Header Item Written Answers Nos. 221 - 230
 Header Item Water Services Provision
 Header Item Architectural Qualifications
 Header Item Local Authority Charges Application
 Header Item Irish Water Administration
 Header Item Irish Water Administration
 Header Item Housing Issues
 Header Item Water Quality
 Header Item Motor Tax Rates
 Header Item National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 221 - 230

Water Services Provision

 221. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if consideration may be provided to a simplified water charge system which could be affordable, would reflect the consumer's ability to pay, be less costly administratively and at the same time cost-effectively address the urgent need for investment in a vital part of infrastructure; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [42608/14]

 229. Deputy Finian McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will consider developing a more effective local authority water service (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42623/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I propose to take Questions Nos. 221 and 229 together.

The Government has embarked on a programme of ambitious reform of the water sector, as the traditional water services system was in need of fundamental change. Our public water infrastructure is deficient and inadequate as a consequence of decades of under-investment and the lack of a truly national approach that could maximise the impact of investment.

  An Independent Assessment published in 2012 reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of the delivery of water services through 34 local authorities, and concluded that there was a fragmentation of leadership and co-ordination, difficulty in attaining economies of scale, difficulty in delivering projects of national importance and an aging and poor quality network. The report concluded that the best way of ensuring increasing efficiency and effectiveness of operations and capital investment and accessing new finances for the water sector, was to establish Irish Water as a public utility.

  This was implemented through the Water Services Act 2013, which provided for the establishment of Irish Water, and the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 which provided for the transfer of responsibility for water services provision from the local authorities to Irish Water. The transfer of responsibility took effect on 1 January 2014.

  The Independent Assessment also pointed to the particular strengths of the local authority system in relation to locally based teams, and this positive aspect is preserved through the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) put in place between Irish Water and local authorities which garner the knowledge and expertise of local authority staff combined with the network and utility management experience available to Irish Water, to provide for a more consistent and efficient service for customers.

  Since its establishment, Irish Water has implemented key systems to provide for a more strategic approach to managing water services assets and underpinning priority investment. Capital investment in core infrastructure over the period ahead will be substantially more than in 2013 and operational savings of some €12 million have already been achieved in 2014 through a national approach to procurement.

  Irish Water, like other utilities, will have the capacity to fund investment without adding to the Government Debt. It would not be possible to fund the same level of investment if the responsibility for water services had remained with local authorities. The independent regulation of the sector, by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), will ensure that operational efficiency is achieved across the sector, in Irish Water’s central services and in the Service Level Agreements. This will take account of international benchmarks and will be focused on ensuring that customers are only charged for an efficient service. The Water Services (No. 2) Act provided the CER with statutory responsibility for protecting the interests of customers.

The approach to charging was outlined by Irish Water in a water charges plan which it submitted to the CER in line with the provisions of the Act. The CER has now issued a determination on the water charges plan. Full details and associated documentation are available on the CER website at:www.cer.ie/document-detail/CER-Water-Charges-Plan-Consultation/979.

  In making its determination on the water charges plan, the CER had to take account of the decisions made by the Government on the funding model for Irish Water and a direction made under Section 42 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act in July 2014. This policy direction addressed a number of matters relating to domestic water charges including the provision of a free allowance of 30,000 litres of water supplied and waste water treated per annum for a primary residence on a public supply and a free allowance to cover the normal usage of water services by every child in their primary residence based on the same qualifying conditions as the child benefit allowance while customers with specific medical conditions which require increased water consumption will have their charges capped.

Consideration is currently being given to measures to bring the necessary certainty and clarity to the charging structure to ensure water charges are modest and affordable.

Architectural Qualifications

 222. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly his proposals to facilitate the registration of grandfather architects in the new buildings regulations and architects registrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42489/14]

 232. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will facilitate the registration of persons with long experience as architects under a grandfather provision even if their qualifications do not fulfil the full requirements for newly qualified architects, in view of their proven track record and experience; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42638/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I propose to take Questions Nos. 222 and 232 together.

Part 3 of the Building Control Act 2007 sets out the statutory arrangements for the registration of architects. A variety of routes to registration are provided for in the Act, including specific provision (under section 22) for the registration of persons who had been performing duties commensurate with those of an architect for a period of 10 or more years in the State prior to the commencement of the Act. A review of the arrangements in place for the registration of architects was undertaken last year by Mr Garret Fennell, Solicitor, who is currently serving as the Chairperson of the Admissions Board relevant to the register of Architects. Mr Fennell’s report on the matter, which was published last year, identified a number of recommendations which would improve the registration process for applicants. My Department, in conjunction with the RIAI as registration body, has liaised with interested parties such as the Architects Alliance of Ireland in relation to the implementation of these recommendations. A number of helpful revisions to the registration arrangements, including the technical assessment process, have already been made. My Department will continue to work with all concerned in relation to the on-going development of registration arrangements in line with the recommendations made by Mr Fennell or in any other reasonable and appropriate way.

Local Authority Charges Application

 223. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will review downwards the fees and contributions charged by local authorities for planning permissions and change of use application for businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42494/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, prescribe the current planning application fees. Any proposed changes to the fees, which were last increased in 1998, would require the endorsement of the Oireachtas pursuant to section 262 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. While planning application fees are kept under regular review in my Department, I have no plans to reduce the fees at this time.    With regard to development contributions, my role as Minister is to provide the necessary statutory and policy framework within which individual development contribution schemes are adopted by each local authority. The adoption of these schemes is a reserved function of the locally elected members of each planning authority. It is a matter for the members to determine the level of contribution and the types of development to which they will apply.

  In January 2013 , my Department issued updated guidance for local authorities on the issue of development contributions which recommended, inter alia, that development contribution schemes should endeavour to facilitate job creation through targeted support for specific development types. As part of the new guidance, planning authorities were asked to consider whether there were any measures open to them to support new or existing enterprises in their areas by, for example, reduced development contribution rates, deferred payment arrangements, etc.

  In response to the request to review their schemes, all four Dublin Councils have since reduced their general development contribution rates by an average of 26% with other local authorities also lowering their rates.

  One of the actions in the Government’s Construction 2020 – A Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector, which was published in May 2014 and is aimed at facilitating increased activity in the construction sector, is that developers be enabled to avail of reduced development contributions for existing planning permissions that have yet to be activated. Provision for this measure will be incorporated in the forthcoming Planning and Development Bill, the general scheme of which I propose to publish shortly. Under the proposed provisions, developers with planning permissions granted under previous development contribution schemes will be enabled to avail of the reduced development contribution charges being applied under the new development contribution schemes where their permissions have not yet been activated. This measure is intended to assist in making developments more economically viable and bringing them on-stream earlier than might otherwise be the case. It is intended that this Bill will be enacted in early 2015.   

Irish Water Administration

 224. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the amount of revenue that Irish Water will collect next year net of all allowances. [42523/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Domestic water charges commenced with effect from 1 October 2014 and Irish Water will issue the first bills to domestic customers from January 2015. The approach to charging was outlined by Irish Water in a Water Charges Plan (WCP) submitted to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) in line with the provisions of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013.  The CER announced its decision on water charges on 30 September. The amount billed to domestic customers for the year 2015 based on the charging structure announced by the CER will be in the order of €300 million per annum and the amount billed to non-domestic customers will be some €230 million.

Irish Water Administration

 225. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if Irish Water has refused requests from local authorities to attend their meetings to brief county councillors on the processes and procedures being adopted by the company in their pursuit of the collection of charges for domestic water; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42529/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly With effect from 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for public water services. At the request of my Department, Irish Water put in place specific arrangements to address the queries which public representatives may have in relation to matters pertaining to the operation of water services under the new utility. Irish Water has acknowledged that the level of service it has provided to public representatives needs to be improved and has apologised for any shortcomings that have arisen to date in terms of the timelines and quality of responses. Irish Water is currently reviewing its communications procedures with regard to engagement with local representatives and will advise on additional measures shortly.   

  Irish Water has informed my Department that so far it has received just over 5,000 queries from public representatives:

- 2,400 from Oireachtas Members – 1,700 via oireachtasmembers@water.ie and 700 by phone.

- A further 2,600 queries have been received from Local Councillors by email and phone.

  Irish Water has informed my Department that it has just completed nine regional briefings for councillors at eight different locations around Ireland. All of the councillors were notified of the briefing which was closest to their local authority. In addition, an invitation was extended to all councillors for the briefing in Carrick-on-Shannon on 29 October 2014.     

Housing Issues

 226. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly further to Parliamentary Question No. 548 of 30 September 2014, the number of times the Dublin housing supply task force has met since its establishment; and if he will report on the work completed by the task force to date in progressing the Construction 2020 Strategy. [42594/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Action 2 of the Government’s Construction 2020 Strategy commits to the establishment of a Housing Supply Coordination Taskforce for Dublin with an immediate focus on addressing supply-related issues. The Task Force has been tasked to work closely with industry and other parties, including those responsible for key infrastructure such as schools, to identity and address any obstacles to viable and appropriate development. The Task Force has met on six occasions since its establishment.

  In line with its remit, the immediate focus of the Task Force has been to monitor trends in the supply of viable and market-ready approved developments and in its first report of the 30 June 2014, the Task Force reported the following:

(1) Across the four Dublin authorities, planning permission is in place for the immediate development of 12,785 houses and 7,925 apartments, which permissions are unconstrained from any short term infrastructure issues and which level of development would broadly equate to at least 3 years' supply of new homes if they were being built at a rate of 7,500 homes per annum, for Dublin.

(2) A further 25,507 new homes are deemed permissible in the immediate to short term on lands zoned and available for development but currently without the benefit of a planning permission.

(3) Together, the extent of permitted development and lands available for development are sufficient to meet Dublin’s needs for at least the next 6 years, which suggests that wider economic conditions and structural and financial issues within the housing and development sector are more significant constraints on an uplift in activity than the availability of lands or planning permission.

  The Task Force is preparing for a further end of year report monitoring trends in the levels of planning applications and decisions and also intends to publish information for the general public, including potential house purchasers and investors, about the location of the key residential development sites around Dublin and existing planning permissions and active developments. The Task Force will also advance a preliminary analysis of infrastructural delivery factors in preparing further zoned lands for housing delivery beyond the next six years.  

Water Quality

 227. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he or his Department has been provided with any reports or databases from Irish Water or formerly from the local authorities, including Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council on the extent and location of lead pipes in the water network. [42595/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Since 1 January 2014 Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. I have no responsibility for, or role in relation to, the management, operation or maintenance of water services infrastructure. My Department has not been provided with any reports or databases from Irish Water or the local authorities referred to above on the extent and location of lead pipes in the water network. However, Irish Water has informed my Department that of its estimated 58,000 kilometres of distribution system, there is a very small proportion of lead piping, consisting of approximately 190 short lengths across 14 local authorities. Irish Water is working to achieve the replacement of these pipes as quickly as possible.

There are a significant number of lead public service pipes between the water mains and the customer stopcock or water meter. Irish Water is identifying the location of such lead service connections during the meter installation programme. The numbers currently being identified represent about 5% of houses, but this is expected to be higher in town centre areas. Irish Water also estimates that there may be a further 30,000 to 40,000 houses with shared backyard lead service connections. Irish Water has informed my Department that it intends to invest in public lead pipe replacement schemes, primarily communications pipes, with a view to eliminating lead mains, including shared backyard service connections over the next ten years. Irish Water is also reviewing its water treatment processes to ensure that they can mitigate the risk in the short term.

Motor Tax Rates

 228. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the amount he expects to raise from road tax on vintage vehicles in 2014; his views on reducing or abolishing the tax on vintage vehicles to be used only in community or charity fund raising events. [42596/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I expect that receipts from motor tax on vintage vehicles for 2014 will be of the order of €2.1m, though final figures will not be available until after the year end. I have no plans to reduce or abolish the current favourable motor tax rates applied to vintage vehicles. Concessionary rates of motor tax for vintage vehicles have been in place since 1991. The low rate of tax reflects the fact that vintage vehicles may be in limited use on the roads. The rates were initially set at £10 (€13) for motorcycles and £25 (€32) per annum for all other vintage vehicles. The current rates are €26 per annum for motor cycles and €56 for all other vehicles.

  Question No. 229 answered with Question No. 221.

National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan

 230. Deputy Finian McGrath Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will request all local authorities to comply with the Disability Act 2005 regarding making buildings an environment that is friendly for persons with a mobility impairment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42624/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Local authorities work on an ongoing basis toward making public spaces, public buildings and services owned and operated by them accessible. In accordance with my Department’s commitments under the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan, under the Disability Act 2005, local authorities must include accessibility as an objective throughout all new Local Authority corporate plans and development plans. Local Authority Implementation Plans must also commit to bring public areas of local authority buildings up to Buildings Regulations Part M (2000) standard by 2015 and up to Part M (2010) standard by 2022, or as soon as resources allow.


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