The increased shift to remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity for a greater regional distribution of jobs and to support a better quality of life for many people who previously spent many hours in long commutes. This is a key focus of the Government's new rural development policy Our Rural Future.
Remote working, supported by appropriate infrastructure and facilities, has the potential to encourage more people to live in rural areas while working in good quality jobs, no matter where their employer is based. It can also help revitalise our rural town if remote working hubs are developed in their centres.
My Department continues to invest significantly in the development of new Hub facilities across the country. Since 2015, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme has provided €7.8m in funding to hubs and hub-related projects. Many of the successful projects involve the regeneration of historic town centre buildings as Enterprise and Co-Working Hubs.
I recently announced funding of €15 million that is available under the 2021 Town & Village Renewal Scheme (TVRS). In line with Our Rural Future, a key focus of this year’s scheme is to renovate derelict and vacant buildings in our town centres, and specifically supports bringing vacant properties in town centres back into use or repurpose existing community or publicly owned buildings as remote working hubs.
I have increased the maximum grant available under this Scheme to €500,000 to permit projects of significant scale to be funded. The TVRS It is administered by Local Authorities, who are currently seeking expressions of interest for suitable projects from local groups in towns and villages within their respective counties. The closing date set for receipt of completed applications by my Department is 16 July.
I should stress that the purchase of a building in isolation, without clearly defined proposals to bring it back into use, is unlikely to be successful.
In addition to funding through the Town and Village Scheme, €65m has also been invested in hub projects through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund since 2018. A further call for projects under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund will issue later this year
There are a range of other initiatives outlined in Our Rural Future which will contribute to addressing vacancy in our towns and villages. In particular, an Inter-departmental Group has been established to develop a Town Centre First Approach, with a focus on vacancy and dereliction, and to bring forward recommendations to Government.