Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Local Improvement Scheme Funding

10:30 am

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and thank him for taking this important matter. I know that he had to reschedule other business to be here, which I appreciate.

As the Minister of State is aware, the local improvement scheme is particularly important for rural communities. It supports improvement works on laneways and non-public roads which are vital in the functioning of everyday life in rural Ireland. The scheme is very popular and essential and greatly appreciated by those who use the roads in question. Improvement works on laneways and non-public roads are very important for local communities. Such roads often lead to houses and farms, but also, importantly, they lead to lakes, rivers, beaches, castles and other important cultural sites.

In County Cavan there is a ten-year backlog of applications owing to a lack of funding. There is a similar issue in many other counties, with an eight-year backlog in County Monaghan. A total number of 800 applications have been made in County Wexford, of which only 30 have been funded to date. I would like to see a substantial increase in the funding provided for this important scheme in 2020. The scheme is highly valuable and represents a great investment in rural communities. It is important that this rural infrastructure be protected and receive investment in order that families can live along laneways that are drivable and up to a decent standard.

The scheme is administered by the local authorities which identify roads to be included in the scheme each year. As people who represent rural constituencies, the Minister of State and I are conscious of how important the scheme has been during the years. I am keen to see more money invested to try to reduce the substantial backlog of applications in many counties. Unfortunately, funding for the scheme through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was stopped in 2012, prior to which it was a mainstream scheme within the overall roadworks programme funded directly by the Department. Alongside that funding, there was a top-up payment for projects in rural areas under the CLÁR programme of the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is time this form of funding mechanism and the status of the local improvement scheme were restored and a serious effort was made to reduce substantially the big backlog of applications in most counties.

The funding allocated to counties Cavan and Monaghan in recent years has been fully drawn down and the work carried out to a very high standard. It is important that the scheme not be put beyond people's reach because of income pressures. In many instances, family members, often sons or daughters, might want to set up home on a site given to them by their parents. One of the factors taken into consideration in deciding whether to build in a location is the quality of the roadway to the proposed home and the quality of the road network more generally. In many communities there is good quality community infrastructure such as football and hurling clubs, soccer clubs and community centres, with a great network of primary schools, by and large. During the years the local improvement scheme has been of huge importance to families living in rural communities and needs to be funded adequately to bring laneways and non-public roads up to a proper standard. We want to ensure those who wish to remain living in rural communities will not be denied that opportunity. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State to, please, use his good offices to ensure a substantial increase in the funding for the programme in 2020. I again thank him for attending.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I thank the Senator. The local improvement scheme, or the LIS as it is affectionately known, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas. The scheme is funded by my Department and administered through the local authorities. There was no dedicated funding for the scheme for a number of years owing to constraints on public expenditure. However, I was very conscious of the underlying demand for the scheme in rural areas throughout the country and it was reinstated in 2017. The Department has since allocated over €48 million to local authorities for LIS roads across the country, including €10 million earlier this year. Since 2017 over 1,600 projects have been completed with this funding. The LIS is clearly very popular and I know that it is greatly appreciated by the people who use the roads in question on a daily basis. The works carried out not only improve access for the people who live on these roads but they also improve access for service providers, including the emergency services. Projects prioritised by the local authority can also lead to important community amenities such as graveyards, beaches, piers and heritage sites.

It is clear that there is a continuing demand for LIS funding in rural communities across Ireland. I am pleased that we have again secured €10 million for the scheme in 2020. However, I also want to review the scheme to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible for those who use the roads in question on a daily basis. There are wide variations in the cost of completing works across local authorities. I am also concerned by the pace at which the local authorities are completing works. Of the €10 million allocated to local authorities under the LIS this year, only €3.4 million has been paid out to date in the completion of works.

We are committed to continuing to support rural communities in 2020 under the LIS and the Minister intends to announce a new round of funding next year. However, I also want to ensure we are getting the best value for money in funding the scheme and for the people who live and work along these roads who have to make a contribution towards the cost. The exact level of funding to be provided for each local authority will be confirmed when the 2020 scheme is announced.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It is welcome that he has secured €10 million for the scheme next year. However, a multiple of that figure is required, unfortunately. I am concerned that the Minister of State has said only €3.4 million has been paid out to date this year in the completion of works. Is that correct?

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I am most familiar with the position in Cavan and Monaghan and surrounding counties. My understanding is the local authorities in these counties have used their full allocations. Is there a delay in the Department in paying out the money and, if so, is it deliberate?I would like the Minister of State to examine the matter because in both counties all the money has been spent and they could do with at least ten times more, which they would use.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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To clarify, in 2019, Cavan received €269,254, which it has drawn down in full, while Monaghan received €250,000, of which it has drawn down nil. The Senator mentioned Wexford, for which €329,878 was allocated but it has drawn down nothing. While it will probably be drawn down before the end of the year, there is a wide variation in the cost of laying a road per metre within local authorities and we have to streamline it. I agree that it is a fantastic scheme and I believe in it wholeheartedly, as does the Minister, Deputy Ring.

The Senator noted that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport funded the scheme at one stage. At the Department of Rural and Community Development, we fund the scheme to the best of our ability. In 2019, we gave €10 million; in 2018, €20.8 million; and in 2017, €17.53 million. In total, €48 million has been given from our Department and not a stitch has come from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for the scheme. Other Departments will have to come up to the mark in respect of roads. I would welcome if people made contact with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure we will secure more funding. The reason there is so large a backlog is that for seven or eight years, there was no scheme and the queue of roads built up in every county, as I am acutely aware in Galway East and wider County Galway. When a road is completed, it can make a major, positive impact in the community.