Tuesday, 15 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
331. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his Department’s position in relation to funding for local authority run swimming pools when such pools need refurbishment or need to be replaced; if it is within the remit of his Department to initiate legislation in order that local authorities can raise loans to carry out such work; if his Department has plans to implement private and public partnerships in regard to such work; if his Department has discussions with the Department of Finance in regard to such possible proposals; if so, the results of such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17166/04]
332. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the problems that local authorities are encountering in providing funding for the refurbishment or replacement of swimming pools, many of which originally were community based or initiated; the plans his Department has to overcome such shortfalls in funding; the mechanisms that are available to local authorities to obtain such funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17167/04]
333. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his Department has considered a private public partnership agreement in regard to the provision or refurbishment of local authority based swimming pools seeking capital sports grants; if he has had meetings with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or in regard to such proposals; if so, the results of such meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17155/04]
Private sector involvement in the local authority swimming pool programme, LASPP, is just one of a number of issues being considered in the context of an expenditure review of the programme, which is currently under way in my Department. This review is due to be completed later this year. The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government is represented on the expenditure review group.
At the moment, the various arrangements and accompanying guidelines in place for public private partnership, PPP, are geared towards major and complex capital projects with significant ongoing maintenance requirements, that is, projects having a capital cost of €20 million or more. The advice is that the PPP model should only be used where it is appropriate and where it can deliver value for money. Conversely, it would not be appropriate where the transaction costs of pursuing a PPP are disproportionate to the value of the project.
The policy framework for PPP schemes in the local government sector issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in November last, and implementing guidelines from the Department of Finance, are detailed and complex, in implementation terms. The scale of project costs in the LASPP are in the region of €8 million and would not be seen, therefore, as being of sufficiently high cost to justify the extra resources involved in pursuing a formal PPP approach. Indeed, the Department of Finance confirmed some time ago that there were several considerations which would militate against a PPP approach in this programme and that pool projects do not strictly comply with the definition of a viable PPP in terms of scale and optimal transfer of risk to the private sector.
Where local authorities require to raise loans, section 106 of the Local Government Act 2001, allows for borrowing of money by local authorities, subject to ministerial approval. In the case of borrowings in respect of local authority swimming pool projects, my Department seeks advice from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the ability of the relevant local authority to repay the loan.
It is important to bear in mind that the LASPP is merely a grant scheme and it is a matter for local authorities to devise funding and operational arrangements as they see fit, to complement the grant element. Experience shows that there is potential for private sector involvement in the provision and operation of local authority swimming pool facilities and many local authorities are exploring various ways of involving the private sector in their projects. From my Department’s perspective, there is no objection to the involvement of the private sector provided the generally accepted operational considerations of a public pool form part of the project.
The expenditure review of the LASPP, which is underway in my Department, will input into the formulation of future policy in this area. This review is examining, among other things, how the existing programme has worked to date, the benefits which have accrued where pools have been built and what changes, if any, are required to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of the programme.
334. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the assessment his Department has made in regard to swimming pools in the country in relation to refurbishment or replacement or the provision of new pools; the number of applications with his Department with regard to the provision of new pools; the number in regard to the replacement of existing pools; if there is a priority list in regard to such lists; if so, if such a list is available; the way in which it can be obtained; the effect which an area or town with designated RAPID status has on such assessments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17156/04]
Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue): My Department has commenced an expenditure review of the local authority swimming pool programme, the outcome of which will be used to assist in formulating future policy. This review is examining, among other things, how the programme has worked to date, the benefits which have accrued to areas where pools have been built and what amendments, if any, are required to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of the programme. It is hoped to have this review completed later this year.
The closing date for receipt of applications under the current round of the local authority swimming pool programme was 31 July 2000 and since then 55 applications have or are being dealt with under the programme. Of these applications, 17 are for new pools in greenfield sites, 24 for replacement pools and 14 for the refurbishment of existing pools.
Under the programme, there are four principal stages in the approval process of a swimming pool project: feasibility study-preliminary report, contract documents, tender and construction. Grant-aid is only approved when the tender is approved for a project and is at a grant rate of 80% of the eligible cost of the project. Projects developed in areas designated as disadvantaged, however, qualify for financial support at 90% subject, in both cases, to a maximum grant of €3.8 million.
Because of the long lead-time associated with swimming pool projects, it can take some time for projects to proceed through the various stages of development. Of the 55 projects: 13 swimming pool projects have been opened or have completed construction work; five projects are at construction phase; 37 other applications are at various stages in the process; four are at tender stage; 18 are at contract document stage; and 15 are at preliminary report stage.
Projects are considered on a case-by-case basis and consideration is given to such issues as to whether the area is classified as disadvantaged, the viability of the project, particularly in relation to operational and maintenance issues, overall funding package for the project, technical details, the number and geographical spread of projects within and between counties. The Department’s annual Estimates provision for the programme has a significant influence on the approval process.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Revitalising Areas through Planning, Investment and Development — RAPID — programme aims to target the most disadvantaged areas of the country for enhanced development. No additional funding has been set aside for the programme but rather these areas are prioritised for support within existing budgets.
335. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his Department had consultations with Kildare County Council in regard to the funding of the proposed works at Athy and Naas swimming pools; if his Department has committed funding for these works; the position regarding the application; if his Department has agreed with the design proposals in regard to both proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17157/04]
337. Mr. S. Power asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when funding will be provided to replace the existing swimming pool at Athy, County Kildare; when the project can proceed to tender stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17491/04]
Kildare County Council submitted to my Department the contract documents for the replacement of the swimming pools in both Athy and Naas. This documentation has been examined by my Department’s technical advisers, the Office of Public Works, and is now under consideration in my Department.
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