Fianna Fáil is publishing a plan today which sets out comprehensive measures that can be implemented to help restore economic activity and job creation in towns across Ireland. The party has engaged in detailed consultation on ‘Streets Ahead: Fighting for the Future of Irish Towns,’ and we believe it recognises the importance of towns in underpinning economic growth, community development and sustainable job creation.

Among the proposals set out in the policy document are the establishment of a new specialist unit within the IDA and Enterprise Ireland unit for rural town foreign direct investment, revamping the commercial rates system, changing planning laws to encourage town centre developments and an ‘Empty Shops Initiative’ which would examine building usage strategy.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Environment and Local Government Barry Cowen commented: “After four years in office it is clear that Irish towns are not a priority for Fine Gael and Labour unless they can target them for more cuts or cheap PR stunts. We believe in the future of Irish towns and the positive role they can play in bringing about balanced, sustainable job creation and investment. We recognise their absolute centrality to sustainable regional development. We want a strong, vibrant network of towns at the heart of our communities, learning from each other and competing for new business.

“62% of the population of Ireland now lives in urban areas compared to just 42% in 1951. Traditionally Ireland was a more rural country but that is changing and we need to meet the challenges that brings. However, despite these population rises, Irish towns are facing a grave challenge to their position as hubs of activity. Spiralling vacancy rates scar main streets; anti-social behaviour intimidates ordinary people from enjoying their streets while poor planning robs the areas of vitality. We will reform commercial rates, placing a surcharge on out-of-town centre businesses to re-balance the system toward small and town centre retailers. We want to look at the whole area of building usage and implement an ‘Empty Shops Initiative’, abolish upward only rent reviews and have new cultural initiatives in place to keep main streets busy.

“One of main features of this plan will be job creation. FDI has been a huge success in Ireland but it’s biased towards Dublin and other urban centres. Fianna Fáil supports the establishment of a new unit by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to develop and pilot test an approach to attracting and intensively supporting small scale sector appropriate FDI to small rural towns. We need to re-balance investment across the country in a sustainable fashion.

“Irish towns face a series of fundamental challenges to their future. Rising vacancy rates, expanding out of town shopping centres, changing shopping habits and crippling commercial rates and rents are damaging businesses and destroying jobs. Fianna Fáil believes we need a multi-faceted approach across enterprise, urban planning, culture, justice and community engagement to tackle the on the ground problems faced by Irish towns. Taking bold imaginative action to promote businesses, encourage footfall on the streets and a lively participation of the whole community in the life of the urban centre will help ensure that Irish towns remain appealing places for people to live, work and play. Towns have always been the focal points of communities and must remain so into the future.”