Thomas Pringle TD
Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, said Government must invest in a detailed, practical strategy for town centres if it is serious about supporting their development.
However, Deputy Pringle added the Government’s Town Centre First policy seems to report what the Government would like to do, without offering practical solutions.
“This policy strategy unfortunately reads like many other government strategies, such as Housing for All, written to make it look like they’re doing something about an important issue. What we need is a practical strategy that details how we address the issue and what that would take.
“We need to bring accommodation and life back to our towns. It is time that we reimagined what our town centres could and should look like,” he said.
The deputy compared the report with Scotland’s A New Future of Scotland’s Town Centres, which he called a much more dynamic and practically focused report that offered key recommendations.
One recommendation suggested reviewing the tax system in Scotland, which would include amendments to VAT and non-domestic rates, he said, adding that other detailed ways to expand funding of projects, which included digital skills development for businesses, a strategic acquisition fund, complete retrofitting of town centres and housing sector incentivisation.
“The Scottish report is a far more substantial analysis and an example of what a town centre strategy should look like. I fail to see a real, practical focus in this Government’s strategy.
“There are a few practical measures, such as the introduction of town regeneration officers and the establishment of a multi-stakeholder town team, but I see very few other practical approaches to implementing this policy,” he said.
The deputy said the report’s ‘investment programme’ noted funding already available, such as the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, which only covers five cities and a few other large urban centres. The Town and Village Renewal Scheme was also mentioned.
“This scheme has been up and running since 2016 and has failed to make any significant changes on the large scale needed to redevelop our towns.
"I see no significant funding allocated to implement this policy, apart from €100,000 to each county council.
“If the government were serious about putting town centres first, they would create a fund dedicated to doing just that. The truth is, all this government wants is a document to claim that they are serious about putting town centres first. But I see no real commitment to doing this.
“The report suggests that the policy contains a range of actions designed to achieve ‘the provision of housing, as well as addressing challenges like vacancy and derelict buildings'. But how? What steps are you putting in place to ensure this happens?”
The deputy said Covid has highlighted the importance of our towns and communities.
“It gave us the opportunity to imagine how things could be if we had the right policy and funding in place. Killybegs saw a complete new lease of life in the last two years and I would love to see how this can be further developed. This report, to me, is completely uninventive, non-committal and a wasted opportunity.
“We should be putting our town centres first in a practical way that gives them the opportunity to thrive,” he said.
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