First-time buyers and young families are to get a grant to renovate vacant properties as part of a scheme to revitalise rural towns and villages.
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys wants people to return to live in rural centres and will be introducing the scheme on a pilot basis.
Promoting education, job creation and improving infrastructure and transport links throughout the country will also be included in Ms Humphreys’ action plan for rural development, due to be published early in the new year.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Ms Humphreys said: “I am a great believer that it is people that will regenerate towns and villages, if people live in them it will change the whole centre of the town.
“I am looking at developing a small pilot scheme to encourage people to come back to live in town centres because I know there are a lot of vacant units above shops in rural towns.”
She said there is a now a real opportunity to increase the residential occupancy in town centres and this, in turn, would impact the entire community.
“People living in the town centres will automatically generate activity and when there are people around, it makes it a much nicer place to live,” she said.
“What I would like to do is, perhaps young people or first-time buyers, that want to buy their first home, maybe they would consider moving into the centre of the town. I am looking at how we would assist them, maybe by way of a grant to help them adapt the home to modern living.”
In tandem with this, she said public parks and other recreational spaces would be rejuvenated.
“If you expect people to live in the centre of towns you need to improve the walking areas and all of that public realm,” she said. “It’s about focusing on sustainable communities.”
A total fund of €12m has been allocated for the Town and Village Regeneration Scheme next year.
Agriculture and rural affairs were major issues for the Independent Alliance before going into Government and this is reflected in the amount of space given up to these areas in the Programme for Government.
OPW minister of state and Independent Alliance member Sean Canney said the plan would increase much-needed residential stock.
“There are a huge amount of buildings in any town, doors that are locked up,” said Mr Canney. “They are houses, they don’t need planning permission, you just go in and do them up.”
Fellow Independent Alliance TD Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said the previous government had “let down” rural Ireland.
“That’s why so many independent TDs, I feel, got elected in the last election,” he said. “One thing we are pushing is getting people back living in villages, in towns, over shops.
“We have a lot of villages and towns where we have an awful lot of retail space, it wouldn’t take a lot to make those into apartments to get people into them faster.”
Ms Humphreys pointed out that Housing Minister Simon Coveney is working with local authorities in terms of making vacant and derelict homes available for social housing.
The housing minister has already announced a raft of measures aimed at increasing the amount of homes available to local authorities.
Some €6m has been allocated to the Repair and Leasing Scheme for 2017 to bring vacant and unused houses back into use by providing funding to repair them and make them available as new homes for families on local authority waiting lists.
Mr Coveney has also announced a Buy and Renewal Initiative to support councils and approved housing bodies to purchase and renew housing units in need of remediation and make them available for social housing use.
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