Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the specific measures in place to address the issue of vacant and derelict buildings in rural towns and villages; the financial supports and incentives that are in place to assist persons with renovating and revitalising buildings in these areas; her plans to improve same, as per the commitment in Our Rural Future - Rural Development Policy 2021-2025; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28240/21]
This question is to ask the Minister about the specific measures in place to address the issue of vacant and derelict buildings in rural towns and villages, particularly in town centres, and the financial supports and incentives in place to assist people in renovating them.
The refurbishment of vacant properties is being addressed through a number of funding streams delivered by my Department, in line with the commitments contained in Our Rural Future.
In April, I announced investment of €81 million for 25 landmark projects for funding under the rural regeneration and development fund. The projects will combat dereliction, increase the vibrancy of rural towns and villages, and regenerate town centre buildings to provide remote working hubs, libraries, e-learning, cultural, enterprise and community spaces.
On Monday, 3 May 2021, I announced the availability of €15 million funding under the 2021 town and village renewal scheme. In line with Our Rural Future, a key focus of this year's scheme is to renovate derelict and vacant buildings in our town centres. I have increased the maximum grant available under the scheme to €500,000 to permit projects of additional scale to be funded. I will also shortly be announcing a new €2 million scheme to fund the development of town masterplans, which I expect will identify strategic actions tailored to address the vacancy and town centre living issues specific to each town.
There is a range of other initiatives outlined in Our Rural Future, which will contribute to addressing vacancy in our towns and villages. In particular, an interdepartmental group has been established to develop a town centre first approach, with a focus on vacancy and dereliction, and to bring forward recommendations to Government. As part of budget 2022, and in the context of the town centre first approach, we will examine the scope to introduce new supports and incentives for the refurbishment of vacant properties to increase town centre living.
I thank the Minister for outlining a number of schemes. Are the findings of the report on the town centre living initiative, in which there were pilot programmes in six towns, being taken into account with regard to the schemes to be introduced to improve and restore derelict buildings in towns? As the Minister knows, it cited a lack of co-ordinated national supports, difficulties for property owners in accessing advice and supports for bringing properties back into use, and the fact there are no financial disincentives for underuse. While the Minister mentioned a number of schemes, we will need many more incentives to tackle dereliction given the extent of it in so many towns and villages throughout the State. With regard to the focus on this in the rural plan, has the Minister had engagement with the Minister or Department with responsibility for housing specifically on the residential use of these buildings?
I thank the Deputy. We had the pilot study and all of the information has proved to be very valuable in terms of developing the town centre first initiative. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, chairs the committee. The Department feeds into it and we are looking at a number of initiatives. I am working very closely with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on what we can do to address dereliction in town centres. The town and village renewal scheme has been repurposed this year, with €15 million additional funding from which individual projects can receive up to €500,000. I want to see a big focus on projects that bring vacant and derelict buildings and sites back into use as multipurpose spaces, remote working hubs and for residential occupancy. The town centre first policy framework is advancing very well. It will bring forward actions during the summer to look at how communities and local authorities can be supported to develop and deliver tailored plans for their own towns to address vacancy and town centre living.
I welcome the town centre first approach. In fairness to the town and village renewal scheme, it includes a real and excellent level of consultation with those in the communities in which the scheme is, hopefully, going to work. I want to raise an issue. Actively working against this is the town centre public realm enhancement scheme. In Ballaghaderreen, which is my home town, there are plans to remove 67 parking spaces and replace them with a number of small green areas, with approximately 20 trees and benches. This will have a devastating impact on businesses. There will not even be loading bays for deliveries. This is a matter of huge concern. The sum of €3 million is a huge investment and badly needed in a town such as Ballaghaderreen, but if the people in the town were asked, they would call for a childcare facility in the town to be re-established or for public transport to be improved because it is a blackspot. With regard to vital funding for towns such as Ballaghaderreen, will the Minister please look at the public realm enhancement scheme, which will do huge damage to businesses and work against the very good schemes that are there?
With regard to the particular scheme the Deputy has mentioned, it is funded by the Department through the local authorities. It is up to the local authorities to consult with communities to have a clear path forward as to how to address the issues in their villages. The Deputy knows that I am very much in favour of a bottom-up approach. I like to engage with communities and identify the problems on the ground. My job as Minister is to provide the funding to facilitate the growth of these town centres.
Deputy Kerrane lives in Ballaghaderreen. I think it would be fair to say that in Boyle there has been a really good project where they approved €2.1 million from the first call for category 1 applications under the rural regeneration fund. That includes the refurbishment of the old Royal Hotel into an enterprise hub. That is a case of where there has been wonderful engagement and it has worked well. I hear what the Deputy is saying.