Thursday, 17 December 2020
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Town and Village Renewal Scheme
I thank the Minister for all the information she has provided this morning. It is clear from her answers how much work is going on in her Department. In recent years, the town and village renewal scheme has been beneficial to countless towns and villages all over the country, including in my constituency of County Kerry. I am hoping the Minister will be able to update the House on the scheme and her plans for 2021.
I thank the Deputy for his question. The regeneration and revitalisation of our rural towns and villages is a key priority for my Department. Since 2016, the Department has invested €78 million in approximately 1,200 projects under the town and village renewal scheme. Large-scale projects that support town revitalisation are also funded through my Department's rural regeneration and development fund.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to bring forward an expanded town and village renewal scheme to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use and promote residential occupancy. In this context, a budget of €20 million has been allocated for an expanded town and village renewal scheme next year. This is an increase of €5 million, or 33%, on 2020. The standard town and village renewal scheme will be allocated €15 million of this funding to support the economic and social development of our towns and villages, including through measures to encourage town centre living. The remaining €5 million will be used to support the development of remote working facilities at digital hubs and broadband connection points. These facilities can play an important role in supporting the revitalisation of town centres and stimulating local commerce. The rural regeneration and development fund will also continue to support large-scale regeneration projects in our towns and villages in 2021.
In addition, for next year, I have secured funding of €2 million to enable rural towns and villages to prepare master plans as a basis for their strategic development. The development of a shared vision and direction for any town is essential for its successful long-term future.
My Department is also co-chairing a recently established interdepartmental group to progress the town centre first approach committed to in the programme for Government. The group will bring forward proposals for the Government's consideration in 2021.
I emphasise how important funding is for the various towns and villages. The figure of 1,200 projects is remarkable. I do not have time here to cover the number of towns and villages in my constituency which have received funding.
In some cases the funding is relatively small, but the cumulative impact of funding from the town and village scheme, CLÁR and the rural regeneration and development fund, combined with the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme, ORIS, and other schemes under Fáilte Ireland and various Government agencies, is huge. The results are starting to be seen but funding needs to continue. It is critically important that we keep funding coming into villages and towns. I ask the Minister for a timeline setting out when we can expect the next tranches of funding under the various schemes in her Department.
I have a list with me. In 2020, funding of €424,000 was provided to 14 projects in Count Kerry under the town and village scheme as part of the Covid measures. While this was small money, it made a difference in providing outdoor seating, bicycle stands and moveable plant displays. Projects included an extension to the Green Street car park in Dingle; the creation of a picnic recreational area in Inch; enhancement of footpaths in Kenmare; and the provision of nine broadband connection points with equipment in the county. The fund was used for broadband connection points and to fit out places. Small amounts of funding of between €25,000 and €40,000 for various projects in 14 different areas made a difference. The Deputy is correct that we need to maintain this small investment. We want to continue to engage with the local community because they are the people who have the answers.
Ten years ago, these types of funding injections were badly needed but not available. I emphasise the cumulative effect of these different schemes. When taken together over time, they have a direct impact with projects that are visible when people visit towns and villages. They also help to rebuild areas that have been decimated. That is why it is so important that the Minister maintains this funding. Speaking on behalf of the people of Kerry and the many towns and villages that have benefited, it is appreciated. There is always scope for more funding and it causes disappointment in some areas that do not make the cut after each tranche is announced. I ask the Minister to keep fighting for every scrap of funding she can get because it makes a difference for people. It creates a better environment in which to live and do business in future, particularly in the area of connectivity and remote working. I urge the Minister to do everything she can in the future to do more and keep the funding coming.
I thank the Deputy. I will keep fighting and I know I will have the support of the Deputy and other rural Deputies as well as Deputies from across the House because this scheme makes a difference and has an impact.
I have €2 million for towns that are providing plans. That is important too because we need a joined-up approach. Working with local authorities, this funding will be used to examine how we will get people back living in the bigger towns and how we will revitalise them. Westport is one of the most successful towns in Ireland. We often say it is a fantastic place. Many years ago, Westport got a plan. Sometimes people ask why we need another plan. These plans are important because a plan joins up the different organisations and gets everybody on the one page. When we have a focus, we always get there. Funding will always be made available to good projects. When I came into politics someone told me not to worry about the money because good projects always get funded. That is the truth. Fair play to the Deputy for what he is doing in Kerry.