Monday 22 July 2019

Need to move fast for town to survive

Margaret Roddy

An impassioned plea for the Government to act quickly to save the centre of towns like Dundalk was made by Town Centre Commercial Manger Martin McElligott of Dundalk BIDs at the launch of the findings of the Heritage Town Centre Health Check in the County Museum on Friday.

'The biggest gift the Government can give us to speed up time and decisions,' he told the attendance, which including Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Damien English T.D.

Stressing that town centre businesses operate close to the edge and are 'always 60 days away from the end,' he appealed for steps to be taken now to help them survive.

'We have a need to move fast if we're to survive,' he warned, pointing to the threat posed by Brexit to border towns like Dundalk.

He emphasised that the business community was 'extremely concerned' about what will happen post-Brexit.

They had already lived through a recession when 'the lights went out' and everything disappeared and needed to ensure that didn't happen again.

He also pointed out that the local area plans were out of date as is the County Development Plan and that this makes the situation more difficult.

Welcoming visitors, including a delegation from Holland, to the launch, the chairperson of Dundalk Municipal District, Cllr John McGahon said that the new data contained in the survey would allow the local authority to make informed and qualified decisions.

The value of town centres and of historic buildings, was highlighted by Virginia Teehan, Chief Executive of the Heritage Council. 'Ireland's Town Centres are steeped in history,' she said. 'The collaborative health check process, which has been championed by the Heritage Council and its partners, enables us to understand our unique historic environments so that we can plan effectively for their future.'

The Health Check provides a baseline study of viability, vibrancy and health of Irish town centres, she explained. They were, she continued, facing challenges from e-shopping, economic changes and also the impact of climate change, and people need to be creative and imaginative on how they shape and re-imagine town centres in the future.

She pledged that the Heritage Council will continue to support Dundalk as towns in the border region need support.

Louth County Council Director of Service Frank Pentony said that the information contained in the Health Check would be helpful for the local authority as it begins the review of the Louth County Development Plan and town plans.

He noted that Dundalk was one of three towns in the East Midlands Region designed as a regional growth centre, along with Drogheda and Athlone, and is part of the Dublin -Belfast economic corridor.

Brexit offered opportunities for Dundalk, he said, citing the example of the pharmaceutical packing firm Walsdell and other companies from Northern Ireland which want a presence in the EU.

He spoke of the importance of creating accommodation in the town centre so that people can live and work here.

Dr Michael Mulvey, President of Dundalk Institute of Technology said that the college was a real asset to the town of Dundalk, with 5,000 student population and 500 staff, making it a very strong employer in the town.

Noting the involved of the Institute in the survey, through the work of students under Eamonn McMahon, he said he looked forward to 'continued collaboration with all the stakeholders involved in this innovative project to maximise the opportunities for this historic trading town, ensuring it continues to prosper and grow for the benefit of Dundalk and the wider region.'

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Damien English T.D. stressed the importance of collaboration by all the stakeholders to build on the sense of place provided by town centres.

'Town centres are more than bricks and mortar - they are the traditional heart and lifeblood of urban areas and their surrounding rural catchments,' he said. 'Project 2040 is committed to regenerating these special places in order that they will survive and thrive for current and future generations'.

Ali Harvey, the Collaborative TCHC Training Programme Co-ordinator with the Heritage Council highlighted 'The Dundalk project demonstrates the importance of having agreed, robust baseline data to inform decision-making and investment proposals for town centre renewal and revitalisation, particularly in relation to Border Towns that are facing an uncertain time. The collaborative efforts of the Project Partners, along with the wonderful ideas produced by the DkIT students, have been very rewarding. The innovative partnerships created and nurtured through the project bode well for the future of this wonderful historic, border town.'

The Argus