Mount Congreve update from OPW; business proposals for heritage sites; plus the annual cost of flood damage
PAC Meeting | January 30, 2014
Clare McGrath, Chair of Office of Public Works, called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: While members were in committee last Tuesday night, there was a briefing on Mount Congreve. Can Ms McGrath provide an update in this regard?
Ms Clare McGrath: In respect of Mount Congreve, one of my colleagues who will be present for the discussions on the Vote might be able to provide a more particular update.
John Deasy: Perfect.
Clare McGrath: I can state, regarding the Mount Congreve estate, that the Mount Congreve Foundation has expressed its intent to remain in situ in Waterford and to open to the public the gardens and the estate. As for the involvement of the Office of Public Works, OPW, in this regard, members are aware the Mount Congreve Garden Trust owns the gardens and the house. The State, through the OPW, is one of the trustees. The employees who are working in the gardens are employees of the Mount Congreve Foundation, which has expressed to us its intention to remain in situ and to run the gardens. If the Deputy wishes, I can provide him with an update directly or when we take the Vote, I can give him more information.
John Deasy: Whichever Ms McGrath prefers.
Clare McGrath: The Mount Congreve Foundation has submitted a proposed plan for the gardens, which would see them being open from Thursdays to Sundays from February to October. The foundation has suggested a charge in this regard and is projecting visitor figures of 100,000 based on the average number of visitors who came to open days in 2013. From the OPW's perspective in respect of the State side, the State will obtain freehold with regard to the gardens 21 years after the passing of Ambrose Congreve and in 2059 in respect of the house. In the interim, it is in the interest of the Office of Public Works that the gardens are being managed and cared for by the Mount Congreve Foundation.
John Deasy: This is significant, in that from the standpoint of the OPW, this constitutes progress.
Clare McGrath: Yes.
John Deasy: This issue has been ongoing for years now.
Clare McGrath: Yes.
John Deasy: I thank Ms McGrath. My second question pertains to the proposal for businesses on heritage sites and historic properties. It related to the proposal for businesses on heritage sites and historic properties. It is interesting because the budget for the area of built heritage in the past six years has probably diminished by 90% in some cases. From what Ms McGrath has explained, we are moving towards an element of self-financing when it comes to these historic properties and heritage sites. I apologise if Ms McGrath already answered the question, but what structure will this take? Where are we with regard to these proposals?
Clare McGrath: At the moment we have several proposals in and we are assessing them. We are allowing participants in the market to say to us how they can work with us to enhance visitor experience at heritage sites and to increase numbers. Our primary responsibility under legislation for many of the national monument sites is their preservation and conservation.
John Deasy: Will Ms McGrath draw a picture for me or give me an example of what we are looking at potentially in future? Can Ms McGrath highlight some places and explain what exactly we will end up with?
Clare McGrath: I will use the example of what we have ended up with to show what we are open to. In the Iveagh Gardens at the rear of the National Concert Hall and off Harcourt Street, we have allowed, under licence, the Taste of Dublin, comedy festivals and concerts on the site. This is opening up the gardens to other uses and increasing footfall. We receive a fee for that. It is similar with the Phoenix Park for concerts. We have provided for community use on many sites where people wish to host events. We are asking whether there is something more. We might not necessarily know what is possible for all of them. Certainly, we would not have the funds for it but the private sector may have the funds.
John Deasy: I presume the OPW has been relatively successful if it is extending the approach. Has the experience of the OPW been good as far as the financial aspects and income are concerned?
Clare McGrath: It has been positive because we are getting more use. The income goes to the Exchequer.
John Deasy: Is there an element of ring fencing?
Clare McGrath: From this year it has been identified that where we generate income a certain amount can come back in and we can invest it in the heritage estate.
John Deasy: It does go back to the Exchequer. Anyway, it is a significant departure for heritage in the country that the OPW is thinking in this manner and adopting this approach for the first time since the foundation of the State. There is an element of self-financing when it comes to these properties. It is significant for the Committee on Public Accounts to know that. Ms McGrath says it has been positive so far and that is why the OPW is extending it. Can Ms McGrath say how much has been raised?
Ms Clare McGrath (left): We are getting €350,000 additional this year in the Vote because of this initiative.
John Deasy: How many enterprises or ventures does that cover?
Clare McGrath: It goes across the entire range. Until we process the 12 applications we have now, identify what they involve and what is being sought from us, we are open. When we can identify that and the fee arrangement, I will come back to say what has been achieved in 2014.
John Deasy: How many proposals does the €300,000 cover?
Clare McGrath: We have not yet made out the proposal.
John Deasy: That is fine.
Clare McGrath: This is coming from what we have achieved. It is the existing income we derive from visitors to our heritage estate.
John Deasy: Fair enough. I thank Ms McGrath for her response with regard to Mount Congreve. Does Mr. Sydenham want to add anything to that? If not, that is fine. I think Ms McGrath explained it all.
John Sydenham (Commissioner, OPW, below): It was covered pretty comprehensively. It is welcome news that the foundation is remaining and will keep the facility open. There is an opportunity to bring in commercial interests to augment the outgoings and enhance the visitor experience. Equally, there is an opportunity for the State, at our level or at local level, to enter a partnership with the foundation to improve the visitor experience. We will explore that with the foundation.
John Deasy: Ms McGrath mentioned €250 million over five years for flood damage. Of that €250 million, what does Ms McGrath estimate the damage so far this year to be worth? I want to know whether this sum is sufficient for the future.
Clare McGrath: In terms of the catchment flood risk area management plans, what we are achieving and the areas we are identifying where we need to do the work, we will need more. We have to work towards that. To take a concrete example, Dublin is now protected by works that were completed by the OPW and Dublin City Council. The tide level in January 2014 was greater than that in 2002 but in 2014 there was very little damage. In 2002, for a lower tide there was €60 million worth of damage in Dublin. We will report under the Ireland Stat and the Government statistics that approximately €800 million worth of property was protected by the schemes. I think I spoke about 1996-1997. In schemes we have carried out since then we have achieved €800 million worth of property protected. Any scheme we carry out has a cost-benefit. The Dublin one is a very good example of what has been achieved. Due to the works done since 2002, although there was a higher flood tide level in January 2014, there was damage but it was small.
John Deasy: In other words, the OPW has averaged out the €800 million over the past 18 years and thinks on that basis that the €250 million will be sufficient for the next five years.
Clare McGrath: The Government has guaranteed the €250 million at €45 million a year to 2016.
John Deasy: I have made a rough calculation. Over the past 18 years the OPW has probably averaged €42 million per year.
Clare McGrath: We would not have been spending €45 million. That has been ramped up. It was a lesser sum earlier.
John Deasy: Coming back to this year, how much is the damage worth?
Clare McGrath: Following the recent storm there is €65 million worth of damage. That includes roads, coastal and tourism damage. Our element is those parts that protect flood defences. That is where we will help local authorities.
John Deasy: I thank Ms McGrath.