Seanad debates

Friday, 6 November 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Local Improvement Scheme

9:30 am

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. I thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to attend.

I would like to talk about the local improvements scheme, LIS. LIS funding provides works for small roads and laneways in rural Ireland that do not come under the normal maintenance performed by local authorities. These lanes are used to access people's homes, farms and businesses. They also allow people to access local attractions such as lakes, rivers, parks and so on.

The previous Government allocated €10 million in both 2019 and 2020 for the LIS. Unfortunately, as the Minister of State will be well aware, the funding is totally inadequate. The funding for my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan means that each county got approximately €250,000, which I am disappointed to say that is totally inadequate based on the number of people who are waiting to get lanes done.

Previous Ministers have referred applicants to local authorities for discretionary funding but they do not have the luxury of discretionary funding because the road budgets for local and regional roads have been cut year-on-year. Discretionary funding simply does not arise. This has reached the stage where funds must be ring-fenced for the LIS. We need a decent amount that will go some way to addressing the long waiting lists in every county, and I am sure the Minister of State's county is no different in that regard.

These lanes are used to access at homes, business and local amenities. At the moment there is much talk of rural regeneration, which is positive, even more so now because of Covid-19 where people have been forced to work from home. Many businesses have discovered that people can work from home without having a negative effect on the business or, indeed, the employer. One basic right for anyone is to access one's home or business on a private laneway but access is a serious problem. I have heard of stories of emergency vehicles being unable to access their destinations because the local roads were in such bad condition.

I plead with the Minister of State to use her good offices to impress on Government the need for us to return to the way this scheme used to operate where X amount was allocated each year for the LIS. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding down through the years, the lists have become very long and if one lives in counties Monaghan or Cavan one might have to wait up to 15 years to get a lane done, which is crazy. I ask her to send a positive signal to rural Ireland and inform us that the Government will take the LIS and the people who live along these roads seriously by allocating a decent amount to address the long waiting lists for the scheme.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this important scheme. We are all familiar with the scheme in our constituencies. I am responding to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Heather Humphreys, as she is unable to attend.

As the Senator rightly said, the local improvement scheme is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas that are not under the normal maintenance of the local authorities. The scheme is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and is administered through the local authorities.

The statutory basis for the LIS is set out in section 81 of the Local Government Act 2001. Since the LIS was relaunched in its own right in 2017, which we all welcomed at the time, more than €58 million has been allocated to local authorities for improvements work on approximately 2,350 roads. The scheme is important to many people in rural areas as these roads provide access to agricultural lands, homes and amenities such as graveyards and beaches.

The Department of Rural and Community Development provides an allocation of funding each year to the local authorities for work on LIS roads. The selection of roads to be funded under the scheme is then a matter for each local authority based on the priority or condition of particular small private or non-public roads in their county. The local authority may rely on existing lists of eligible roads and-or advertise for new applicant roads.

As outlined in the legislation, eligible road projects are those that provide access to parcels of land involving two or more persons engaged in separate agricultural or harvesting activities, including turf or seaweed. Applicants should provide documentation to verify that they are engaged in agricultural or harvesting activities on the parcel of land. This can be a herd or flock number, documents from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or any other equivalent documentation. The onus is on the individual applicants to submit to their local authority the required documentation in support of their eligibility.

As the Senator will be aware, individual applicants make a contribution towards the roads project. This can vary from 10% to 15% depending on how many beneficiaries are on the particular road. This contribution was capped at €1,200 for 2020 but the majority of beneficiary contributions were well below the figure. Works can also be carried out on amenity roads, which are non-public roads that lead to important community amenities such as graveyards, beaches, piers, mountain access points and other tourism or heritage sites.

To get to the nub of the Senator's question, an allocation of €10 million was made available for 2020 for the LIS. I understand that most works under the scheme have now been completed. The Minister expects a full drawdown of the 2020 allocation by year-end and that 345 roads will have had works completed.

Recognising the value of the scheme for people living in rural Ireland, the Minister is pleased to note that there will be an increase in the allocation for the LIS in budget 2021. Funding for the scheme next year will increase by 5% to €10.5 million. The distribution of this funding to each of the relevant local authorities will be announced early next year when the scheme is formally launched by my colleague.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for her response on behalf of the relevant line Minister.

I welcome the additional funding because any day one gets additional funding is a good day. Nevertheless, I am disappointed because the amount of funding being talked about is totally inadequate. For example, in my own county of Monaghan, and in many others, it is not possible for people to put their lanes on a list because the local authority has closed the list because the list so long and it does not have funding to do the work.Unless and until the Government changes its thinking on this issue, many people will be waiting 15 years or longer to get lanes done and this is not the situation to be in at present. I welcome the comments on behalf of the Minister but more funding is needed so the long lists of local authority lanes that need to be done are done.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for his comments and for welcoming the additional funding. I agree that the scheme is well oversubscribed. I know from my local authority area that it is a hugely successful scheme and it is a great opportunity for people and landowners to work in co-operation with local authorities to improve poor access roads to amenities such as beaches and piers. I will speak to the Minister directly and I will raise the Senator's concerns. He acknowledged that the funding has been increased by 5%. This is a significant opportunity for all local authorities to improve very poor roads and road access for people, particularly those who are farming. I will certainly come back to the Senator on this.