Stephen Purcell: 'How towns can prosper through an 'Operation Transformation''
As outlined in our report today, the challenges facing Ireland's town centres are daunting. However, as we can see from several case studies in the report, they are not insurmountable.
One of the key differentiators for towns which have developed strategies to successfully tackle the challenges outlined in the report are local leadership and community collaboration.
For example, a plan and architect-led approach to town renewal has seen the town of Westport transformed over the past two decades.
The coherent and collaborative development of the town has given more control over development to the town's residents.
And this has resulted in appropriate and innovative design.
The many facets of the re-imagining of Westport have re-invigorated the town, leading to a livelier and more attractive place to live, work and visit.
There has also been a positive commercial impact, with vacancy rates now under 5pc.
Innovation is key to thriving regional high streets and Naas Regeneration Group established a first-of-a-kind project in Ireland.
The Me2You gift card company collaborated with local businesses to produce a Naas Gift Card, which can be used in local retail outlets and businesses.
This creates a closed loop, retaining expenditure and profit within the town.
Many of the positive recent changes in the thriving town of Clonakilty have been facilitated by the strong leadership provided by an elected mayor.
The Duchas Clonakilty Heritage Group - spurred into action by the dissolution of town councils in 2014 - saw the need for a local champion.
The initiative shown by the heritage group has ensured the community has a locally elected representative who can provide leadership for community projects.
The goal of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland in commissioning this report was to start a dialogue and encourage the rejuvenation of the heart of our rural communities.
The examples above show what can happen when communities are empowered and local authorities work in partnership with key local stakeholders.
The report recommends the establishment of an Irish Town Partnership in order to enable the sharing of best practice, innovation and mentoring from one town to another.
It's clear many of our small towns need to undergo an 'Operation Transformation', but as that programme shows, long-term leadership and commitment is required.
Stephen Purcell is the author of 'Rejuvenating Ireland's small-town centres' and a chartered surveyor and town planner with Future Analytics Consulting