A new report has said restrictions on out of town shopping centres and the provision of high-speed broadband are just two measures which need to be implemented urgently if the decline of the mains streets of our small towns is to be reversed.
The report, ‘Rejuvenating Ireland’s small town centres’, is from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI).
The SCSI says the report is a call to action for central, local government and the private sector to come together to rejuvenate the heart of our rural communities.
Stephen Purcell, the author of the report, says it’s time for fresh initiatives from local authorities to facilitate community empowerment and collaboration right across the country.
“Because businesses in small towns don’t have broadband they can’t compete with bigger companies and international brands online. The crash when it came pushed more people towards our main cities – or emigration – while the impact of out of town shopping centres exacerbated the challenges faced by businesses in small towns,” Purcell said.
“In fact, many small towns are dealing with the legacy issues associated with these centres as they often put small local businesses out of business – leading to vacant buildings - before becoming vacant themselves due to lack of critical mass and their peripheral locations.”
The report highlights the uneven nature in which Ireland’s population and employment, noting that areas apart from large cities and towns are well off the pace, highlighting that 70% of settlements outside Dublin recorded an increase in commercial vacancy rates between 2013 and 2017.
The report underlines the urgent need to inject more residential use back into our high streets to help breathe new life into them.
'The Perfect Storm'
Purcell says changes in consumer behaviour, specifically a move towards ‘experiential’ shopping, a vacuum in local government and increased costs for businesses have helped create ‘the perfect storm’ for regional businesses.
“Consumers now spend less on goods and more on experiences such as food, beverages, and services. As a result, attractive, vibrant, accessible locations draw visitors, while narrow main streets with lots of traffic and outdated or vacant buildings, deter them.
He said that since town councils were dissolved in 2014, local authorities have less on an influence on the development and fortunes of their towns.
He added that decision making has become centralised or removed from where it is required.
“A common theme that emerged throughout the compilation of this report was the importance of strong and visionary local authorities,” Purcell concluded.
“While the dissolution of the town councils four years ago removed truly local decision making from the hands of individual towns, more powers were provided to local authorities. Therefore, it is the local authority which must drive forward the rejuvenation efforts in towns within their boundaries.”
© 2018 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Aidan O’Sullivan. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.