New restrictions on retail centres on the outskirts of towns of populations of under 10,000, rural broadband, and new efforts to get the attention of central and local government will be required to fight against the decline of regional main streets across the country, say surveyors.
A report, Rejuvenating Ireland’s Small Town Centres, is “a call to action” to stop the forces of decline bearing down on small regional towns from a host of threats, including online shopping, rising costs, and cuts in local authority funding. The representative group, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, wants what it calls an “Irish towns partnership” to help fight back against the "perfect storm" that has decimated main streets.
Its other recommendations include fighting against “the legacy” of out-of-town shopping centres, investment in makeovers of main streets in regional towns, including dealing with vacant outlets, as well as recognising the importance of rural broadband.
The report excludes large towns such as Ennis, Tralee, Clonmel, and Wexford because, say the surveyors, they act like cities in terms of regional shopping.
The report highlights a number of projects across Munster which have helped breathe new life into main streets. Limerick’s retail grant incentive scheme, which will contribute to the fit-out costs of new premises, is intended to address vacancies in towns and villages. Grant relief is supplied for fit-out costs up to 50% of the annual rates of liability for the first year.
“By facilitating the uptake of vacant properties within these areas, the council aims to revitalise the streetscape and remove any negative perceptions that may exist because of empty stores,” states the report.
The Ludgate Hub digital business centre in Skibbereen, which took over an under-used building in the centre of the town, is noted for enabling 11 retailers to trade online and facilitating 100 direct jobs.
Waterford’s use of its heritage through the branded ‘Viking Triangle’ area of the city centre, was identified, as was Clonakilty’s community-led public area enhancement programme.
Industry representative body Retail Ireland has been intensely lobbying for more action to save the regional high street.
Issues around broadband rollout, the absence of a digital retail strategy, and a lack of investment in town enhancement are threatening the long-term sustainability of regional retailers, it has warned.
“The long-held assertion that improving consumer spend at budget time, through increases in social welfare payments and tax bands, is enough to take care of retail is no longer satisfactory given the unique challenges the industry faces,” said the organisation’s chief executive Lorraine Higgins.