Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Roads Maintenance Funding
I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this matter. The Commencement matter speaks for itself. Will the Minister consider reinstating full funding to the local improvement scheme and community involvement scheme encompassing funding for both private and public lanes? Funding for these schemes was removed during the recession. Due to the major cutbacks it was necessary for the Department to cease making separate allocations to local authorities in respect of the local improvement schemes. I ask the Minister to consider reinstating them as a completely separate scheme to the community involvement schemes. Furthermore these schemes should have completely separate funding from the local improvement scheme and the community involvement scheme. Separate funding would facilitate the acceptance of an increased number of applications. I would further like to highlight the importance such schemes have with regard to the development of rural Ireland and enhancing rural living. The Government has shown commitment to this by appointing a Minister of State with responsibility for rural affairs and improvement. It is something that should be a priority. In many parts of Ireland, old country roads and lanes have become damaged over the years and are in bad need of repair. Having access to schemes such as the LIS would assist those living and working in rural regions of Ireland to travel and work more efficiently and safely in their localities once they have availed of the scheme. I welcome the Minister's response.
I thank Senator Noone for the opportunity to address this very important matter. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the council's own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the council.
Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network.There have been large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure over the past number of years because of the national financial position. The focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal for this reason.
Maintenance of private laneways or roads not taken in charge by local authorities is the responsibility of the landowners concerned. There is a local improvement scheme, LIS, in place whereby a contribution can be made by the State towards the cost of maintaining these laneways or roads. LlSs are permitted under section 81 of the Local Government Act 2001. Due to the cutbacks in roads funding, it was necessary for the Department to stop making separate allocations to local authorities in respect of LIS. The approved scheme remains intact and, within it, local authorities can use a proportion of State grant funding - 15% of the discretionary grant in 2016 - for LIS should they wish to do so. The reason a separate State grant allocation is not being made for LIS is given funding constraints a ring-fenced allocation would result in a pro rata reduction in funding for public roads in a scenario where public roads are significantly under funded.
As regards the community involvement scheme, CIS, there has been a longstanding provision for local authorities to seek community involvement in the improvement and maintenance work on suitable local roads and, to facilitate this, local authorities are permitted to allocate a portion of their State grant funding to eligible schemes. A separate CIS pilot scheme operated for two years in 2013 and 2014. Due to the limited funding available for regional and local roads, CIS reverted to the position where local authorities may set aside 7.5% of their road improvement and road maintenance grants for CIS if they so wish from 2015 onwards. While 2017 will bring a modest increase in funding for roads, it will take some years under the capital plan to restore "steady state" funding levels for regional and local roads. The primary focus will have to continue to be on the maintenance and renewal of public roads.
In light of the provision in the programme for Government indicating that, as the economy recovers, the Government will promote increased funding for CIS and LIS and in response to the Senator's question, I will review the scope for making a separate grant allocation once the planned review of the capital plan is completed.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate why the focus has been on the maintenance and renewal of public roads over the past number of years. I am delighted he mentioned the programme for Government and the fact that it is a priority to reintroduce the LIS. He said he will review the scope for making a separate grant allocation once the planned review of the capital plan is completed. What is the approximate timeframe for that?
I hope the review will be completed towards the end of this year. Funding for LIS and CIS has been included in the Department's submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's review of the capital plan. Once this has been finalised, the Minister can review the scope for providing ring-fenced funding for these schemes. In the interim, both schemes will remain in place with no separate allocation.