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Michael Ring TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development, today (Monday, 22 June) published a report on the pilot “Town Centre Living Initiative” which examined how to encourage more people to live in rural town and village centres.

Under the Initiative, the Minister provided funding of up to €100,000 to each of 6 rural towns to explore how to encourage increased residential occupancy in those towns while addressing the issue of vacant properties. The initiative was delivered by the relevant Local Authorities in collaboration with the local communities.

The independent report, prepared by Space Engagers, outlines the approach taken by each town under the pilot to encouraging increased town centre living.   It sets out the key issues identified in repurposing vacant properties for modern living, and the key findings which emerged.  The report concludes by identifying a range of 15 suggested actions for further consideration.

Publishing the report, Minister Ring said:

“I welcome the completion of this report on the pilot Town Centre Living Initiative by Space Engagers.  This report shows that the reasons why more properties in town centres are not being used for residential purposes are many and complex, not least the challenge of adapting older buildings to meet modern living requirements. 

Notwithstanding the challenges, this Initiative illustrates that there are steps that can be taken to assist and encourage people to move back into our town centres. The pilot has shown that addressing the challenges of vacant premises in a piecemeal way will have little impact on the issue of town centre living as a whole. There is merit in towns developing a Vision or Master Plan which takes a holistic approach to developing the town centre and which builds buy-in from existing property owners and potential investors. 

The initiative also highlights the central role that Local Authorities play in town centre revival and that individual property owners need both financial and non-financial supports to help bring vacant buildings back into use”.

The Minister continued:

“It is envisaged that the lessons learned through the pilot initiative will help to inform the approach to supporting and investing in rural towns and villages in the future.  I want to thank the Local Authorities and the representatives from each of the individual towns for their engagement with this Initiative over the last 18 months or so. Through their efforts, we have significantly improved our understanding of the reasons why more people do not choose to live in town centres and the steps that could be taken to counteract this. I hope that the results of this work will have a transformative impact on these towns in the years to come.

The Rural Regeneration and Development Fund provides an opportunity to build on some of the ideas that emerged from this pilot by providing funding for high quality strategic proposals that can rejuvenate towns and increase town centre living.” 

Areas identified by the authors of the report for further consideration include:

  • Building public confidence in the future of town centres
  • Reimagining and communicating how town centres can be desirable places to live, work and belong, for example through a “Vision Plan”
  • Appointing Town Centre Officers and/or Management Teams to assist property owners and to drive implementation of plans for each town.
  • Incentivising the reuse of vacant buildings through financial and non-financials supports.
  • Strengthening legal supports and instruments to facilitate easier and clearer change of ownership.
  • Establishing a cross-cutting Town Centre First Approach which puts town centres at the heart of decision making.

The Minister said:

“I have asked my officials to review the 15 suggested actions identified by the authors of the report for further consideration, and to prepare proposals for new policy measures that will further encourage and support people to live in rural town centres.  To this end, I have asked my Department to convene a senior officials group from key Departments and agencies to bring forward a set of proposals for consideration by the incoming Government before the end of the year.”

The full report on the Town Centre Living Initiative is available here.

Notes:

The Town Centre Living pilot was announced by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, in October 2018.  The aim of the initiative was to explore how to encourage increased residential occupancy in rural towns and villages and, at the same time, address the issue of vacant properties.

The pilot complements the Town and Village Renewal Scheme and the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, both of which are administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

Six towns were identified to pilot the approach and were provided with funding of up to €100,000 each. The towns in question are:

  • 1.Boyle, Co Roscommon
  • 2.Callan, Co Kilkenny
  • 3.Ballinrobe, Co Mayo
  • 4.Banagher, Co Offaly
  • 5.Castleblayney, Co Monaghan
  • 6.Cappoquin, Co Waterford.

Report Details

The independent report on the pilot Town Centre Living Initiative was prepared by Space Engagers for the Department of Rural and Community Development.  Space Engagers is a social enterprise that emerged from a research project in University College Dublin and which explores how towns and cities can be made more resilient and sustainable.

The report brings together the learnings from each of the 6 towns involved in the pilot initiative.  It identifies a number of issues that have emerged from the process and includes a set of suggested actions for further consideration in response to each issue.

The Report contains:

  • Individual accounts of the implementation of the pilot in each town.
  • A summary of a workshop which included the participants in the pilot and other relevant experts.
  • A brief discussion on the emerging issues and a series of 15 suggested actions for further consideration.

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