Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 30 May, 2001

Written Answers. - Local Authority Programmes.

69. Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the steps which he has taken to strengthen the planning department and project management in local authorities to ensure implementation of projects in the national development plan. [15656/01]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Local authorities and the National Roads Authority have been taking a number of significant measures to strengthen programme and project management in relation to the estimated £19 billion investment, current prices, in economic and social infrastructure mandated to them by the national development plan.

Measures undertaken by the NRA include the development and implementation of revised management and reporting guidelines, including publication of the National Road Project Management Guidelines in March 2000 and the introduction of a project reporting computer system in early 2001; establishment in co-operation with local authorities of 11 regional design offices; greater use of consultants for detailed planning and design of individual projects allowing the staff of regional design offices to focus on project management and delivery; and greater use of public private partnerships.

In relation to water services, my Department has introduced a three year water and sewerage investment programme for the period to 2002. This programme will be rolled forward on an annual basis throughout the NDP period and is intended to facilitate medium-term planning by all concerned, including local authorities and the construction and consultancy sector. To improve the efficiency of project procurement and operational management, my Department has also adopted a design-build-operate policy for water supply and waste water treatment in order to increase the involvement of specialist expertise in the process. My Department has also approved the appointment of dedicated project teams within local authorities to facilitate the efficient delivery of water and sewerage projects.

In the housing sector, the introduction of the four year multi-annual programme of 25,000 house starts for the period 2000 to 2003 has given local authorities the flexibility to plan their housing programmes in a coherent manner in order to meet the housing needs of their areas. My Department also issued guidelines on the planning, design and implementation of housing projects in 1999. Individual project managers have been appointed in respect of redevelopment projects in Dublin and Cork. The Ballymun regeneration project is managed by a company set up specifically for the purpose by Dublin Corporation.

[731] A variety of measures has been taken to address staff shortages in the local authority planning departments. In June 2000 I made planning regulations which increased the size of exempted domestic extensions from 23mf7>2 to 40mf7>2. This was designed to remove about 30% of planning applications for such extensions from the planning system in major urban areas to allow planners to concentrate on more complex applications and forward planning issues.

From September 2000 new and expanded courses in UCD and Dublin Institute of Technology Bolton Street will treble the output of graduate planners in two years time to approximately 75 planners graduating per annum. In the interim, to meet the short-term demand, the employment of planners from abroad on fixed-term contracts is being pursued with assistance from the FÁS Jobs Ireland campaign. As a result of this, 27 qualified planners have already been placed on a panel from which planning positions in the local authorities and An Bord Pleanála can be filled on a contract basis. The Local Government Management Services Board is now managing this process and extending it to target other construction professionals such as engineers, architects and quantity surveyors.