While our towns and villages have shown remarkable resilience through recent crises, they require specific policy supports to ensure that they continue to function as viable, vibrant and attractive locations for people to live and work, to raise families, to act as the service, cultural and recreational hub for the surrounding areas, and to facilitate social and community interaction.
The challenges our towns currently face include those associated with the provision of adequate employment opportunities, addressing vacant and derelict properties, the impact of online shopping on town-centre retail, and the general move away from town centre living and commercial activity.
In this context, the Programme for Government (PFG) has committed in outline to the development of a Town Centre First (TCF) policy. With a view to giving effect to this commitment and the actions outlined in the PFG, a TCF inter-Departmental Group (IDG) has now recently been established to consider the regeneration of our towns and villages with the first meeting held earlier this month.
The IDG is jointly chaired by my Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development and aims to progress the commitment and associated actions in relation to the Town Centre First approach in the Programme for Government. This will involve both the Terms of Reference for the IDG and an initial scoping of the policy proposal with recommendations to be developed over the next six months.
As outlined above, a TCF policy is at the very early stages of development which will require both a scoping of high-level objectives through the forum of the IDG with many strands to be considered including that of appropriate stakeholder engagement and public consultation.
In parallel, I am in the process of establishing a Town Centre First advisory group, to enable the experiences of a broader group of stakeholders to be brought to bear in informing the process of policy development. I will be chairing the TCF advisory group myself, with the first meeting to be held in December.