Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding
Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach tráthnóna inniu. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan. He is very welcome to the House. I thank him for his presence. I wish to raise with him the Milltown group sewerage scheme which is located outside Monaghan town. I raised the issue with his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, earlier in the year. We were hopeful the announcement would be made before the end of the current year, 2017. Milltown was one of six schemes identified for funding under the multi-annual programme 2016 to 2018. What we are dealing with here is a cluster of approximately 30 septic tanks that are causing some environmental issues and are a cause of concern. The case has been proven and it has been submitted to the Department, which is fully aware of the situation. In order for the scheme to proceed it is vital that 90% funding is secured. Otherwise, the scheme will not go ahead. Earlier in the year the Minister of State, Deputy English, gave a verbal commitment when he was in the House that that would be the case.
I commend the residents of the Milltown area on the significant work they have put into getting to this point. The work they had to do was exhausting and onerous. I acknowledge the contribution of Monaghan County Council in that regard also. What we are seeking this afternoon is an announcement from the Minister of State that the 90% funding has been ring-fenced and secured for this project and that the work will commence in 2018. There are two other issues on which I would like the Minister of State to comment briefly, if he does not mind. First, could he or his Department indicate when the next scheme will commence? The current one expires in 2018. Has he any proposal to announce a new one for 2018 onwards? I hope there will be an increase in the number of successful applicants. As he knows, only six schemes have been funded in the entire State over the past three years. This is a very low number. We are all conscious of the issues that septic tanks can cause for the environment.
Second, the scheme is very onerous on residents and communities. A considerable amount of work is involved for them in submitting an application. Those concerned have to form companies, become company directors and hire engineers. It is very onerous and unfair on people whose skills might not lie in this area. I would like to believe that, in the future, the relevant local authority will be funded and that it will manage the entire project from start to finish.
I thank the Senator. I am answering on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. With regard to his two final points, on a new scheme and the make-up of the current one, there are no firm proposals yet but the Department will be considering how the scheme worked and examining factors that the Senator mentioned, such as the workload for local communities before making any announcement on whether there will be a renewal.
The Department's new multi-annual rural water programme for the period 2016 to 2018 includes funding of group sewerage schemes through measure 4(d) where clustering of households on individual septic tanks is not a viable option, particularly from an environmental perspective. In 2015, the Department received sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to increase the maximum grant per household to €6,750, up from €6,500, to cover a limited number of new demonstration group sewerage schemes — two per year. In addition, sanction was given for these new demonstration group sewerage schemes in exceptional circumstances to avail of a supplemental grant subject to the Department's approval where the project represents the most economically advantageous option. Where a supplemental grant is approved, the overall funding from the rural water programme is limited to 90% of the cost per house, subject to a minimum contribution of €2,250 per house.
In January 2016, local authorities were invited to submit bids for consideration by the Department under the new multi-annual water programme for the period 2016 to 2018. In total, 83 bids were received from 17 local authorities for funding under measure 4(d) of the new programme. The proposed Milltown group sewerage scheme was included by Monaghan County Council in its funding bids under the new measure. The proposed scheme, with a then estimated cost of €280,000, was expected to cover 32 houses and have a unit cost of €8,750 per house. I understand that the Milltown group sewerage scheme proceeded to tender stage in 2016, with an estimated overall cost of €358,000, to cover 30 houses, giving a unit cost of €11,933 per house.
Under the new multi-annual funding framework, an expert panel was convened by the Department to examine the 2016 bids from local authorities for projects under a number of the programme's measures, including measure 4(d), and to make recommendations to the Department on funding. The panel recommended a priority list to the Department under this measure, including the Milltown scheme, at priority 5. The Department accepted the recommendations in full when approving schemes under the new programme and making funding allocations for 2016. As only two demonstration group sewerage schemes can be advanced in any given year, funding was not available to Monaghan County Council for the Milltown scheme in 2016 or 2017. The Department intends to make funding allocations under the programme to local authorities for 2018 early in the new year. Monaghan County Council will be advised on funding for the Milltown scheme at that point.
It is on the outskirts of Monaghan town.
The Minister of State mentioned at the outset that the Department would be considering new proposals in assessing how the scheme has worked to date.I ask again that he take into consideration that the responsibilities local communities must undertake and submit in the application in order to qualify are quite onerous. That is something that needs to be looked at.
Of course, I would like to see an increase in funding so that more groups could apply. The Minister of State said in his response that 17 local authorities applied. Only six were successful. It clearly shows that we have a problem with septic tanks that needs to be addressed.