National task force needed for Ireland's towns

Ireland’s towns must adapt to survive but will need support at national level to adapt to the “new normal”.
National task force needed for Ireland's towns
Tralee Town in Co Kerry deserted at 1.15 pm on Saturday. The once vibrant community town has no people on the streets. Picture: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD
Tralee Town in Co Kerry deserted at 1.15 pm on Saturday. The once vibrant community town has no people on the streets. Picture: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

Ireland’s towns must adapt to survive but will need support at national level to adapt to the “new normal”.

Chambers Ireland has been joined by its members and other associations demanding a national strategy that prioritises sustainable town centres and supports them to thrive.

In a cross-sector open letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, they call for a national taskforce to revive our town centres in a new post-pandemic world.

“Creative urban design, spatial planning, and fiscal policies will be a critical part of the overall solution and must be put in place to support the transition,” states the letter.

“Unless we take radical action to address reduced footfall, increasing vacancies, and declines to commercial activity, we risk exacerbating the economic downturn in towns throughout the country.”

A number of regional chambers signed the letter, including Cork, Limerick, Ennis, Tralee, and Dungarvan. They were joined by several other bodies, associations, and individuals, including the Irish Planning Institute and Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.

“As our local economies begin to reopen, we must remember that the challenges we faced in January are not only still present; they are even more pressing.

“Post-Covid-19, the question we must ask ourselves is not how do we return to the old normal, but rather how do we make our country more sustainable?”

The letter states that by offering people sustainable employment in towns and cities, coupled with effective action on climate change, the challenges can be surmounted.

Debate continues on the Government’s roadmap for the reopening of the economy. It has been criticised by various business sectors as being too slow and one of the most conservative in Europe.

Under the plans, shopping centres, cinemas, and theatres will not ba allowed open until August 10, two months after similar restrictions were lifted in countries like Italy which was more severely impacted than Ireland.

Organisations including the Irish Hairdressing Federation and business group Ibec wants their members to be allowed open this month with the Government phases contracted.

However, all sectors also say that a range of business supports will be needed for the remainder of the year and in future years to regain the losses incurred as a result of the shutdown.

Towns in Ireland say radical actions are needed to address reduced footfall, increasing vacancies and declines to commercial activity and that any economic downturn will be exacerbated unless action is taken.

“Ireland needs the Department of the Taoiseach to lead a sufficiently resourced, cross-departmental national taskforce to revive our town centres in a new post-pandemic world.

“The overarching objective must be to enhance liveability, increase housing supply and support sustainable, active transport.”

“If we do not tackle these crises, with the ambition and vision needed to overcome them, we will fail not only the towns that make up the fabric of our society, but the people, businesses, and communities that encompass them.”

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