Government to announce €80m fund to help regenerate urban centres

Campaigners say radical measures needed to stop towns and cities ‘dying on their feet’

 Paudie Coffey, Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Paudie Coffey, Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A package of measures aimed at breathing new life into towns and city centres blighted by shop closures and vacant sites is set to be announced by the Government shortly.

Campaigners and retailers have claimed over recent years that many towns across the State are “dying on their feet” due to a combination of high commercial rates, parking charges and out-of-town retail parks.

An €80 million fund for urban renewal projects being finalised by the Department of the Environment will seek to tackle the problem by supporting targeted developments likely to boost the economy of towns and cities.

In addition, new legislation – the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill – will include a long-promised vacant sites levy to incentivise property owners to develop under-utilised sites.

A third element of the package involves the removal of obstacles to a “living city” tax incentive scheme for the renovation of buildings constructed 100 or more years ago.

Vacant buildings

Paudie Coffey

“Existing sites in towns and cities are fully serviced and are ideal for development and for the provision of housing,” he said.

“The €80 million urban development fund, with the European Commission, will support the regeneration of town and city centres and I expect that the first call for proposals for this will be made shortly by my Department.”

Projects delivered under an equivalent fund which ran in recent years include the regeneration of Smithfield in Dublin; the development of a crystal manufacturing and visitor centre in Waterford; and renewal of parts of Limerick city centre.

Separately, the “living city” tax relief scheme will seek to encourage people to live in older buildings in city centres, as well as incentivising retailers to refit older shops.

Scheme expansion

CorkGalway

Mr Coffey said the approval of the initiative was also likely to have an impact on the availability of housing. There was particular scope to develop vacant units lying idle above shops, he said.

“In many instances, these are perfectly good units and could be renovated as housing units in towns and cities where the demand exists,” Mr Coffey said.

He said the “hollowing out” of city populations and the flight of families to the suburbs was contributing to urban sprawl and costing more money for the State in the longer term.

While campaigners say more radical steps are needed to cut commercial rates to help stimulate badly affected towns, Mr Coffey said there has been a positive response by local authorities to his department’s request for a freeze or reduction in rates.

He also said revised development contribution guidelines now request planning authorities to put in place reduced development contributions to support town centre development.