Dáil Éireann - Volume 592 - 18 November, 2004
Adjournment Debate. - Swimming Pool Projects.
Mr. Ó Fearghail Mr. Ó Fearghail
Mr. Ó Fearghail: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to raise the very important issue of the prioritisation of the Athy swimming pool project, on the basis of Athy’s inclusion in the RAPID programme. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, for coming to the House to deal with the issue. I congratulate him on his appointment to the Department of Transport.
It is worthwhile to outline some of the background to this project. The existing swimming pool in Athy was built in the mid-1970s and it has served the people of the town and surrounding areas very well in the interim. However, in recent years it has become apparent that substantial investment is required to bring the pool up to 21st century standards.
The public now expects to be able to enjoy use of a public pool as a family leisure facility, where a paddling pool, sauna, Jacuzzi etc. are available. These facilities do not exist in Athy where, unfortunately, disability access is also a major problem. The provision of these additional services would greatly increase usage of the facility. The original building is typical of many structures erected during the 1970s. It is poorly designed and building costs appear to have been kept to a minimum. For instance, the building has no obvious insulation. This lack of foresight has, unfortunately, led to a situation a generation later where the local authority and the Department find that almost €9.5 million needs to be spent to put a proper facility in place.
Athy swimming pool deteriorated significantly throughout the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the normal ageing of the structure and heavy usage,  but a decision by Kildare County Council in the mid-1990s not to provide significant funds for maintenance, pending a major upgrade of the pool, has led to its present day state of dilapidation. The local authority, through its consultants, has looked at a number of options for providing a modern swimming facility in Athy and has determined that the cost of renovation and reconstruction of the current pool would be prohibitive. Hence the current proposal to build a new pool on the existing town centre site.
Contract documents were prepared by Kildare County Council and presented to the Department in April 2003 for the provision of replacement swimming pools in Athy and Naas. In July of this year Kildare County Council approved the raising of a loan to fund its contribution to the projects which are now expected to cost €18 million. I subsequently learned that the Department has requested that Kildare County Council prioritise one or the other of the pools in question. I understand, however, that the council continues to support both projects equally.
If Athy’s inclusion in the RAPID programme is to mean anything, it should result in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism giving priority to the submission on Athy. We all understand the significance and value of the RAPID programme. It has been accepted that certain urban areas are affected by serious disadvantage and public expenditure programmes are directed towards tackling the situation. Athy is a town which has gone through a number of years of economic and social decline, but is now showing clear signs of renewal, thanks in no small way to a number of initiatives introduced by the Government, including urban renewal, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland investments, the aforementioned RAPID programme and, most significantly, the inclusion of the town in the decentralisation programme, which will bring 250 jobs in the Revenue Commissioners to the town. These measures, coupled with private sector investment have brought greatly improved business confidence to the town and for the first time in many decades, Athy is showing clear signs of a return to its former healthy economic condition. In light of this, the provision of a modern leisure facility is a must to continue to attract private and public sector investment.
In all major studies, quality of life has a major role to play in attracting outside investment. Athy’s proximity to Dublin and the availability of relatively inexpensive housing has meant that there has been a large increase in the town’s population. The town council development plan 2000 envisages a population of 12,000 by the end of the decade. The facility would also service a large rural hinterland stretching beyond the borders of County Kildare into adjoining parts of Laois, Carlow and Wicklow.
Two County Kildare swimming pool projects await departmental funding approval, one of which is located in the urban area of Naas which has a positive socio-economic profile, and the  other in the RAPID designated town of Athy. The provision of both pools is well justified and badly needed. However, if there is to be prioritisation in the interest of joined-up Government, Athy needs the green light.
Mr. Callely Mr. Callely
Mr. Callely: I thank Deputy Ó Fearghail for his kind comments and good wishes regarding my appointment. I also thank him for the opportunity to outline the Department’s position with regard to the local authority swimming pool programme and Athy swimming pool project.
The closing date for receipt of applications administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism under the current pool programme was 31 July 2000. The aim of the programme is to assist local authorities in the provision of new public swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. A total of 55 applications have been or are being dealt with under the programme. Of these, 17 are for new pools in greenfield sites, 24 for replacement pools and 14 for the refurbishment of existing pools. Grants of up to €3.8 million are available towards the refurbishment of existing pools or the provision of new pools, subject to the total not exceeding 80% of the eligible cost of the project or, in the case of projects located in disadvantaged areas, 90% of the eligible cost. The local authority must provide the balance of the financing directly or through a combination of local authority funding, community group financing, and private sector, etc.
Various steps must be taken before a decision is made to allocate moneys from the programme. Following the submission and approval of an initial feasibility study, there are four principal stages: the preliminary report, contract document, tender and construction. Technical advisers to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and the Office of Public Works evaluate each stage and local authorities cannot proceed to the next stage of a project unless prior approval issues from the Department. Grant aid is allocated only when tenders have been approved and is capped at the time of allocation.
Contract documents submitted by Kildare County Council for the refurbishment of the swimming pool in Athy are under consideration at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. The county council also applied for grant aid for the replacement of the swimming pool in Naas and contract documents for that are also under consideration.
Under the pool programme, projects are considered on a case by case basis and consideration is given to such issues as the number and geographical spread of projects within and between counties, whether the area is classified as disadvantaged, the viability of the project, particularly in relation to operational and maintenance issues, the overall funding package for the project and technical details. The Department’s annual Estimates provision for the programme also has  a significant influence on the flow of projects through the approval process.
The revitalising areas through planning, investment and development, or RAPID, programme aims to target the most disadvantaged areas for enhanced development. These are prioritised for support and, under the pool programme, prioritisation takes the form of a grant rate of 90% as opposed to 80% in non-disadvantaged areas.
The Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue will review the Athy application in light of the annual capital envelope for 2005 and beyond. Deputy Ó Fearghail should speak to the Department officials as well as officials from Kildare County Council with regard to prioritisation of the most appropriate project. In that way, real progress will be made.
Dáil Éireann 592 Adjournment Debate. Swimming Pool Projects.