Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, for coming to the House this evening. I wish to raise the important matter of provision of a swimming pool and leisure complex in the Douglas area of Cork. This has been an ongoing struggle for the people of the area which requires political action at this stage. The best form of such action would be central funding from Government to provide for an upgraded version of the existing facility in Douglas.
Cork City Council has decided to retain the pool at its present site. It is a community asset which is in urgent need of an upgrade. An area the size of Douglas and its hinterland requires a modern, comprehensive sports facility to cater for the schools, clubs and ordinary citizens there. I suggest they could be best served by Government investment in upgraded recreational facilities at the Gus Healy pool.
Swimming is an activity which can be enjoyed by everybody, whether they are young or old, competitive or non-competitive in nature. It is important to recognise that currently, under the aegis of Cork City Council and managed by Leisureworld, the pool is open only on a limited basis, a restriction that is completely unacceptable to the schools and clubs using the facility. Given the significant growth in the Douglas area, the facility needs to be urgently upgraded.
The current Gus Healy pool, named after a member of the Minister of State’s party and a former Lord Mayor of Cork, has been in operation since the 1970s and outlived its intended lifespan. The people require a guarantee from Government that the facility will be modernised and supported by Government through funding. Cork City Council has repeatedly ticked the boxes in the provision of a site and has demonstrated a willingness to keep the pool in public ownership. It has voted to keep the pool at its current location and the people of the area require action.
With the re-opening of the local authority swimming pool programme, the former Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism gave a commitment to the people that the pool would be prioritised. We are now 12 months into the scheme and we need proof of commitment. I ask the Minister of State to give us good news tonight.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy John Browne): I thank Senator Jerry Buttimer for raising this issue and apologise for the absence of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Brennan, as he cannot be in the Chamber this evening. He will hold discussions with the Senator at a later stage.
The local authority swimming pool programme is administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. The programme provides grant aid towards the capital costs of new public swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing public swimming pools provided by local authorities or by other bodies where the application for capital funding is supported by the local authority. The current round of the programme closed to new applicants on July 2000. No application was received from Cork City Council for the Douglas swimming pool before that closing date.
The programme provides for maximum grant aid of €3.8 million per project. There are four principal stages which must be undertaken by a local authority in developing a swimming pool project, namely, a preliminary report, including feasibility study, contract documents, tender stage and construction stage. Local authorities may not proceed to the next stage of a project until prior approval issues from the Department. Grant aid is formally allocated when the tender is approved and the Department’s technical advisers, the Office of Public Works, evaluates each stage.
The policy since 2000 has been to give priority to the completion of the 57 projects within the round. Of these 57 projects, 29 have been completed and 14 are under construction or about to start construction, all of which have been grant aided. Some 14 other projects are at various stages of the programme, with three at tender stage, seven at contract documents stage and four at preliminary report stage.
Cumulative grant expenditure by the Department under the programme from 2000 to the end of this year is anticipated to be €108 million and this grant aid has leveraged total investment of €338 million in public swimming pool facilities. Under the National Development Plan 2007-2013, €184 million has been allocated for the provision of public swimming pools under the local authority swimming pool programme.
My Department is currently completing a value for money and policy review report of the local authority swimming pool programme. It is examining, among other issues, how the programme has worked to date and what changes, if any, are required to ensure its effective and efficient delivery. The report is currently being finalised and it is intended to publish it as soon as possible. Following consideration of the recommendations in the report, it is my intention to launch a new round of the local authority swimming pool programme. When the programme is re-opened, it will be open to all local authorities, including Cork City Council in respect of the Douglas swimming pool, to submit applications under the terms that will apply.
Since 2001, through responses to representations, parliamentary questions and meetings with council officials, it was made clear the Douglas pool could not be grant aided under the current round of the local authority swimming pool programme as no application was submitted before the deadline. In April 2005, the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism advised a delegation from Cork City Council, including the then Mayor of Cork, this was the position. However, the then Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, added that an application for grant aid would be considered under the next round of the programme.
In summary, no application was received by the Department from Cork City Council in respect of the Douglas swimming pool before the closing date of the current round of the local authority swimming pool programme. When the programme is re-opened, it will be open to Cork City Council to submit an application in respect of the Douglas swimming pool under the terms that will apply.
Deputy John Browne: It is not open at present. A review is being carried out and when it is complete, the Minister intends to publish it. Under the national development plan, €184 million is in place for the programme and it is up to Cork City Council to apply as soon as the scheme is open.
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