Towns and villages across Ireland are facing many challenges, in terms of decline in population, loss of services and community facilities. The Government has provided a strong national policy response through the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the Action Plan for Rural Development, which identify the need to reverse these trends and revitalise rural towns and villages by attracting new residents.
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 been established to consider the regeneration of our towns and villages. Both my Department and the Department of Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands are currently formulating this joint approach which will involve both the IDG and a wider Advisory Group of stakeholders, that I will chair, in advancing an initial scoping of the policy proposals. As part of this, measures and proposals to support more serviced sites closer to urban settlements will be examined, within the broader context of the issues effecting such places as already outlined. It is anticipated that any recommendations forthcoming from the TCF approach will be developed over the next six months.
The National Planning Framework (NPF) acknowledges that rural settlements are not suitable for a suburban or a high density approach to development and tailored design approaches are needed. The NPF also recognises that in rural Ireland many people seek to have an opportunity to build their own homes. Under National Policy Objective 18b my Department is committed to developing a programme with local authorities, public infrastructure agencies such as Irish Water and local communities for the provision of serviced sites for housing to attract people to build their own homes and live in small towns and villages.
Consideration will also need to be given to the expansion of towns and villages in a sustainable manner. Such development will be incremental, small scale, walkable (including to and from the town/village centre) and will occur on sites that have access adequate water supply and provision for disposal of domestic effluent. Such extensions should also be guided by responsive design principles so that they appear as a natural extensions to the town/village with a close visual relationship to the prevailing vernacular. My Department is addressing this in the context the development of ‘sustainable settlement guidance’, work on which will be progressing over the coming months.