Unlocking land banks to bring life back to towns and cities
We've all lived with Ireland's 'urban/rural divide' and claims that major infrastructure projects tend to go to Dublin, with the population shift which inevitably follows.
As part of Project Ireland 2040, the Government proposes setting aside €2bn for an Urban Regeneration and Development Fund to "unstick" projects that will lead to urban development in all areas of the country.
The fund will apply to Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford, but other major towns can also access it if they come up with projects that reverse urban decay and fit in with the ethos of the plan.
But, to begin with, a number of key projects have been identified that are necessary if this shift is to take place. These projects are already at the planning stage, but have yet to get the real push t hat it takes to make them work. That is where the plan and the new National Regeneration and Development Agency comes in - to unlock the necessary infrastructure bridges, traffic management plans and public transport hubs.
The aim of these infrastructural projects is to stop pushing suburbs further and further into farmland on the outskirts of Irish cities and towns, and concentrate development on neglected "infill" areas that are ripe for development, but need a final push from central government to open them up. Examples include:
* Changes in traffic management and bridge access to facilitate the redevelopment of the City and Tivoli docks in Cork. The Cork-to- Limerick motorway is regarded as crucial for this project, which would effectively double the size of Cork but keep the development within the city limits. The plan includes 4,000 housing units, shopping and offices, and a new light transport system to service the urban expansion.
* The development of the 3.7-acre Opera site on the northern edge of Limerick city. This is seen as the "key driver for increased economic activity in Limerick city centre".
* Galway city regeneration has 18 acres around the docklands which is currently in the early stages of redevelopment as the city struggles with traffic congestion.
These are just some of the projects identified in Project Ireland 2040, but it is not exclusively aimed at Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Other cities and large towns can also pitch for funding for projects that fit in with the criteria of bringing people back into the centre of our towns and cities, making them habitable and cutting the distance between home and work for many people and families.
"Effective land management, particularly of publicly owned lands, is a central element of the commitment to compact and sustainable development," says the National Development Plan, which is part of Project 2040.
The Government has recognised that huge tracts of publicly owned land need to be harnessed for redevelopment "so that development requirements can be met within a smaller physical footprint and provide an economic alternative to long-distance commuting".
Many public bodies, such as CIE, local authorities and myriad other State agencies have huge underused or derelict land banks that the new National Regeneration and Development Agency can try to harness to halt the onward march of urban sprawl.
Project Ireland 2040 is now seeking to identify and encourage areas ripe for "compact living" while bringing people back into cities and towns which are now denuded after business premises close at 6pm.
Some of the best examples of such developments, like the rejuvenation of the south docks on the River Liffey, have happened in central Dublin. The new plan seeks to bring the expertise and experience of these developments to other cities and large towns, so that the long commutes and traffic gridlock that ensues can be prevented, or at least curtailed.
This is only one aspect of the benefits that should accrue to such developments - they will also bring back smaller shops, artisan food producers and a new vibrancy to the inner cities which have suffered with the building of "dormitory towns" on the outskirts.
Learning from past experience, the Government will establish a proposed new public body, the National Regeneration and Development Agency to 'join up the dots' between local and central government, semi-state agencies and others who control vital land banks and the key infrastructure needed for this major shift in public policy.
Its first task will be to identify initial tranches of publicly owned or controlled lands and strategic land banks held in private ownership in key locations "with a potential for master planning and re-purposing for strategic development purposes".
One of the recognised failings of local, regional and national planning has been to push many people out of the cities.
Project Ireland 2040 says this has gone too far and it is now time to start repopulating the cities and larger towns so that people don't have as far to travel to work and, instead of a car-dependency culture, the primacy of public transport and easy access to jobs can be restored for as many people as possible.
For more information on Project Ireland 2040 visit the official website