Wednesday, 11 February 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Higgins: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter and I apologise for my absence last week when I was listed to discuss it. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, for coming to the House to reply.
I thank the previous Minister for the Environment and Local Government for delivering a long overdue state-of-the-art sewerage scheme to Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, of which I am a native. For years, the local river, the Claredalgan, which is a feeder of the River Corrib, was badly polluted and one of the main culprits was the local authority, as is often the case in such circumstances. The policeman in this case was the main offender. Unfortunately, the other main offender for a period was a local meat factory, which now has its operation in order.
We now have a new sewerage scheme in the process of completion — I thank the previous Minister and the Government for approving the necessary finance for it — to which I seek a modest extension. With the contractors on site, the necessary work could be done more expeditiously and economically than in the future. Essentially, I am seeking an extension to what is known as the Knock Road.
Development in Ballyhaunis is considerably constrained by virtue of the fact that the town is located on the intersection of two national roads and, as everybody is aware, one cannot easily obtain planning permission for one-off houses on national primary or secondary roads. The development of the town has been significantly constrained as a result.
The road in question is a regional road linking Ballyhaunis and Knock. It has had a high density of building in recent years but each of the houses in question is serviced by a septic tank. In this day and age, this is not the ideal solution and, as a result, those wishing to build on the road are encountering considerable restrictions. As I stated, it is one of few roads in Ballyhaunis which could be developed without encountering difficulties with regard to one-off housing.
In addition, a number of small roads which lead off the road in question would be ideal locations for clusters of houses. The area is a prime location for development but because of the difficulties with regard to sewerage facilities and the proliferation of septic tanks, all development on the road, and consequently the town, will stop.
The current position is that Mayo County Council has completed a design for the scheme, negotiated with the contractor, and has received an attractive tender price. The matter is now with the Department but, unfortunately, particularly given that the contractors are about to terminate phase one of the project, the scheme has not received the necessary approval.
Ballyhaunis is ideally located in the centre of Connacht, some 40 miles from Sligo, Galway, Carrick-on-Shannon, Westport and Athlone. I plead with the Minister of State for a satisfactory response to the case I have made.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern): I thank Senator Higgins for raising this issue which arises in the context of the major investment being made by the Department in improving water services infrastructure throughout the country under the national development plan. As the Senator admitted, Ballyhaunis is among the many locations to have benefited from this investment.
Last August, the water services investment programme, 2003-2005, was published consisting of more than 700 schemes at different stages of development. With a total investment value of more than €5 billion, it is the most significant milestone yet in the push to bring our water services infrastructure up to a world standard.
The total allocated to County Mayo under the latest phase of water services programme amounts to slightly more than €300 million, extending to some 40 individual schemes. The programme includes major sewerage projects for Knock, Castlebar, Ballina, Kiltimagh, Killala, Achill Sound, Belmullet and Foxford. It also contains large water supply improvements for Ballyhaunis, Balla, Achill, Ballina, Crossmolina, Glenamoy, Kilmaine, Shrule, Westport and Louisburgh and new waste water treatment schemes have recently been completed in Westport and Crossmolina. Funding has also been provided under the serviced land initiative to bring additional residential sites on stream as rapidly as possible to meet housing needs at a number of key locations around the county.
It is clear, therefore, that a large number of towns and villages in County Mayo are directly benefiting from the drive to bring our water and sewerage infrastructure up to a modern standard. Ballyhaunis, in particular, is a prime example. The town now has a fully up-to-date waste water system, including a new treatment plant and refurbished waste water collection network, completed at a cost of more than €7 million.
The Department's current water services programme includes two further schemes to improve water supply in the town. The first of these is a €30 million extension of the Lough Mask regional water supply scheme to serve Knock and Ballyhaunis. The Ballyhaunis town water scheme, costing more than €11 million, includes a new reservoir for the town and a comprehensive upgrade of the water distribution system. Both schemes are expected to be in operation in the near future. Combined with the new sewerage scheme, these projects will greatly enhance Ballyhaunis's ability to compete for and deal with development opportunities.
Last year, my Department received an application from Mayo County Council for funding under the water services programme for a sewer extension on the Knock Road at Derrymore. This is the proposal to which the Senator refers and would involve constructing the sewer extension in conjunction with a pipe laying contract under the Ballyhaunis town water scheme to provide sewerage services to a number of houses currently using septic tanks. The application was given careful examination in the Department following receipt of all necessary details from the council. Unfortunately, it transpired that the unit cost of servicing existing and planned houses in the area concerned could not be regarded as an economic or sustainable solution in the context of overall national investment priorities under the water services programme.
Mayo County Council was informed of the position by the Department last October. The Department also pointed out to the council at the time that it was open to it to consider funding the proposal from its own resources, with or without contributions from the individual householders, or under the serviced land initiative if it believed the sewer extension could be used to service potential future development along the proposed pipeline route.
In the case of the serviced land initiative, 40% of the funding would be available from the Department, with the balance of the cost having to be met by prospective developers. Another option would be for the council to finance the proposal from its annual block grant allocation from the Department under the small schemes programme, in which responsibility for determining local priorities is devolved to the local authorities.
I understand a response to the Department's communication was received from Mayo County Council yesterday afternoon. Any new or additional information contained in the council's reply will be carefully considered by the Department and there will be no delay in conveying a decision back to it.
The Senator stated a good tender price had been received for the scheme. The figure was more than €250,000, which would make unit costs per house approximately double the normal target figure. This is not, however, written in stone. I am aware that planning permission has been granted for a couple of other houses on the road in question. If these were included in the pot, it could reduce the unit price a little. The current position, however, is that the unit price is double the normal target level and this will cause a difficulty, unless it is possible to raise some of the required funding from some of the developers or potential other developments on the road in question.
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