Heritage Council urges tax incentives to rescue historic buildings in Irish towns

Economic consultants also suggest greater share of National Lottery funds for sector

A tax incentive scheme is urgently needed to encourage the rescue of decaying historic buildings in Irish towns, given "the collapse of public funds available", according to the Heritage Council.

The statutory council, which has seen its budget slashed in recent years, is proposing a "Living Towns" scheme – an expanded version of the Government's Living Cities initiative, which is limited to parts of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford.

Concerned that many historic buildings in towns will continue to decline, the Heritage Council hired economic consultants Peter Bacon & Associates, at a fee of €38,000 excluding Vat, to see what fiscal measures could incentivise investment in built heritage.

Council chairman, archaeologist Conor Newman, warned that if historic buildings were allowed to deteriorate, "it will undermine the socio-economic viability of these areas and could decay beyond a critical point from which recovery would be particularly difficult".


Lottery funds
Apart from targeted incentives – at a cost of €5.8 million a year to the exchequer in tax forgone – the Bacon report also calls for a much greater share of National Lottery funds for heritage. Currently it gets only 1.4 per cent of its disbursements.

Mr Newman said the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK “is a major force in terms of assisting the built heritage”.

Dr Bacon said “a lot of damage was done during the boom years . . . to the physical and social structure of towns” with the displacement of commercial activity to their outskirts: “While there are exceptions, a notable hollowing out of Irish towns has occurred”.

He said the exchequer could recoup the value of incentives through the economic activity the renewal would generate.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor