Wednesday, 25 May 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Brennan: I have come into this House in the past to express gratitude to the Government and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for the amount of money invested in the Water Services Investment Programme 2004-06.
Kilmallock, County Limerick, is a typical town. It is the major town in south Limerick, has a development plan in place and its existing services are at capacity. The development association, working on behalf of the community, has expressed concern regarding future services in the town.
A public meeting was held in the town recently and concern was expressed about the promised sewerage scheme . If one wishes to ascertain the stage of development of a sewerage scheme in the county, one must make two telephone calls, one to the county council and the other to the Department. Limerick County Council informed me that the issue has been with the Department since 24 January.
I ask the Minister to tell the House when Limerick County Council will be in a position to prepare tender documents for the scheme; to give a broad outline of the procedure from this point on; and tell us when we can expect to see the scheme come to fruition. Will the scheme be completed in 2005?
Mr. Finucane: Both Senator Brennan and I attended a meeting in Kilmallock last Monday, organised by the Kilmallock Association of Trade and Commerce. At that meeting the members of the association outlined their frustration at the ongoing delay in the start of the much-needed Kilmallock sewerage scheme. Their frustration is justified because of the conflicting information received from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as to the proposed start-up date. On 31 July 2003 the then Minister, Deputy Cullen, indicated that the scheme would commence in 2004. There was understandable disappointment that the target date was not achieved. Recently, the current Minister, Deputy Roche, indicated that the scheme would commence in 2005 and that he would monitor developments to ensure that this will happen.
I ask the Minister how sustainable this projected date is, given that Limerick County Council’s brief was received by his Department on 24 January 2005. Why is it taking so long? It is now over four months since his Department received the required information. How long will it take the Department to complete the process? We must bear in mind that when the Department approves the brief, Limerick County Council will have to prepare contract documents and submit them to the Department for approval. Does the Minister believe that the target commencement date of 2005 will be achieved?
The people of Kilmallock are upset over the long delay in the commencement of the scheme. Can the Minister give a realistic date as to when the scheme will start? The people of Kilmallock deserve to know because it is very important for the development of their town. The existing sewerage scheme is over 50 years old and because of its inadequacies, growth in the town is being stifled. There are developers who want to build in Kilmallock but there is genuine concern that the town will not grow to its full potential unless this much needed sewerage development, costing more than €9, proceeds soon. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
The provision of modern environmental infrastructure to support social and economic objectives has been a major focus of Government spending over the last number of years. I am glad to confirm that Kilmallock is set to gain a new sewerage scheme as part of the drive to upgrade our national infrastructure.
The unprecedented investment in new water and sewerage facilities under the national development plan has made a key contribution to economic growth and has benefited many parts of the country. Limerick is no exception. The Government has allocated €143 million for new schemes under the latest phase of my Department’s water services investment programme. Last year saw the opening of the multi-million euro Limerick main drainage scheme, a project that has copper-fastened Limerick’s ability to continue to attract inward investment, to provide jobs and to function as the major commercial centre in the mid-west.
My Department’s water services investment programme includes funding for more than 20 locations throughout County Limerick, where planning of new infrastructure is moving
ahead rapidly. Towns and villages like Adare, Patrickswell, Athea, Askeaton, Foynes,
Shanagolden and Glin can all look forward to new sewerage schemes. Many areas will also benefit from improved water supplies from the major upgrade planned for the Clareville water treatment plant, improvements to the Shannon estuary water supply scheme and extensions of the Limerick county trunk water mains.
Funding has also been set aside in the water services investment programme for the Kilmallock sewerage scheme. Costing more than €9 million, it has been assigned construction status in the programme and can go to tender immediately, once the necessary preliminaries have been completed. Limerick County Council’s preliminary report for the scheme has already been approved by my Department. The brief the council subsequently produced for the appointment of consultants to draw up contract documents for the scheme is currently under examination in the Department and we are in ongoing consultation with the council about it.
I understand that the Department’s examination will be concluded shortly. I will relay to my officials the concerns expressed by both Senators. When the brief is approved, the council will be in a position to proceed with the appointment of the consultants and preparation of the contract documents. How long the contract documents take is a matter for the council and its consultants, but given the complexities involved, it could take several months. Tender advertisements and award of contract will follow on that.
I am conscious of the strong case the Senators have made for getting this scheme started quickly. As far as my Department is concerned, we will do everything possible to avoid unnecessary delay and no doubt Limerick County Council will do likewise. The necessary funding has been allocated for the scheme in the water services investment programme and that money will be available for drawdown by the council as soon as the work can start on the ground. In the meantime, it is important for my Department and the council to push through the intervening stages as quickly as possible.
Mr. Dooley: I thank the Minister for his presence in the House to discuss the issue of a sewerage scheme for Scariff, Feakle and Quilty. This matter has been under discussion between Clare County Council and his Department for a considerable number of years. The various reports have been presented at the relevant stages, but unfortunately we still do not have a start date for the project.
The Minister is aware there were some complications with the project, particularly with regard to the necessity to receive a foreshore licence on the Quilty side of the scheme. Unfortunately, this has protracted the development of the scheme. The situation is now causing significant problems in the villages concerned and the lack of development is destroying potential. The lack of facilities creates a greater difficulty for people who want to live in the area. It also creates planning concerns under Government and council development plan policy because people brought up in the town are unable to get planning permission for rural areas.
The difficulty is that there is no housing available in the towns, particularly in Scariff. I am aware, because I have been working with two young couples about to marry, that people are not able to get planning permission in surrounding areas because they are not from those townlands, yet there is no housing available in their town. It is unreal and unbelievable that a couple starting out cannot get a home. If these sewerage schemes were progressed, they would resolve this problem.
The development of the sewerage schemes would also resolve the issue of one-off rural housing about which we hear so much. People want to live in the countryside, but they would be happy to live in villages and towns if planning permission was available to allow development. However, because of the lack of infrastructural facilities in places like Feakle, Scariff and Quilty, the council will not give planning permission to schemes where the developer has already purchased land and is ready to commence. These schemes which would provide much needed housing cannot get the go ahead.
The situation is now reaching crisis point in these villages. Many of the people who want to live in the area must move 25 miles or more to find suitable housing in areas where there are sewerage schemes in place. I urge the Minister to expedite, however he can, the sewerage schemes for these villages. I have discussed the issue with the Minister in the past and I am aware there were complications. However, we need to find some way to fast track these schemes. It is not good enough for the council to pass the buck to the Department and for the Department to pass it back to the council. There must be a method to deal with the situation. Although the Minister is not long in the Department, he has shown an aggressive attitude in dealing with bureaucracy. I urge him to use that same vigour and zeal to deliver this project.
Mr. Daly: I thank Senator Dooley for the opportunity to become involved in this short debate. In the discussion we had earlier on Sellafield there was a mention of iodine tablets. Unless we get some good news about the Quilty aspect of this scheme, I will need something stronger than iodine tablets before I travel to west Clare at the weekend.
This scheme has been driving the people of Quilty and Mullagh crazy. It has been planned and talked about for 20 years. It was understood for a long time that sufficient funding was not available to undertake such schemes. However, what has really frustrated people is that they know that sums of up to €30 million or €40 million were left unspent in the Department budget for schemes such as these.
I would be quite happy to meet the local community at any time if it was the case that the plans were ready for the scheme but we could not go ahead with it because there was no money. The people would accept, believe and understand that. However, they cannot accept a situation where the money is available yet they have been waiting 20 years or more for a scheme because of bureaucracy, delays and the fear another Department had for the prospects of the Greenland white-fronted goose.
The Greenland goose comes to Mutton Island which is adjacent to Quilty and the fear was that the outfall might in some way damage the goose. The fact is that the local community is damaged for the lack of this scheme. The Greenland goose will survive. It has survived for a million years, and I am sure it will last a bit longer. Will the Minister please use his influence with his engineers, officials and Clare County Council to get this scheme moving without further delay, before we need strong medication to put up with the existing local frustration?
Mr. Roche: I will bear that last point in mind and do everything that I can, both for the Greenland goose and the people of Quilty. Before making my official response I wish to point out that the issue currently delaying the scheme is that the Department is waiting for material from the county council, material that was requested in February. I take the point made by both Senators about the need to avoid excessive bureaucracy.
I thank both Senators for raising this matter. These schemes are being advanced as part of the €4.4 billion expenditure package in the national development plan. I am anxious to spend that money. Senator Daly is right that the situation is frustrating. I must knock on the door of the Minister for Finance to ask for resources, but when I have resources left over it is difficult to move the programme forward. Last May, my Department published the water services investment programme. The total allocated to County Clare under this latest phase is €194 million for new water and sewerage schemes for some 40 towns and villages, an extraordinary amount which is the highest figure that any Government has ever allocated to County Clare. I am anxious that we spend that money, but I have a responsibility to ensure we get value for money and mind the taxpayers money.
The investment programme includes major sewerage projects for Ennis-Clarecastle as well as Ballyvaughan, Corofin, Doolin, Kilkee, Kilrush, Carrigaholt, Labasheeda, Cooraclare, Shannon town, Broadford, Ennistymon, Liscannor,
Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point. It also includes water supply schemes for Ennis,
Newmarket-on-Fergus, Ballyvaughan and the west Clare regional scheme. 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 locations around the county, including Gillogue, Clarecastle, Clonlara and Tulla.
It is clear from this that a large number of towns and villages in Clare will directly benefit from the drive to bring our water and sewerage infrastructure up to a modern standard. I am pleased to say that Scariff, Feakle and Quilty-Mullagh are part of that positive picture. The sewerage schemes for these towns are being procured as a grouped project which has been approved for construction status under the water services investment programme.
My Department received contract documents for the project from Clare County Council last November. While the contract documents have been examined, the Department cannot complete its assessment until additional information and documentation subsequently requested from the council in February comes to hand. The main item outstanding is an up-to-date water services pricing policy report, often referred to as a polluter pays report. The council needs to certify that all aspects of planning, including the acquisition of a foreshore licence for the Quilty element of the project, have been completed. I understand that all such aspects have been finished. The pricing policy report will be a key factor in helping my Department to complete its examination of the contract documents. The report will identify the proportion of the overall capital cost that relates to providing sewerage services for the existing domestic population in each location and the additional cost attributable to existing and future commercial activity.
Under the pricing policy framework, the Exchequer funds the domestic share of the scheme. The local authority has to raise the balance of the capital from non-domestic consumers. The pricing report will identify the unit cost of servicing each existing household. To demonstrate that the proposed piped collection system and new treatment plant is an economic solution, the unit cost figure will need to compare reasonably well with the cost of installing a single house treatment system. We cannot avoid this value-for-money process if we want to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being spent properly. The House will appreciate the importance of achieving value for Exchequer moneys. We are the custodians of the taxpayers’ resources.
When pursuing sewerage schemes of this nature, the Department has to take account of the economics of the scheme as a whole, the justification for individual components of it and the need to phase some of the works to take account of current needs and potential future demand. The council must be satisfied that it can finance a scheme’s non-domestic component by collecting capital contributions from existing non-domestic consumers and future developers.
The pricing policy report in this instance, which is awaited from Clare County Council, will bring clarity to these issues as they relate to the Scarriff, Feakle, Quilty and Mullagh scheme. The report will allow the Department to finalise its examination of the contract documents, which will then be used as the basis for tender invitations.
I have listened carefully and taken note of the points made by the Senators this evening. As both Senators said, I have no time for excessive bureaucracy. I would like as many as possible of the outstanding issues to be ironed out. I sometimes wonder why it is necessary to write lengthy letters which are passed back and forth through the mail. People could deal with things much more expeditiously by using the telephone and e-mail.
I am anxious that construction of the scheme should start as quickly as possible. I assure the Senators that there will be no avoidable delay on the part of the Department when the outstanding material that is awaited from the council has been received. If the Senators bring this debate to the attention of the council and inform me of the response they receive, I will do everything I can to make progress as quickly as possible.
Mr. Dooley: I thank the Minister for his clarification. It is clear from his extensive and detailed reply that a number of steps have yet to be taken. Some further information has to be provided by the council, for example. When that step has been taken, there will be negotiations between the Department and the council to decide who will pay for the various elements of the scheme. I ask the Minister to intervene personally in this case, in light of the length of time for which it has been under discussion. That is the only way to address the serious social problems I mentioned. Some individuals cannot purchase or obtain homes, for example. The Minister’s offices should intervene to ensure that progress is made.
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