Thursday, 16 February 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Finucane: I have raised this matter because Dromcollogher is an expanding community and I am aware of the housing implications of potential developments and an existing housing development there. Public-private partnerships are filling a vacuum regarding sewerage facilities. If a developer moves into a small village and decides to expand the scheme to embrace the village community a certain proportion of his or her costs are paid. It may not be suitable in all cases and a larger community, such as Dromcollogher, requires a dedicated sewerage scheme.
In 1998, Limerick County Council requested permission to employ consultants for a preliminary report. The Department did not approve it at the time as Dromcollogher was number 16 on its priority listing. The scheme was not eligible for the 2000-02 programme or the subsequent programme. I am aware it was scheduled for the 2004-06 period but, to date, I am unsure of what progress has been made as it was bundled with other sewerage developments. I hope the Minister of State can indicate the status of the project, suggest when it will go through the required programme and indicate the likely target date for commencement, thereby allowing us to calculate a timeframe for conclusion.
This will give some degree of optimism to the community as I recognise many other sewerage schemes, perhaps 22, are awaiting approval and are caught in the logjam of the current programme. No tangible construction phase has taken place and the sharing of information between the council and the Department must be examined.
Speaking on radio, a Fianna Fáil councillor was critical of the impediment sewerage schemes present to the development of housing. I agree with him but he placed much blame on the local authority and I am not sure this is correct. Progress is difficult considering the lengthy sequence of events that must be followed from the initial stages of a project to the commencement of work. I hope the Minister of State will give some indication when progress will be made on the sewerage scheme in Dromcollogher.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern): Senator Finucane understands the history of this case. My Department is continuing to promote investment under the national development plan for the provision of modern environmental infrastructure to support social and economic objectives. Last December the Department published the Water Services Investment Programme 2005-07, consisting of almost 900 water and sewerage schemes at different stages of development.
The programme includes funding for more than 20 schemes throughout Limerick, with a value of approximately €158 million. Towns and villages like Adare, Patrickswell, Athea, Askeaton, Foynes, Glin, Shanagolden and Kilmallock 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 Dromcollogher sewerage scheme, which is being advanced as a grouped project with schemes at Hospital, Pallasgreen and Bruff. This substantial project, with an estimated cost of more than €10 million, will provide new and upgraded sewage treatment and collection networks that will allow Dromcollogher and the other areas to develop their residential and commercial sectors in an environmentally-sustainable way.
Limerick County Council originally submitted a brief for the appointment of consultants to prepare a preliminary report for the Dromcollogher scheme in June 1998, as Senator Finucane stated. The Department requested the council to submit an economic and environmental assessment of the scheme in July 1998 but this was not received. As a result, the proposal advanced no further at that stage.
The scheme was 16th on the list of water and sewerage schemes submitted by the council in February 2000 in response to my Department’s request to local authorities to undertake fresh assessments of the needs for capital works in their areas and to prioritise their proposals on the basis of the assessments. The priority lists were taken into account in the framing of the Water Services Investment Programme 2000-02 announced in July 2000. Given the priority rating afforded to the scheme by the council, the level of competing demand, and the funding available, it was not possible to include the scheme in that programme. However, the scheme was approved in a later phase of programme published in May 2004, after the council revised its priority list and upped the ranking of the Dromcollogher scheme to sixth place. A revised brief for the appointment of consultants to prepare a preliminary report for the grouped project that the council subsequently submitted to the Department in April 2005 was approved in June 2005. I understand that Limerick County Council is finalising the arrangements for the appointment of the consultants for the project and that it will shortly be submitting the selected consultant’s fee proposals and an economic assessment of the scheme to my Department for approval.
The Department dealt promptly with all aspects of the scheme when they were submitted for approval. I have noted the case the Senator has made for the scheme to move ahead quickly and he can rest assured that the Department will give it the earliest possible attention when the proposals needed to advance it are received from the council. The Department understands that will happen soon.
Action is being taken. I note what the Senator stated regarding the number of projects on the list. Various Members of both Houses discuss delays on projects. However, the money is being spent and progress is being made. If the Senator at any time feels that delays are caused within the Department, he should let someone in the Department know. A recent departmental circular stated that projects of less than €5 million would be subject to a fast-track streamlined system. This is a larger project which covers more than Dromcollogher and so it must go through a more rigorous process.
The Department reacts as quickly as possible. Sometimes we get blamed and sometimes we are responsible. However, on other occasions the delay is at county council level. I understand this project is due to be received soon and I hope we can progress it as quickly as possible. If Senator Finucane feels the Department is causing a delay at any stage, he should let me or the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, know.
Mr. Finucane: I thank the Minister of State. It is regrettable that no reason was given for the economic assessment requested from the council in July 1998 not having been received. I do not know why the council did not acknowledge it. In his reply the Minister of State mentioned June 2005 regarding that economic assessment. It is a pity he did not receive that economic assessment a long time ago.
The Minister of State stated the Department responds fairly rapidly. There appears to be a logjam at local authority level. I do not know whether it is the scale involved. Subsequent to initial approval of projects, the Department must revise everything again. Does the Minister for State know whether this project is grouped with Pallasgreen and Oola or two other locations?
Mr. Finucane: I thank the Cathaoirleach for his latitude. Some sewerage schemes began as stand-alone projects. Afterwards, because of economics, local authorities decided to group them with projects in other areas. The Department had to reinvent the wheel in many cases and change everything. That accounts for many delays.
Mr. N. Ahern: Yes. I do not suggest that everything comes out of the Department on housing or waste water in the same week as it is received. However, if the Senator can identify where the logjam is, he should by all means let us know. This case was way down the priority list. That may have been revised over the years because of pressure at local level. For good or bad, attempts are made to group projects and take them on a regional basis. When the Department receives notification of this project, I will discuss it with officials and try to push it along.
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