Wednesday, 8 May 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Regeneration Projects Funding
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter and welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, to the House. One might ask why I am raising a matter connected with Shannon.
I actively engage with councillors from all parties and none and some months ago, I met Gerry Flynn, an independent councillor, to discuss Shannon.I do not have to give anyone a lecture about Shannon. The town has a population of approximately 10,000 people and Clare County Council has had responsibility for it since 2014. There have been a number of reports, including a local area plan and a county development plan. There is a reluctance on the part of Clare County Council, as demonstrated by a look at planning files and engagement as part of the public consultation process, to develop the town centre of Shannon outside SkyCourt, the private shopping centre. Everyone who knows the town will be aware that all of the commercial activity takes place around this commercial and privately-owned building that was once under NAMA but which has since been sold. There are issues in that regard.
The people in Shannon and their elected representatives want a high street. There is no high street there. I know the town well because I have friends who live there and who work in the aviation business. There is nowhere to walk. There are places without footpaths and there is a deficit of facilities. Everyone wants a sense of place, a place to which they belong. A number of surveys and reports have been commissioned, including the Shannon town environment local area plan. It was supposed to be completed between 2012 and 2018, but nothing happened. It has been extended further to 2023.
The residents and public representatives are talking about the creation of a public realm, a place they can call their own. Planners call this "place making", and it is really important. They wish to see the development of An Bóthar Mór road as a main street, which is part of the vision set down in their plan, and to ensure that the vision for the town extends beyond the town centre, which is privately-owned and to which there is limited access. There is no right of access or public access. In essence, this is about streetscaping, increasing recreational sports facilities for the community and improving the quality of community life, including arts and cultural development, which are at the core of every town and place. It concerns place finding. I spoke to a person who worked in Intel. I asked this person why he or she left, and was told that while the job was great and a great house to live in, the people in Shannon believe it has been neglected, that regeneration and urban renewal has not occurred and that the sense of place has been lost. People are of the view that they cannot stay there.
I will not speak at length about the national planning framework. I welcomed it and have always supported it. I see its potential. However, my concern is funding, access to programmes for regeneration and the building of a sense of place in the heart of Shannon.
I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this issue and providing me with the opportunity to discuss the support available under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. The URDF is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040, comprising an allocation of €2 billion in the national development plan, NDP, to 2027, with €58 million available in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked for the fund up to the end of 2022.
The URDF was established to support more compact and sustainable development through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland cities and large towns, in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and the NDP. This is to enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and towns and to ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people choose to live and work, as well as to invest in and visit. Bids were invited from public bodies for funding under the URDF and a total of 189 applications were received by the Department under the first call for proposals. There were a number of such proposals from County Clare, but I cannot recall the exact figure at the moment. On 26 November 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced initial URDF support of €100 million for a total for 88 projects throughout the country. The applications received concerned a wide variety of themes and sectoral areas, from urban regeneration and public realm works to enabling strategic infrastructure to leverage further development, and cultural and amenity development.Applications received fall into two categories, namely, projects that are ready to go and, second, funding to support the initial development of projects, also referred to as master planning or feasibility, to ensure a pipeline of projects into the future. As part of the first call, Clare County Council was awarded urban regeneration and development fund support, including for the advancement of a master plan to enable planning for future projects in the Shannon area. The Department continues to engage with successful applicants from the first call, including Clare County Council, to agree project composition and sequencing, establish project cost certainty and manage URDF allocations. Once that process is complete, the Department will review the first call, and lessons learned will inform any refinements required for the next call.
In the meantime, Clare County Council should, in anticipation of the next call, consider further projects that might address the social and economic decline in the Shannon area. The Department of Rural and Community Development administers the rural regeneration and development fund, an allocation from which may be available for appropriate projects in the Shannon area. For sport and leisure facilities, we expect an announcement in the not too distant future of a call for new applications to the sports capital programme. In addition, the town and village renewal scheme is another scheme administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development that might be a source of funding for the Shannon area.
I am somewhat familiar with Shannon town, but I do not know it as well as the Senator does. Will he clarify what he said regarding the development plan? Clare County Council has secured funding for the master plan setting out what development should happen in the town and its surrounding areas into the future. The clear indication from the Department is that it is interested in developing Shannon, but there must be a properly planned series of programmes and initiatives for the greater Shannon area. Perhaps the Senator's colleagues in the council might be in a position to indicate when that master plan will be concluded.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. The Shannon town and environs local area plan was intended to be realised between 2012 and 2018 but has been extended to 2023, allowing time to work out all the concepts, objectives and projects. As I said, there have been three different plans over 16 years. One need only walk around it to see how desperate the place is, despite its great potential for rejuvenation in the context of the Rebuilding Ireland plan. The Minister of State's response gives me the basis for a document I will send to the councillors in Clare, of all parties and none, this afternoon. It will give them an opportunity, in the run-up to the local elections, to put pressure on their political groupings and Deputies. We need to get political in our demands, which is what I would advise all councils throughout the country. It is about having something to build on, generating debate, having town hall and community meetings. As someone who has been down to Shannon and knows many people there, there certainly is a real need for regeneration. I thank the Minister of State for getting the ball rolling as we look to a new round of public engagement.
Shannon was one of the very few planned towns developed in Ireland, if not the only one. It suffers from some of the shortcomings we see in planned towns in the United Kingdom, such as the lack of an obvious centre. I am not sure whether the Senator chose the right word in describing it as "desperate". I would not say it is beyond redemption.