Government Action Plan for Rural Development
‘Realising Our Potential: Action Plan for Rural Development‘ has been released by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
It seeks to change the narrative about rural Ireland and highlight the vital role which rural Ireland plays -in shaping Ireland’s economic success, including through its heritage and culture, and includes ambitious plans to support the creation of 135,000 jobs in rural Ireland by 2020, bringing high-speed broadband to every home and business and revitalising towns and villages through 4,000 projects.
This action plan is a policy response to the 2014 report by the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) ‘Energising Ireland’s Rural Economy’ and the subsequent ‘Charter for Rural Ireland’ published in January 2016, which inter alia introduced the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the Rural Economic Development Zone (REDZ) initiative, and the establishment of the Local Enterprise Office network.
It is expected to feed into the forthcoming ‘Ireland 2040: A National Planning Framework’ that will give longer term, place-based expression to a resilient and sustainable future for rural Ireland.
The Action Plan is based around 5 Pillars:
Pillar 1: Supporting Sustainable Communities
Pillar 2: Supporting Enterprise and Employment
Pillar 3: Maximising our Rural Tourism and Recreation Potential
Pillar 4: Fostering Culture and Creativity in rural communities
Pillar 5: Improving Rural Infrastructure and Connectivity
From a planning perspective, the key objectives are of interest include plans to implement a range of initiatives to rejuvenate over 600 rural and regional towns, including a pilot scheme to encourage residential occupancy in town and village centres. There are over 4,000 projects in rural communities to boost economic development, tackle social exclusion and provide services to people living in remote areas.
Protection of vital services in rural Ireland by improving rural transport provision, enhancing rural GP services and protecting rural schools is also included, as is the pledge to provide additional investment to tourism assets such as Greenways, Blueways and National Parks. The strategy includes proposals to review planning legislation to allow the change of use of vacant commercial properties in cities, towns and villages, including vacant or under-utilised areas over ground floor premises, into residential units without having to go through the planning process.
Of the 276 actions, some interesting initiatives also include:
Developing the Public Participation Networks (PPNs) to ensure all local groups can input to local decision making processes with funding for a Resource Worker for each PPN.
Continuing the rollout of a multi-year programme of investment worth €435m for approximately 90 projects in public nursing home facilities and district and community hospitals in rural areas which could provide up to 5,000 construction-related jobs during their delivery.
Enhancing supports for older people in rural areas through the network of Day Care Centres, continued provision of grant aid to the voluntary sector and through the implementation of the National Positive Ageing Strategy.
Even local financial support is considered with a bigger role for Credit Unions and German Sparkassen model floated. The implementation of the actions in this plan will be monitored closely and reports will be submitted every six months to the Cabinet Committee on Regional and Rural Affairs which is chaired by An Taoiseach.