Tuesday, 26 April 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Community Development Projects
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. My Commencement matter relates to the rural community development scheme in terms of supports for town and village renewal. I note at the outset that it was a highly successful scheme, particularly around Covid-19 and post Covid, in terms of the challenges for rural communities and bringing them on. Supports for the town and village renewal schemes were very welcome indeed. The town and village renewal scheme was funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development as part of a package of the Government's national and local support measures to rejuvenate towns and villages.
As I said at the outset, it has been a very successful scheme. While I acknowledge the Government would like to give more money, it is not always possible. In recent times, however, the scheme has placed great emphasis on projects that support and encourage remote working and enhance town living. That is a really important part of all of that.
When we look back at the funding over the past two years, I am quite impressed by the fact that it links into Ireland's policy document, Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025, which is also critically important. That is Government policy and I wish to acknowledge that it is really progressive Government policy. It is about the sustainable development of our communities and supporting our community stakeholders in enhancing their rural and urban communities. The maximum grants were increased to €500,000 to allow for bigger projects, as well as early buy-in for those projects.
This is the real key issue I will ask the Minister of State about today. This scheme is advertised on the Department's website, which suggests that it will be open for submissions at the end of April - this is timely because we are now heading towards the end of April - and that the scheme will close June. While that may have changed since, that is what was on the website in the last few minutes before I came into the Chamber. It is timely that I should ask the Minister of State about the Government's intentions for the scheme and how we can engage and encourage people. I do not think we need to encourage too many people. We know many people in the communities want to avail of this scheme. We know the importance of people needing the support to stay and work in their own communities. We have seen the enormous benefit, particularly post Covid, for people who want to co-work or work part-time in their offices. We have seen the benefits of community hubs and there need to be more of them. People do not want to work in isolation; they want to work with some support and with some connectivity but they also want to be involved in meaningful childcare and community participation.
This scheme, therefore, has many benefits but particularly in terms of urban rejuvenation and the structures within communities. I would be very interested if the Minister of State could provide a rough outline of the vision and plan for the scheme going forward this year and of the timelines for the opening for applications.
I thank Senator Boyhan for his remarks and for raising this issue. I also congratulate Senator Clonan on his recent election to this House. I wish him well.
On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, I thank the Senator for raising the matter. The town and village renewal scheme aims to assist with the rejuvenation of rural towns and villages throughout Ireland, making them more attractive places to live, work and visit. It is one of a range of schemes implemented by the Minister for Rural and Community Development as part of her Department's rural development investment programme in line with the commitment contained in the Government's five-year rural development policy, Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025. The 2021 town and village renewal scheme was refocused with provision for the purchase of vacant properties. Priority was given to projects that bring vacant and derelict buildings and sites back to use as multipurpose spaces or remote working hubs or for residential occupancy or both. The Minister recently announced funding of almost €18.5 million for 99 projects under the 2021 scheme. This includes 28 remote working projects, the majority of which seek to bring vacant and derelict buildings and sites back into use. For the 2021 scheme, the Minister also announced an additional measure, namely, the project development measure, which provides funding of up to €50,000 to local authorities to assist them by contributing to a pipeline of significant, well-developed projects that might progress to construction stage, subject to the availability of further funding. The Minister also increased the scale of projects eligible under the 2021 scheme, with funding of up to €500,000 made available. I am happy to confirm she has secured increased funding for a range of rural development schemes implemented by her Department in 2022, including an additional €2 million for the town and village renewal scheme. Officials are working to finalise the town and village renewal scheme for 2022. While the details are still being finalised, there is no doubt that the scheme will again prioritise projects that bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use and promote residential occupancy in town centres. The Minister will announce details of the 2022 scheme shortly, with a view to announcing successful applications by the end of the year.
In addition to these developments regarding the town and village renewal scheme, the town centre first policy framework was launched by the Minister and the Ministers of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputies Peter Burke and Noonan, earlier this year. This policy is a major new cross-governmental strategy that aims to breathe new life into towns and villages and make them better places to live, work and raise a family. It contains a range of targeted actions and is underpinned by a number of funding schemes such as the town and village renewal scheme to ensure it will help deliver on the Government's future vision for rural Ireland, as outlined in Our Rural Future. I am confident the forthcoming opening of the 2022 town and village renewal scheme will continue its track record of delivering benefits in towns and villages throughout Ireland.
I thank the Minister of State for his response, which was hunky-dory and nice, but I reiterate the departmental website today indicates this scheme is to be launched at the end of April, so he might ask the relevant Minister or officials to change that. It states it will close in June, but clearly there will be a later start and a later close. People plan and wish to get on with these important pieces of work.
I reiterate that I am very supportive of the scheme and acknowledge the Government would like to give it more money than it has. It is an impetus and an important source of funding, so I thank the Minister of State for his response. Perhaps he might give some more details in his concluding remarks.
The Minister of State referred to the local authorities and the new and additional project development measure in the scheme. He talked about providing €50,000 to local authorities but, as he will be aware, there are 31 local authorities. Was he referring to all 31 local authorities? I ask the Minister of State to revert in the coming days with some details on the exact sum. Will it be paid equally to each of the 31 local authorities or are certain local authorities being selected over other ones? We need greater clarity in the ministerial response to that matter.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for providing this important information.
I can clarify that the €50,000 is allocated per project and can be spread across any number of local authorities. One project, therefore, can avail of up to €50,000. As an example, in my constituency, Limerick County, a proposal to refurbish the de Valera museum in Bruree received €50,000 to allow it to appoint a design team to take the project forward. Local authorities can apply under that scheme for sums of up to €50,000 per project.
I will convey the Senator's comments regarding the website to the Minister and her Department. I agree we should get these schemes opened as soon as possible and afford local authorities and stakeholders the opportunity to apply as soon as possible. They are great schemes, as we have all seen. I have a list of them to hand. We all know, from our constituencies and counties, that they have contributed a great deal to regenerating rural Ireland.