How Munster's towns and cities plan to bring back the shoppers

Significant investments are under way to improve the public realm to make town centres more comfortable and accessible 
How Munster's towns and cities plan to bring back the shoppers

Work has started on overhauling 17 streets across Cork to make them more pedestrian-friendly. Picture: Larry Cummins

Killarney, like many other towns in Munster, is preparing to implement its Public Realm Strategy after €16m in EU funding was given to the project just four weeks ago.

There has been much talk about the strategy, nationally, and on how it will benefit shoppers, residents and business people alike.

But, whatever the take, the initiative is providing towns and cities with a unique opportunity to ‘bounce back’ when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

According to the experts, public realm is about making towns and cities accessible and inclusive.

The strategy plans for development of streets, footpaths, parks, squares, bridges, buildings and facilities – such developments will subsequently determine how inhabitants and visitors circulate, travel and interact within the town’s environs.

It will have a significant impact on how a town or city functions and on its attractiveness as a place in which to live and work, or as a destination for tourism and investment.

 Cllr Niall Kelleher, president of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce with Paul Sherry, KCTC on pedestrianised Plunkett Street in Killarney town centre. Picture: Don MacMonagle
Cllr Niall Kelleher, president of Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce with Paul Sherry, KCTC on pedestrianised Plunkett Street in Killarney town centre. Picture: Don MacMonagle

In Cork city, millions of euro in funding has been flagged for the regeneration of the city centre and Docklands.

Seventeen streets due for pedestrianisation include:

  • Oliver Plunkett Street; 
  • Cook Street South; Caroline Street; 
  • Pembroke Street; 
  • Princes Street South; 
  • The Marina; 
  • Grafton Street; 
  • Marlboro Street South; 
  • Robert Street;
  • Morgan Street; 
  • Smith Street; 
  • Beasley Street; 
  • Tuckey Street; 
  • Little Cross Street; 
  • Little Ann Street; 
  • Emmet Place; 
  • Peter and Paul’s Place and part of Paul Street.

Director of operations at Cork City Council David Joyce told the Irish Examiner earlier this year that the permanent pedestrianisation of these streets was “a measure that accelerates our long-term vision for creating sustainable urban growth”.

"All of these works being undertaken by Cork City Council are aimed at making the city a safe, inclusive and pleasant place for residents, shoppers and visitors and to support local business,” he said.

"Encouraging people to live in, shop in, recreate in and visit Cork City is of critical importance to us all going forward and to the future vitality of the city as an attractive and desirable place to be.” 

The goal in Killarney, says Niall Kelleher, cathaoirleach of the county and president of Killarney Chamber of Commerce, is to provide long-term socio-economic, cultural and environmental benefits for residents, communities, businesses, and visitors.

“There are lots of different ideas put forward by elected representatives and the business community; it's about upgrading the appearance of the town centre and making it accessible to everyone,” Mr Kelleher added.

Meanwhile, pre-Covid-19, town centres were being abandoned by large retail outlets in favour of super stores on the outskirts of towns but the public realm initiative will bring more people into town centres, making it a much more attractive and viable option for businesses in the future.

Paul Sherry is manager of the Outlet Centre, which is situated in the centre of Killarney town.

“The idea of the public realm is to make town centres more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists; footpaths will be widened, pedestrian zones will be constructed, cycle paths laid down and the overall look of the town centre will be enhanced,” he said.

If town centres become more accessible and easier to use, then that can only have a positive impact on businesses there.” 

Over the last 12 months there has been a shift towards shopping locally and supporting independent food producers and retailers.

“Definitely, people want to go to their local butcher, coffee shop and supermarket; there is less inclination to travel and while I appreciate that we haven’t been able to travel far because of restrictions, people’s appreciation for their local shops has grown more than ever,” said Mr Sherry.

“We are going to see a big change in town accessibility and that is going to bring a lot of positivity for businesses.” 

Computer-generated view of how the revamped O'Connell Street in Limerick will look.
Computer-generated view of how the revamped O'Connell Street in Limerick will look.

Meanwhile, in Limerick, the local authority has gone to tender for a Public Realm Strategy for the city centre.

The strategy is expected to focus on the "enhancement, management, use and development" of the public realm in the city in collaboration with all stakeholders while recognising the increasing importance of the quality of the urban environment within the city centre.

It will also feed into the Limerick Development Plan 2022-2028, and the National Planning Framework which incorporates public realm and urban amenity projects as well as other initiatives such as the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy.

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