Early last year, I established a Steering Group to examine the introduction of a pilot scheme to encourage people to return to living in town centres.
A lot of consideration was given by the Group to the best approach to developing a model which would deliver on the objective of increasing town centre living.
The Steering Group noted that some schemes which have specifically attempted to focus on the renovation of vacant properties have had a disappointing take-up. It is clear that if we are to successfully encourage people to return to living in town centres, an integrated solution involving all aspects of town living and supporting infrastructure needs to be considered.
The Steering Group therefore agreed that a pilot scheme, which takes a holistic approach to town centre living, should be developed in a small number of towns initially, with a view to a wider roll-out over time. This approach goes beyond simply identifying specific property units, and will allow a number of Local Authorities to develop and test different models which they feel are appropriate to a number of selected towns of different sizes and in different locations.
The learnings from this approach will help to provide an indication as to what might work well for similar types of town on a wider scale.
Six rural towns were invited to participate in the initial pilot scheme which was launched in October 2018. These 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.
My Department has made funding of up to €100,000 available to each participating Local Authority of which €75,000 has been paid to date. The funding will assist the Local Authorities to engage with their communities and local businesses, and arrive at practical solutions that can be delivered to achieve the objective of increasing the number of people living in our rural towns.
Representatives from each of the six Local Authorities involved in the pilot have had a number of meetings with my Department with a view to developing the detailed schemes. It is envisaged that the solutions identified through the six pilot towns could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in due course.