Community projects in jeopardy

a number of high profile Rural Development projects around the county are in jeopardy because of a new EU cap on grant aid.

a number of high profile Rural Development projects around the county are in jeopardy because of a new EU cap on grant aid.

By Fiona Heavey

At least six Leitrim projects are being “penalised” over a difference of interpretation of the competitive clause between the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and the EU.

Projects such as Glencar Community Park, a soccer astrotrack facility in Manorhamilton, a community pitch in Dromahair, a scout den development in Ballinamore and a major development of the Rainbow Ballroom at Glenfarne cannot be approved because they are seeking funding in excess of €200,000. The current rural development plan for the county only runs until 2013, so there are fears for projects not approved before this date.

MEP Jim Higgins raised the issue last week saying “funding in excess of €200,000 cannot be approved for any project until a State aid clearance has been obtained from DG Competition in Brussels.”

Higgins, who is taking up the issue in Brussels said, “This is a major setback for the communities involved. They have put a lot of work into preparing the projects, raising funds and obtaining loan approvals only to be confronted at the eleventh hour by this bureaucratic setback.”

Brian Smyth Rural Development Co-ordinator at Leitrim Development Company (LDC) confirmed that they have been contacted by the Department in relation to projects over €200k. Mr Smyth said the cap is an issue of “interpretation.” He said the EU do not want one company to have a “competitive advantage” over another one. But Mr Smyth said the majority of projects that they deal with are “community based” and there is “no competition.” He said Department of Environment interpret the state aid rules different to those in the EU and this has to be sorted out. Up to six projects seeking over €200k in the county “will be now delayed.”

Mr Smyth said they have been told by the Department that they are anxious to fix this and “they will resolve it soon.” But he went on to say, “we are worried that if the issue is not resolved soon that many large projects will be effected in Leitrim.”

To read the full story see this week’s Leitrim Observer.