Last Friday, I raised infrastructure issues in Galway City and County suburbs, particularly with regard to the Main Wastewater scheme for the proposed Ardaun development and the area East of Galway City, with Minister Peter Burke from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. If we expect affordable housing then we need wastewater infrastructure. I asked the Minister to lead on a multi agency working group involving his Department, Galway Local Authorities, Irish Water, ESB, IDA and Department of Transport.

I welcome the Minister of State. The west of Ireland is a wonderful place to live and County Galway and city is a wonderful place to live. I would like to concentrate on Galway City and suburbs. We have huge positives in Galway City and the suburbs, including the National University of Ireland, Galway; the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, and the exciting plans for a technology university in conjunction with Sligo and Letterkenny institutes of technology; a thriving foreign direct investment, FDI, sector; in normal times a thriving and exciting night life; and our cultural arts sector with its arts festival, the Druid Theatre Company and Macnas. In sport we have the Galway racing festival. We have Connacht Rugby and its recent plans, including €20 million that I helped secure last year.

There is Galway United FC with Pearse Stadium at the heart of GAA in Galway. There is dog racing, Galway Bay and Lough Corrib. We have a rail link to the heart of the city with a motorway to Dublin and Limerick, going through Tuam, giving access to Shannon Airport, Dublin Airport and Ireland West Airport in Knock.

Like any city and its suburbs, we have challenges with traffic, housing, wastewater, water and amenities. We have many plans submitted such as the Galway city ring road plans which are with An Bord Pleanála. There are exciting applications under the urban and rural regeneration development funds, as well as for projects such as the Martin roundabout upgrade and access to Ardaun, a potential growth area in the city, a rail passing bay in Oranmore and a greenway over the Corrib railway viaducts. There are also various public transport initiatives in the city to improve walking and cycling, including the development of 11 city centre cycle routes, the Dublin Road bus corridor, the Moycullen to city greenway, the Ceannt Station upgrade and a Barna to city greenway.

We have a number of positives and potential projects or initiatives, including the Galway Airport site which is jointly owned by the city and county councils. There are regeneration projects, including at Ceannt Station, the docks and Headford Road. We have a large number of IDA Ireland lands, including 240 ha in Athenry and 80 ha in Oranmore. We have a plan for Ardaun, identified as the main growth area in Galway city and county. We have the Athenry-Oranmore economic corridor.

The national development plan and Project Ireland 2040 have identified Galway city’s suburbs as a growth area. The 2016 population of Galway city was 80,000 people. By 2040, projected increases predict that the population will be at 120,000 people.

We all preach balanced regional development and moving the focus and growth from the Dublin and Leinster areas and spreading it around to different cities in the country. One major limitation on reaching that target in Galway is wastewater treatment. There is the much talked about and long-awaited plan for a Galway east main drainage wastewater treatment plant. This plant would encompass Athenry, Oranmore, the east of the city and the Ardaun area, identified by the Department, in conjunction with the city and county councils, as the growth area for our county.

We need the Department to focus on pushing this plan with Irish Water and the local authorities to progress it. It is absolutely vital. Not only will it allow growth in that area, but it will also reduce pressure on the Mutton Island facility which is the main wastewater treatment plant in the city. It will allow the city area to develop, as well as reducing pressure on areas such as Barna and Knocknacarra. It is badly needed in terms of housing. We cannot talk about housing unless sufficient wastewater treatment is in place. We need action and progress on this.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Peter Burke)

I thank Senator Kyne for raising this important matter. As a past student of NUI Galway and having lived in the city, I concur with his sentiments on what the city and county have to offer.

Project Ireland 2040 is the overarching policy and planning framework for social, economic and cultural development. It includes a detailed capital investment plan for the period 2018 to 2027, the National Development Plan 2018-2027, and the 20-year national planning framework. The Government has brought forward the national development plan review to 2021 and recently extended the timeline for seeking feedback from stakeholders. We welcome all contributions that can inform this developing project as it progresses.

The Government’s core priority is to strengthen the alignment of infrastructural investment with spatial planning and regional development policy, as well as to ensure we get the right development in the right place at the right time. The national development plan review will allow us to advance the programme for Government priorities, including climate change, compact urban growth and housing among others, with a new timeline to 2030.

Project Ireland 2040 is a whole-of-government strategy spanning the breadth of Departments and agencies. In order to co-ordinate and drive implementation of the national planning framework, in tandem with the national development plan, governance arrangements were put in place in the form of the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board which includes high-level representation from across the Government.

It is co-chaired by the Secretaries General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and has met regularly since 2018. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage’s implementation support role is primarily focused on strategic and spatial planning, and has focused on bringing forward the institutional, regulatory and investment measures required to deliver compact and regional growth objectives, as set out in the NPF.

As with all public spending departments and agencies across government, there is a wider role in the implementation of the NPF and the NDP through the significant capital investment programmes, for which my Department is responsible in the areas of water, housing, the urban and rural development fund, as well as local government expenditure, which I will now address.

The Senator has made very valid points in respect of water services. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. As part of budget 2021, funding of over €1.4 billion was secured to support water services. This includes €1.3 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. The overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, supported by improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine areas. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects is a matter for determination by Irish Water. Indeed, the Senator has made very valid points in respect of Ardaun, Barna and east Galway in terms of progressing that.

On the important issue of delivering social housing supports for the Galway area, my Department has made substantial funding available, including substantial capital investment, to both local authorities and partner organisations, such as approved housing bodies. Social housing targets are in place for both local authority areas, and because these targets are challenging, the Galway social housing task force has been in place since 2019 to support the work of local authorities and other stakeholders.

As the Senator has quite rightly pointed out, the overall NPF strategy is for better balanced development between the regions and greater focus on Ireland’s cities, where 50% of the development overall is targeted, with 50% of that city growth to be supported to take place in the four cities outside of Dublin, which is key. As a key driver of the NPF, the €2 billion urban and regeneration fund is focused on supporting high-quality, applicant-led projects. The Senator has quite rightly articulated that there are a number of exciting projects in Galway for which he has been advocating. I hope that there will be positive outcomes on those in the next few weeks.

Senator Seán Kyne

I thank the Minister of State for his response. My focus is on who will deliver and drive the main drainage scheme east of Galway city. The Minister of State talked about the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. However, on specific projects, co-ordination is needed between his Department, Irish Water, and in this case, Galway City and County Councils. While they are separate local authorities, they share some of the land, for example in Ardaun, and some of the same priorities, and they work well together. Therefore, somebody needs to drive that. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister for Finance are both shareholders in Irish Water. That is important. It is true that they have responsibility for projects, but they are also the shareholders.

I propose that the Minister of State’s Department take a lead in the development of a multi-agency working group encompassing his Department, the two local authorities in Galway, Irish Water, Irish Rail, ESB and the Department of Transport to drive projects like this one, which is vital to provide homes for our young people into the future. I ask the Minister of State to explore that option with his Department and to come back to me as a priority, because this vital project must be advanced for Galway city and county.

Deputy Peter Burke

I am happy to do that on behalf of the Senator. Obviously, he has spoken quite strongly on the infrastructural gap that needs to be filled. Irish Water is a key component in delivering that. If the infrastructure is not there, development will be held back and the city will be unable to unlock its potential, provide alternatives such as affordable homes to people and improve infrastructure in general. I will raise the issue with the Minister. Obviously, he has primary responsibility for Irish Water within the Department. I will bring the issue to his attention and will work with the Senator to try and progress some structure along the lines that he has outlined.