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
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.
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.