Small towns need help to stop de­cline

Call for broad­band roll-out na­tion­wide and re­stric­tions on out-of-town cen­tres Char­tered sur­vey­ors fo­cuses on re­ju­ve­na­tion in the af­ter­math of the crash

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS / NEWS - CHAR­LIE TAY­LOR

Small towns in Ire­land are suf­fer­ing a long drawn-out de­cline with ur­gent ac­tion needed to en­sure their sur­vival, ac­cord­ing to the So­ci­ety of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors Ire­land (SCSI).

A new re­port for the so­ci­ety warns that fac­tors such as in­creased costs, the legacy of outof-town shopping cen­tres, dis­so­lu­tion of town coun­cils and high va­cancy rates have con­trib­uted to a “per­fect storm” for re­gional high streets.

The re­port cites other is­sues that have led to the de­cline of town cen­tres across the Repub­lic. Th­ese in­clude the re­ces­sion, a fo­cus on ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and the rise of on­line shopping.

A re­stric­tion on out-of-town shopping cen­tres and the pro­vi­sion of high-speed broad­band are among the mea­sures pro­posed by the SCSI. Other rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude hav­ing peo­ple live on main streets and in­tro­duc­ing a land value tax to deal with the prob­lem of va­cant build­ings.

The re­port, en­ti­tled “Re­ju­ve­nat­ing Ire­land’s small- town cen­tres” fo­cuses on 200 towns with pop­u­la­tions of be­tween 1,500 and 10,000. It was pub­lished to co­in­cide with the SCSI’s na­tional con­fer­ence which is tak­ing place in Kilkenny to­day.

The au­thor of the re­port, Stephen Pur­cell from Fu­ture An­a­lyt­ics Con­sult­ing, said many smaller towns were ill-pre­pared for the eco­nomic crash when it hap­pened and had found it hard to re­cover in the years af­ter­wards.

“The crash when it came

The num­ber of peo­ple, equat­ing to 13% of the pop­u­la­tion, who live in towns with 1,500-10,000 residents

pushed more peo­ple to­wards our main cities – or em­i­gra­tion – while the im­pact of out-oftown shopping cen­tres ex­ac­er­bated the chal­lenges faced by busi­nesses in small towns. In fact, many small towns are deal­ing with the legacy is­sues as­so­ci­ated with th­ese cen­tres as they of­ten put small lo­cal busi­nesses out of busi­ness – lead­ing to va­cant build­ings – before be­com­ing va­cant them­selves due to lack of crit­i­cal mass and their pe­riph­eral lo­ca­tions,” said Mr Pur­cell.

Al­most 600,000 peo­ple or 13 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion live in towns of be­tween 1,500 and 10,000 residents. How­ever, the SCSI’s re­port shows that pop­u­la­tion growth over the last 20-odd years has been far from even, with some ar­eas such as Co Meath grow­ing by 78 per cent, while the in­crease in Cos Sligo, Mayo and Kerry was just 17 per cent.

Lo­cal author­i­ties “must drive for­ward the re­ju­ve­na­tion ef­forts in towns within their bound­aries,” said Mr Pur­cell.

In­cen­tives

He added there should also be recog­ni­tion of the chang­ing com­mer­cial land­scape and the in­tro­duc­tion of in­cen­tives to at­tract new busi­nesses.

“For busi­nesses in small towns, not hav­ing broad­band is akin to op­er­at­ing with one hand tied be­hind their back. The de­liv­ery of high-qual­ity broad­band con­nec­tions is fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant for high streets and the im­ple­men­ta­tion and roll-out of the NBP must be pri­ori­tised by Govern­ment,” said Mr Pur­cell.

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