Budget 2021 should be about getting families, workers and students out of our cities, where housing and services are in huge demand, and instead supporting people to bring life back into remote rural communities, says Denis Naughten TD.
As part of the Budget process the Regional Independent TDs have put forward a set of proposals including:
- The introduction of a scheme, similar to the Cycle to Work Scheme, to purchase a laptop or other IT equipment to assist remote working or to access education. This scheme could also be used to carry out works to facilitate broadband connections under the National Broadband Plan such as laying ducting or cutting back trees on a homeowner’s property. The Department of Education should also introduce a Laptop Rental Scheme, similar to the current book rental scheme operated in our schools.
- Extend the free travel scheme to full time third level students for travel to and from their designated college. The present free travel scheme operated by the Department of Social Protection cost €97/customer each year; and now with blended education there is far less need for students to pay for expensive accommodation in our cities. This measure takes pressure off our cities that are struggling with rising rent costs and financial pressure off the families of students.
- Provide a €15,000 grant for first-time buyers purchasing an existing property in a town or village with a significant residential vacancy rate. Presently, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is providing funding of €30,714 on average for a new serviced site in our cities. For every family that takes up such an offer, it would save the State €15,714 and help to bring life back into our villages across Ireland, many of which have not had a football kicked on their streets in a generation.
But it is not just about taking pressure off our cities, reducing congestion and environmental emissions, it’s also about investing in green strategies such as:
- The introduction of a 0% loan for retrofitting homes in addition to retaining the Warmer Homes Scheme. This builds on the initiative by An Post which has just launched its Green Hub for loans scheme. This is a one stop shop for not just the loan but the assessment of what is needed in your home and the approved contractor to carry out the thermal insulation, windows, renewable energy heating etc. But the current loan rate of 4.9% is still too high and we want this reduced to zero through access to EU funds.
- Pilot a microgeneration programme for farms. Across this country the Government has subsidised the upgrading of the electricity network to farms and we now want to use this investment to allow farmers who have large amounts of roof space and isolated sites suitable for the deployment of renewable energy, to generate electricity for their neighbours.
Piloting this initiative to the agriculture sector would be an ideal way to identify the challenges with microgeneration in advance of implementing the commitments that I signed Ireland up to under the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
“I believe that these proposals, if implemented, will encourage people to settle and live in regional areas, bringing life back into vacant homes and enhance local communities.
“The pandemic crisis has given broadband and remote working a renewed impetus, which in turn has the potential to produce a significant and positive knock-on effect if managed correctly, by taking pressure off the already overstretched housing, road and water infrastructure in our major cities,” concluded Denis Naughten.
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