Wednesday, 10 October 2007
I am pleased to be able to raise with the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, the need for an update on a site acquisition in Buncrana. The development in question will have three constituent parts, namely, a Garda station, the consolidation of the social welfare offices and a decentralised office under the auspices of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
The upgrade of the Garda station in Buncrana has been long required. The existing building has gone beyond the state of being in bad repair. It does not provide the service that is needed, not only for the gardaí there but also for the public.
My main concern is value for money. To date, temporary solutions have been examined while the main building is being developed. I believe a lease has been secured for a building and that substantial money may have been spent on ensuring the temporary accommodation is of sufficient standard.
The delay in having the gardaí moved from their existing accommodation to the temporary accommodation has lasted too long. We have just debated the issue of education and how school projects can move very quickly when a decision is taken and a site is available. I am disappointed at the seeming lack of progress on progressing the temporary and permanent accommodation projects, which is why I have asked for an update.
There was to be a consolidation of the existing social welfare offices on the same site. I understand the staff of the social welfare offices in Buncrana have gone through an endurance test in coping with a difficult situation. It is important their needs are met soon by having accommodation built for them. It is not economic to continue to rent accommodation in a number of centres, which I assume is happening. It would be preferable to have a permanent building.
This is not just about the quality of the staff's current accommodation but also about staff welfare and team spirit. If staff are in one location in a new building, the team spirit and the ability to do the job will be enhanced. Staff are working against the odds, although they are doing a marvellous job in poor circumstances, which also applies to the gardaí in Buncrana Gardastation.
The core issue I wish to raise is that of the decentralisation of the Department of Social and Family Affairs offices to Buncrana, which is the third component part of this one site. It is very important that this project is advanced. While the number of staff offering to move to Buncrana is smaller than its original allocation, we must move on, build the offices and make the project a reality. When that happens, more people will take notice of Buncrana as a destination, and should they do so, they will realise that the quality of life and opportunities presented by the location and town are immense. There should be no back pedalling with regard to developing the site for decentralisation.
From a career perspective, which is what concerns many civil servants, there is a positive message in Buncrana and Donegal given that Letterkenny is a major location for the Department's offices. When the new €1,000 payment for children under six years old was introduced, it was decided that the offices in Letterkenny would be the administrative centre for this. In terms of career progression and opportunities, having a Department of Social and Family Affairs office decentralised to Buncrana is a further positive development in addition to the existing social welfare services in place in the town and the services in Letterkenny and County Donegal.
We need the building to be physically in place to encourage other civil servants to accept Buncrana as a real, positive option. The project has been talked down by many. It is important for the status of the town, which has lost hundreds and perhaps thousands of jobs from the textile industry in the past decade, for the Inishowen peninsula and the surrounding area right into the Derry heartland that the region is given priority by the Government. If the Government will ensure the decentralised jobs are up and running on schedule, we will have the opportunity to use this as a catalyst for other inward investment.
We have had a difficult time, including an employment crisis, but we have worked to turn that situation around. We have improved infrastructure and continue to do so. The new dispensation in the Six Counties and its new Assembly will give the north west a much more attractive base than our geographic position has allowed until now.
I hope the Minister of State has good news for me today, namely, that work is progressing on all three projects. Ultimately, whether the project will be progressed is an economic decision. Much of the groundwork has been done but to reach this position, it was necessary for me to sit down with many people who were blaming each other. The Office of Public Works was blaming the Department of Social and Family Affairs until it arrived in the room, and the Department blamed the Garda until the Garda arrived in the room. However, I had a very successful morning when I brought most of the parties around the table. I would like to think the project will progress significantly given that the site has been acquired.
A site of about 2.25 acres was acquired in 2005 in Buncrana to facilitate the provision of a new local office and a decentralised office for the Department of Social and Family Affairs. As Senator Keaveney noted, there was an additional requirement in Buncrana for a new Garda district headquarters. The existing Garda station is inadequate to such an extent that the gardaí are moving to temporary accommodation in the short term pending the erection of the new station. With the acquisition of a small additional portion of 0.38 acres of adjoining land which was available for purchase, the combined site can facilitate construction of the three facilities, namely, the two facilities for the Department of Social and Family Affairs buildings and a Garda district headquarters.
Planning permission for the Department of Social and Family Affairs local and decentralised offices was obtained on 30 January 2007 and the Part 9 planning process for the Garda district headquarters was completed in May 2007. In deciding how best to design and procure these facilities, it was considered that designing and contracting the facilities as one single project was the most sensible way to proceed. It was considered that the best value for money, deriving in large part from economies of scale, would be achieved in this way. The design of the facilities is integrated, making best use of the site. It incorporates shared excavated basement car parking facilities for the two Department of Social and Family Affairs buildings.
Following an EU competition, seven contractors were shortlisted for the project. The tender competition for construction of all the elements proved very competitive with all seven contractors submitting tenders. Consideration of the tenders is under way. When building commences, the project is expected to take 21 months to complete.
The project comprises three elements, the first of which is the Department of Social and Family Affairs decentralised offices. This building will be a three-storey building which will accommodate 120 decentralised staff from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The Department provided a general brief of requirements based on the Government decision but has not as yet identified specific sections to be transferred.
The second element is the Department of Social and Family Affairs local office, the design of which will allow for a building over two floors. The local office is currently located in leased accommodation in Castle Avenue. This building will also include an area for the Department of Transport and the Marine driver test centre, which comprises an interview room, staff room, waiting area and staff and public toilet facilities. This facility will be for driver testing for motor vehicles only. The driver test centre for heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, will continue to operate from Letterkenny.
The third element is the Garda district headquarters, which will be a three storey building. The Garda station was previously located at St. Oran's Road. However, as this premises is wholly inadequate, the Garda Síochána is in the process of moving to temporary accommodation in Lisfannon industrial estate in the short term, pending the erection of the new station. To sum up, consideration of the seven tenders is under way.