Thursday, 14 October 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
14. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the steps she has taken when it comes to incentivising persons to restore derelict properties in rural areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49837/21]
This is to ask the Minister what steps she has taken on incentivising people to restore derelict properties in rural areas and whether she has had any engagement with the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government on this matter.
The revitalisation of vacant and derelict properties is being addressed by a number of initiatives delivered by my Department in line with the commitments contained in Our Rural Future and as part of the Government's Housing for All strategy. In April, I announced investment of €81 million for 25 landmark projects under category 1 of the RRDF. These projects will combat dereliction, increase the vibrancy of rural towns and villages and regenerate town centre buildings.
I have also announced funding of €15 million that is available under the 2021 town and village renewal scheme. A key focus of this year's scheme is to renovate derelict and vacant buildings in our town centres, including for residential living. I have increased the maximum grant available under the town and village scheme to €500,000 to permit projects of additional scale to be funded. I expect to announce the successful projects in the coming weeks. There are a range of other initiatives outlined in Our Rural Future, which will contribute to addressing vacancy in our towns and villages, including the development of a town centre first approach, with a focus on vacancy and dereliction. The new croí connaithe fund, as outlined in Housing for All, will also provide a grant to support the refurbishment of vacant properties where the level of vacancy or dereliction is high. I understand the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, together with the Housing Agency, is developing an operational basis for this new fund. I expect this will complement the measures forthcoming in the towns centre first policy framework and bring a cross-government focus to addressing the issue of vacancy and dereliction.
I presume a number of those existing schemes, including town and village renewal, cannot be accessed by individuals or families moving into a rural area. I have often come across, even in recent weeks, people moving into an area or returning to their home area who have a house that is derelict, vacant or in need of significant work and find they do not have an avenue. Perhaps there will be an option under some of the schemes coming on stream under Housing for All. The Minister also mentioned the town centre first approach, for which there was a pilot programme recently. What progress has been made on that? Will there be other pilots or what work has been done on with local authorities on the town centre first approach?
My officials are engaging with the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government on the town centre first initiative. That will be a good policy. My Department will provide funding for local authorities to appoint town centre first officers. That is important, because we need to get this joined-up thinking in the towns and we want them to be able to work with the businesses, local communities and landowners on how we can do more, in a planned way, in our town centres. Significant work is ongoing in this area and in the town centre first policy framework. It is nearly complete and will bring forward the actions to look at how communities and local authorities can be supported to develop and deliver on these tailored plans for their towns by addressing vacancy and town centre living.
I presume those actions will be published shortly. When does the Minister envisage the funding for the appointment of town centre first officers in local authorities will be made available? In many cases, such as in County Roscommon, one person will probably taken on.
In trying to get people to live in town centres, I would like the Minister to consider the issue of applications before a local authority for conversion of a premises in towns that are Edwardian or Georgian in their architectural character. Applicants find they meet massive impediments when dealing with the local authority planning department. I ask that some leeway be given to take into account the historical nature of those buildings. It is not always easy to apply a 21st century model of architecture to an 18th or 19th century building. I ask the Minister allows for some leeway or headroom to be given to the applicants such that they can make the conversions without it being overly onerous, while also meeting the fire safety and other standards one would expect for any application.
Like the Deputy, I believe we can respect the architectural heritage and importance of the building, while converting it for modern-day use. It is much better to have people in a town centre, living and breathing new life into it, than having derelict buildings. Sometimes it is about finding that balance, but there is no reason we cannot find it. It has been done in many towns and cities throughout Europe. We can do it here as well. The town centre first policy will consider these issues. They are being raised and they are being fed into that. I look forward its publication.
I am sorry, I mentioned town centre first officers; they will be called town regeneration officers. I have just received the allocations for budget 2022. The posts will be crucial in revitalising our towns and I just have to put the details on that. I will announce it, as soon as I can, across each area. I have to go into detail, which I do not have here.