Town Centres First Policy

Town Centres First Policy

My Dáil Contribution on Town Centres First policy.

Before I begin to talk about the town centre first policy, I wish to acknowledge the members of the Ukrainian community that are outside the gates today. Trying to relate the personal stories of the people at the gates to the large scale of the war on Europe is unthinkable. It does not touch on this debate but I wanted to use the opportunity to refer to them.

I thank the Minister of State and congratulate him on this policy. I have read it in detail, and it would have been nice to hear those details referred to in some way, shape or form in the previous contributions. I would describe this as mission critical to the work of the Government. I worked closely with the likes of Mark Dearey, whose role I acknowledge, and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, who was instrumental in this policy being brought through by the Government. Waterford is sometimes described as a microcosm of Ireland in that we have Ireland’s oldest urban centre but we also have smaller towns and villages and a very rural environment. This policy has significant potential, in particular in places like Cappoquin, which was previously involved in the town centre renewal scheme and Lismore, more or less right beside it, which has a significant vacancy rate on an outstandingly beautiful main street and in my home town of Tramore, above-the-shop living is not fully utilised.

I also acknowledge the role of the Heritage Council and the collaborative town centre health check model that has been built in to the town centre first model. The town centre health checks demonstrate that our urban spaces are among the least active in Europe. The economic burden of vacancy is felt very heavily in towns and contributes to issues such as sprawl and commuting, as described by Deputy Barry. I very much commend the work of the programme co-ordinator, Alison Harvey who notes: “Irish town centres have a rich critical mass of heritage assets with hundreds of years of living history in our buildings, streets, parks and squares.” I see today the collaborative town centre health check programme has been selected as best practice case study in Europe.

The town centre first policy is very good. There are 33 unique actions which will give towns the tools and resources they need to become more viable and attractive places to live, work, visit and run a business. We are talking about a multibillion euro investment, which is a very serious level of investment, that is backing this up, not alone through the TCF programme but also through policies such as Housing for All and Our Rural Future. We are seeing the RRDF, URDF, in certain cases, the Croí Cónaithe fund, the town and village renewal scheme I mentioned earlier and, crucially for me, through the town centre officers and in particular the town teams. What we are talking about is a bottom-up development. We are going to build capacity and skills within communities to allow people to make decisions about their own towns and villages. These are the people who know their towns and villages best and they are the people most invested in them and if we upskill them and build capacity within communities that can only lead to good.

I find it exciting to see the level of policy coherence now evident, between the likes of town centre first, Our Rural Future and Housing for All. We are drawing different strands and different Departments together in a real and meaningful way that will unlock significant potential across the country and help us with the balanced rural development piece, which is so important for places like Dublin. I acknowledge what Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, we also need to build our urban towns and villages. That is very important as well.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting me for a Topical Issue matter later when I will deal with sustainable development goals in more detail. In talking about policy cohesion I want to reference the excellent sustainable development goals toolkit for business, which was developed by Chambers Ireland. As well as town centre first, it gives the kind of first principles-led, bottom-up approach whereby we can begin to build in the sustainable development goals or other principles into policies in a coherent way that will help to draw things together and maximise the benefits.

I am very excited to have the opportunity to debate the issue today. I very much commend the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, on the work he has done on what is an excellent policy. I look forward to him holding his feet to the fire to have it implemented over the remaining time of the Government.

Deputy Dara Calleary acknowledges the work carried out in Waterford City:

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this policy. I also welcome the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and that of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, on the co-ordination and cohesion referred to by Deputy Ó Cathasaigh. That is all very fine though at ministerial level, the difficulty is when it gets down to the ground. The ambition the Government and this House may have for town centre renewal and rural renewal is not being met on the ground.

Deputy Ó Cathasaigh can probably speak to this, but I was intrigued by the recent RTÉ “Prime Time” report about what is happening in Waterford city and the very proactive and aggressive way the local authority is chasing CPOs. That is in contrast to most local authorities, which seem quite lazy and intimidated by law and by lawyers. I will return to the issue later. I saw figures indicating that Waterford City Council acquired 45 properties that were empty or derelict through CPO, got funding from the Department and put them into housing. That is the kind of proactivity we need to see from every local authority, not the usual story about there being a CPO and the council is trying to find the owner or there is a derelict property and the council does not know where the owner is, it does not have any details and it does not want to go to court. We need far more ambition and dare I say, aggression, from local authorities around the country taking on CPOs. It would be worth the Minister of State’s while to encapsulate what is going on in Waterford and to set targets for it to be repeated right across the country.

We need this policy.