The new five-year plan for rural Ireland is about revitalising towns and villages, not encouraging construction in remote areas, according to Minister Heather Humphreys.
The new 'Our Rural Future' plan, announced this morning, will offer tax breaks for working from home and funding to re-purpose vacant buildings in rural towns.
The Government is also examining further financial incentives such as relocation grants to move people away from cities and towards rural towns and villages.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, the Rural Development Minister Heather Humphreys said coronavirus pandemic had offered “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to re-imagine life in rural Ireland.
“This comes on the back of a year that has changed every single aspect of our lives,” she said.
“I think the pandemic has made us all take stock and re-evaluate what is most important to us all. So, this is a golden opportunity to reimagine and re-evaluate what rural Ireland means to us all and create the type of rural Ireland we want see in five years’ time
“The policy is about creating good quality jobs, allowing people to live and work in their own community but most importantly of all it is about giving people choices.”
She said working from home can be a “gamechanger” for rural Ireland – with tens of thousands of people across the country now working remotely every day.
“The benefits are huge,” she said. “Reduced commuting time, more time spent with family, increased footfall in rural towns and more importantly a better quality of life for people.”
She said the scheme was about revitalising towns and villages – and insisted planning regulations would prevent people from building homes in isolated locations.
“This is not about a scattergun approach here,” she said. “This is about looking at our towns and our villages and looking at how we can change and repurpose the centres of our towns.
“There are many, many buildings there that can be renovated. I would like to see people living in the centre of town so it is about how we can make it attractive.
“We have spent a lot of money on town and village renewal. On improving the public realm and providing outdoor spaces and creating parks and really good amenities so it makes these towns much more attractive places to live.
“We are also going to speak to the local authorities and provide funding for service sites in towns and villages; I am not talking about out in the country, I am talking about in towns and villages. It is about sustainable development.”
She conceded that there will still be people who choose to live in more isolated areas.
“That brings its own challenges as well but this focus is definitely on towns and villages and how we can repurpose them for modern-day living and invest in the premises and get people back there living again,” she said.
Minister Humphreys said the plan can also improve quality of life in the country’s larger cities – noting that the biggest mistake we could make now would be to “go back to the old normal.”
“What I am saying is we can have the right balance and there is no reason why city centres can’t become vibrant places for people to live,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be about just coming into the centre of the city to work – why not look at how we can develop the centre of cities as places to live as well because people bring vibrancy.
“I really want to get way from this urban versus rural thing. That is not the case here. It is how we can all work together. We are only a small country and it is how we can maximise the benefits for both urban and rural.”
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