Valuing our Towns

I grew up in Drogheda, established a small business in rural Ireland, and I know the challenges that our towns face in creating jobs, maintaining vital services and in supporting community development and social inclusion.

My Policy Proposals:

  • I will work in the European Parliament to promote policies, measures and actions that value and support our towns.
  • A “Flourishing Town Fund” to support initiatives by local businesses and community to revitalise and enhance in our towns.
  • Enhance the transport infrastructure in our towns
  • Free high speed public broadband in our towns.

Flourishing Town Fund

  • The Flourishing Town Fund (FTF) will support integrated plans and economic, social, environmental and cultural projects/initiatives in all towns and urban centres with a population of 4,000 or more
  • The FTF will be “a bottom up” fund, in that actions will be developed and driven by local people and it will support innovative and future focused plans developed for our towns by the people, organisations and key stakeholders living and working in our towns.
  • Stakeholders at local level, such as business organisations, trade unions, community and voluntary organisations, environmental and cultural groups and public bodies will be encouraged and supported to come together to develop an integrated plan for town development and set up “Town Taskforces”.
  • The fund will support the development of both the plan and the projects/proposals in the plan, which are part of an overall strategic direction for the town. Proposals will also have to have been costed, demonstrate value for money, be needs based and enhance and develop the economic, social, community and cultural life of the town.
  • The FTF will be supported by both national exchequer and EU funding (Cohesion Funds 2021-2027)

Westport Case Study

  • In 1997 the key stakeholders in Westport, Co. Mayo developed an integrated plan “Westport 2000[3]” for the town. At the time, it was felt that the town was in decline.
  • That plan was largely implemented, the town is now thriving, and in 2012 Westport was voted the best place to live in Ireland.
  • Westport also has one of the lowest external commutes in Ireland, with only 32%[4] of workers leaving the town for work, which provides a good work/life balance for residents and is good for the daytime economy of the town.
  • Video of Simon Wall, Town Architect of Westport https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTOjcvFpGzs

Enhance public transport in our Towns

  • One of the biggest issues for those living in our towns is the lack of regular public transport, this in particular impacts on the older, younger and citizens with a disability and those on low incomes
  • Expand and enhance existing Bus Éireann services in towns such as Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Sligo and Galway
  •  Explore introduction of public bus transport in our other large towns
  • Introduction of bike share schemes in larger towns, following successful introduction in Galway and of pilot in Sligo
  • Enhance cycling infrastructure in our towns and between our towns and urban centres
  • Explore measures to expand and enhance taxi and hackney services in our towns

Free High Speed Wifi in all Towns

  • Local people, businesses and visitors expect and want a fast and high quality broadband service for a variety of reasons, namely, to conduct business, get information on local services, connect with friends on social media etc.
  • Our towns are losing out because of the poor and slow broadband services available
  • The introduction in recent months of free public and high speed wifi[5] service in a number of cities and towns such as Galway, Monaghan and Sligo, however free public wifi should be available in all our towns
  • I will campaign for the introduction of free public wifi with speeds of 100 Mps in all the towns in the MNW

Context:

  • Almost 600,000 people (2 out of every 5 living in MNW) live in the 44 towns and urban centres of 4,000 persons or more in Midlands North West (591,039, Census 2016). Too often the needs of our towns struggle to get attention in the public policy debate and are overlooked and forgotten about by Government policy and action
  • While unemployment has declined significantly in recent years, the last census indicated that some of our towns are unemployment blackspots, with figures far in excess of the national average
  • §  The 2016 Census found that while the national unemployment rate was 12.9% the unemployment rate in some of the towns in NMW in 2016 was double and treble that of the national rate;
    • Longford 39.7%
    • Cavan 35.8%
    • Athy (West) 35%
    • Mullingar (North) 33.4%
    • Dundalk (Urban No. 2) 28%
    • Ballina 27.7%
    • Letterkenny 27.4%
  • While the unemployment rate nationally has declined further since 2016, it is likely while it has fallen that it is still well in excess of the national rate in these towns
  • In addition to the risks posed to cross border trade by Brexit, many towns are at risk of job losses due to the disruption brought about by automation.
  • A recent UCC report[1] highlighted that a number of towns in MNW were at high risk due to automation, these included Dundalk, Kells, Longford, Ballinasloe, Loughrea
  • Retail activity in many towns has been undermined by the recession, because of out of town shopping, online shopping and expensive car parking charges.
  • 8 of the 15 counties with a commercial vacancy rate above the national average 13.1) are in NMW, with Sligo (18.8%), Galway (16.2%), Mayo (15.6%) having the highest vacancy rates in the country. [2]
  • Our towns not only serve local residents, they also serve and act as a focal point for a large rural hinterland, the decline of our towns also impacts on rural dwellers

 


 

[1] https://www.ucc.ie/en/media/projectsandcentres/srerc/SRERCWP2019-1_upload.pdf

[2] https://www.geodirectory.ie/Geodirectory/media/GeoView-Reports/GeoView-Commercial-Vacancy-Report-Aug2018_FINAL.pdf

[3] https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/content/files/Westport_Plan_2000_Integrated_Action_plan.pdf

[4] https://www.scsi.ie/resources/pdf/2018/scsi_rejuvenating_irelands_small_town_centres

[5] https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/seven-towns-up-to-speed-at-last-with-free-wifi-36970566.html