Seanad debates

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Urban Regeneration and Development Fund

10:30 am

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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At the outset, I wish to express my sympathy and the sympathy of the House to you, Senator McGahon, on your family bereavement in recent days.

John McGahon (Fine Gael)
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Thank you for your condolences, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. My cousin Niall McGahon famously won an FAI Cup medal in 1958 with Dundalk FC at the age of 18 years, so I appreciate that.

I submitted this Commencement matter today on urban regeneration funding because it is such an important issue for the north end of Dundalk town. The Bridge Street and Linenhall Street area has essentially been a neglected part of Dundalk for the past 40 years for various reasons. I live only a few minutes away from this part of the town and it has one of the most sincere and genuine communities that Dundalk town has to offer. The residents and traders in that area back and support each other continuously, but I am here today to state that they need extra support in the form of substantial Government funding under urban regeneration for the Bridge Street and Linenhall Street area.

During the past year Louth County Council has embarked on an extremely ambitious project, worth in excess of €5 million, which has totally transformed the Clanbrassil Street area, the main street in Dundalk. If the Minister of State can imagine Dundalk at present, we have transformed The Square and it extends up Clanbrassil Street. It is worth €5 million. It goes up into Church Street and stops dead on Clanbrassil Street. Stepping between the two streets is like stepping into a different town.

That has not stopped local residents and businesses doing their best to make the area thrive as a bustling community. We have people like Martin McElligott who is in charge of the business improvement district scheme, Dundalk BIDS. They have embarked on a really ambitious programme, including an art mural programme, that constantly strives to help businesses in the area to improve. We have people like Joan Martin, our chief executive in Louth County Council, Frank Pentony and Catherine Duff, director of services, who, along with staff members, have put months of work into this application to make it an attractive one for the Department to consider. I consider it so good that I would find it hard to believe it would not be approved. Indeed, they have submitted further information that was requested this year to strengthen the basis of the application.

This funding will have to be in the millions, make no doubt about it, and it will have to be done over two projects. If we can get the funding approved by the Department, it will really transform this part of Dundalk town. It can become a thriving hub for business, residents and the wider community. It can also be a flagship project for the Minister and the urban regeneration fund and can be shown to other towns as an example of how to apply for funding and how it is done. I believe Dundalk can be a leading example for other towns to follow.

Approving the application for this project will provide previously unimagined potential for the north end of Dundalk. If it can be imagined, there could be residential units above shops, enticing younger people to come there and live above the shop again, pedestrian space unlocked, a thriving community space created in the heart of Dundalk, the streetscape improved to make it more accessible for elderly people and people with disabilities, and vacant and derelict buildings having disappeared and been replaced with brand new retail units in which young entrepreneurs can get their first chance or start. It will redefine the north end of Dundalk town.

I cannot emphasise enough how important this funding is for Dundalk. It is an area that is crying out for support. It has had massive local support and received great support from the county council, but we need Government intervention in the form of substantial funding that will allow us to revolutionise the street space for residents and business alike. I believe we have one chance to make that happen, and that chance is with this funding. I am here in our national Parliament to emphasise how important it is for the town of Dundalk.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator McGahon for raising this important matter.

Project Ireland 2040, which was launched by the Government on 16 February 2018, is the overarching policy and planning framework for the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland. It includes a detailed capital investment plan for the period 2018 to 2027, the National Development Plan, NDP, 2018-2027 and the 20-year national planning framework, NPF. The principles of the NPF are underpinned by the national development plan, a ten-year, €116 billion capital investment programme. The National Development Plan 2018-2027 established four new funds, with a combined allocation of €4 billion to 2027. The urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, has an allocation of €2 billion to 2027, primarily to support the NPF’s growth enablers for the five cities and other large urban centres.

The URDF, which was launched in 2018, is providing part-funding for local authority-led projects that will enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and large towns, while also ensuring that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people can choose to live and work, as well as to invest and visit. The URDF programme has been very well received and already it is providing assistance for a pipeline of major projects that will contribute to the regeneration and rejuvenation of our five cities and other large towns, in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and national development plan.

In mid-2019 approval in principle and provisional funding allocations issued in respect of 87 major projects throughout the country. This significant pipeline of projects, approved under call 1 of the URDF, is set to have a transformational impact in urban areas throughout the country. Under call 2 of the URDF, which was launched earlier this year, Louth County Council submitted an application seeking support for the project the Senator mentioned. A large number of proposals were received under call 2, with every local authority submitting at least one application. The nature of the URDF programme means that the proposals are very complex, and each requires detailed assessment. The assessment process for applications received under call 2 is in train at present, and it is intended that a new tranche of approved projects will be announced later in the year, which will augment the existing pipeline of projects from call 1 and contribute to the achievement of programme for Government commitments and the objectives of the national planning framework.I listened to the case made by the Senator regarding the Bridge Street and Linenhall areas of Dundalk. He made his points very well. I met Senator McGahon previously regarding this project and he outlined its merits. It is a key project for Dundalk and I assure the Senator that his representations have been well made and they will be listened to in my Department. It is important that we unlock the potential of our large towns and cities, and that is exactly what URDF funding is for. It is the cornerstone to enable our citizens and our investors to realise their potential and to ensure we have a strong, mixed use regenerated area in our towns and cities. I look forward to working with the Senator during my term to deliver projects such as this one, which is important for the area and Dundalk itself.

John McGahon (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for all his support for this application in recent weeks. While Dundalk is the largest town in Ireland, the Minister of State's home town of Mullingar has similar issues. He knows the issues at stake here, therefore. He is right to state that this is transformative funding. It has the potential to unlock previously unimagined ideas. Much urban regeneration funding has come into Dundalk in the past two years. The Bridge Street area is the final piece in the jigsaw. The application and substantial funding I seek today, which must be millions of euro, is the first part of the jigsaw that will benefit the rest of the Bridge Street area. If this application for funding is successful, we will sit back down with Louth County Council to consider which application we will submit next to progress regeneration even more. We will be bringing that issue back to the attention of the Minister of State. I cannot stress enough how vital this funding is for Dundalk. It really needs to be approved, and we must do everything we can to get this funding application across the line.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator McGahon for his very elegant timing. I call the Minister of State.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I again thank Senator McGahon for raising this issue. I will take on board all the merits he has put forward regarding this project, and he has discussed them at length with me in the past as well. It is important that projects such as this are supported. They are the core regeneration projects that will unlock the potential of our towns and that is the key aspect of what the URDF seeks to do under the national planning framework. I hear the case the Senator has made; it is a strong case for Dundalk and I will bring that message back to my Department. It is important that we advocate for genuine projects, such as this one, which are able to stand on their own merits. I believe that is what this project does.