One third of Irish people live in towns. However, over many years towns have not received the level of attention and support necessary to ensure a sustainable future in the face of change.
In Kilkenny last week  the Heritage Council hosted an excellent conference on the potential of Ireland’s rural towns and villages.
Speakers discussed how the historic urban characters of many of our main streets are losing vitality and value through under-use or over-development. But the conference had a broader focus than heritage, examining the role of Irish towns and their activities in retail and as places for people to live, work and visit.
One of the refreshing aspects of the conference was that it considered towns and villages of all sizes and noted the role they have all played and continue to play in our society and economy. See here for more details of the conference.
This event was the culmination of two years’ work on the nature and role of Irish towns and what needs to be done to keep them vital and alive. As part of this the Heritage Council put forward six policy proposals for Ireland’s towns which are summarised here:
- An Irish Urban Policy should be developed which sets out to protect the strategic social, cultural, economic and environmental role of Irish towns of all sizes.
- Extend the Living City initiative to the historic core area of all Irish towns and develop fiscal measures specifically to encourage people to live and do business in towns.
- Reintroduce incentives for ‘Living over the Shop’ and work to ensure that regulatory burden that can deter such developments is eased.
- Ensure that the strategic economic role of towns in rural economic development is reflected in future funding programmes.
- There should be further research on the characteristics and role of towns and the barriers to their development.
- A Rural Towns and Villages network should be established to provide support and funding for community initiatives to revitalise towns.
Some of the background to the Heritage Council work in the area is here and the full details of their policy proposals will be available shortly.
Anne Phelan, T.D. and Minister of State spoke at the conference and welcomed the Heritage Council work in the area. She also gave some insight into the ongoing rural policy process.
A Rural Charter is currently being drawn up, outlining the role for rural Ireland in the future, a new rural White Paper will be prepared in 2016 and a Rural Forum is also to be developed.
This focus on rural needs and rural policy is very welcome and we look forward to it coming together to provide stimulus and direction for future rural development.
 5th November 2015
 Minister of State at the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Transport, Tourism and Sport with Special Responsibility for Rural Economic Development (implementation of the CEDRA Report) and Rural Transport