitigations are necessary so we limit the devastation that may befall people into the future.
Mayo relies heavily on the local improvement scheme and we have a diverse road network like those of County Cork and County Kerry, and I am sure it is the same in the Minister's constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. This is a really important issue that councillors raise with Oireachtas Members. I support the call for the Department of Transport to match-fund any funding that is presented by the Department of Rural and Community Development. This needs to be addressed. Many residents in Mayo are in dire need of this scheme. We need to ensure that action is taken and that the required funding is delivered into each of the local authorities to deliver on this. Also, looking at the cost comparison between the local authority doing the work versus a private contractor doing it, it is extortionate in some local authorities when it goes out to tender. I ask that we also look at that.
I take every opportunity to put any extra resources I have in my Department into the local improvement scheme, and I will tell the House why. When I was growing up I lived on a lane that was one mile long and full of potholes. There was some scheme at that stage as well and eventually the lane got repaired, but I know what it is like. When you are on a bicycle trying to avoid potholes, it is not easy. I have continued to build on the investment we got then. In fact, since 2017, my Department, which is only a small Department, has provided €130 million. All I can say to the House is that the review of the national development fund will be coming up shortly and I will be looking to increase the funding for the LIS. It is €12 million for next year and, as I said, any savings I have had I have lorried into the local improvement scheme because nobody knows better than I do what it is like to live on a long lane. I know what it is like trying to get the milk lorry in to collect the milk and it not being able to get in. I understand, too, the difficulties presented by the flooding, and Deputy Ó Murchú will be glad to know I will be back up in Carlingford again tomorrow.
I was glad to visit there. What happened to the people of Carlingford was terrible. In fairness, my Department of Social Protection really stepped up to the plate and helped them in any way we could. That is what this Government is here to do. We are here to help people when they need help and we will continue to do that.