Westmeath County Council has unveiled a new road scheme that will give residents access to €5m in funds for local road improvements, but councillors are less than enthusiastic about it.
Residents will have to make a contribution of between 20 and 50 per cent of the cost of the improvements.
The Local Improvement Fund works on a community involvement basis and will apply on a prioritised basis to tertiary roads and cul-de-sacs and will be an opportunity for residents to have essential works completed that the council can’t afford to get to.
Director of services Barry Kehoe said there is a huge network of roads in the county, with more than 500 cul-de-sacs.
Tertiary roads create the greatest difficulty regarding maintenance but there is little money in the pot to do the work, he said.
It’s not likely that the council will have the money in the next four years to complete work on farm roads and near residences which haven’t had much attention of late.
The local contribution could be financial or consist of labour, but the work will be done by the council, and he described it as an opportunity, especially for people who use heavy vehicles like trucks or tractors which cause a lot of damage.
“We can’t do this without local community contributions,” he said, but Cllr Joe Flanagan, who is chair of the Roads Strategic Policy Committee said residents are already paying car taxes and local contributions.
He said it’s discrimination to expect certain people in Westmeath to pay for their roads.
Cllr John Dolan had similar concerns about people on rural roads paying more and Cllr Paddy Hill said he has “grave reservations”.
“It’s a withdrawal of services from rural Ireland, and people are being asked to do the work of others,” he said, pointing out how community alert groups have taken over from gardaí.
“I wouldn’t like to be the person telling people on roads they can get the gravel and do it themselves,” he said.
Cllr Fintan Cooney said that in the current economic climate the scheme has “some positive attributes”, but Cllr Paul Daly said it could be divisive.
“I can see the finger being pointed at, for example, the lorry driver on the road,” he said, describing the scheme as a kick in the teeth for rural Ireland.
Mr Kehoe said people who are interested should contact the council and an engineer will assess the road for suitability under the scheme.
He said roads in the poorest condition which are least likely to be repaired by the council in the next four years will qualify