'We need to bring people into the heart of towns'
PLANNERS have a responsibility to help "rescue" town and village centres decimated by out-of-town housing and retail developments, An Bord Pleanala has said.
It was not "too late" to implement policies which would encourage people to live in the heart of communities, and masterplans should be devised which would help make urban centres more attractive to live in.
Board chairwoman Dr Mary Kelly said that national policy was to halt the growth of out-of-town shopping centres, but that a focus was needed on redeveloping existing sites and providing accommodation above commercial premises.
Communities should be consulted to help determine what was needed, and planning authorities needed to "hold the line", she said.
"There is a lot of concern about the future of Irish towns and villages. There are vacant premises on main streets, with lifeless centres. One particular agency cannot influence it, and it's driven by the rise of the out-of-town shopping centres, the dominance in car transport and shopping as a lifestyle choice.
"We have a big need to re-think our towns and cities unless we're going to live around them. They need to be attractive for people of all ages to live in, from young to families to older people.
"There's a big challenge for designers and architects to get this right. It has to be done with local communities. There's no point in telling people where to live."
Her comments came amid major concern from business groups about the closure of businesses across the country as retailers open major premises outside town centres.
In addition, many housing developments are built on greenfield sites, instead of consideration being given to redevelop brownfield, or existing locations.
"Local authorities have a function in perhaps doing masterplans for towns and villages in their area, to make it look attractive so people can see the attraction of living there and being able to walk to school," she said. "A lot of the development planning in the last ten years looked at greenfield planning and not at redeveloping the main streets and living over the shop. Maybe we need to look at the brownfield sites.
"We have turned down out-of-town shopping centres, but the local authority is the first port of call. I don't think you can give up and say it's too late.
"We have a responsibility to try and rescue it at this point. We need a much more focused attempt by planning authorities, and we need to hold the line there."