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Small-Town High Streets Are Getting Battered. Here's How To Change That.

Westport in Co Mayo was one of three case study towns in the ‘Rejuvenating Ireland’s small-town centres’ report

Lack of high-speed broadband is a significant challenge for main streets in Ireland’s smaller towns, according to  a new report from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI).

Focused on 200 towns with populations of between 1,500 and 10,000, the ‘Rejuvenating Ireland’s small-town centres’ report claims that the growth of online retail sales and increasing urbanisation of the population have been negatively impacting small towns for some time.

“Because businesses in small towns don’t have broadband they can’t compete with bigger companies and international brands online,” report author and Future Analytics Director Stephen Purcell said.

“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 many small towns are dealing with the legacy issues associated with these centres as they often put small local enterprises out of business leading to vacant buildings before becoming vacant themselves due to lack of critical mass and their peripheral locations.

According to the report, restrictions on out-of-town shopping centres and provision of high-speed broadband are two measures that need to be implemented as a matter of urgency to reverse the decline of small town main streets.

The report also highlights the need for more residential use on high streets. Purcell said planning and building regulations are important features of change of use applications. “However, in many cases the financials don’t stack up as bringing these properties back to use can be prohibitively expensive. The Repair and Lease scheme, which provides grant aid to those looking to renovate properties, is not delivering a positive outcome and this needs to be addressed.”

Almost 600,000 people or 13% of the population live in towns of between 1,500 and 10,000 residents. The SCSI describes report as a call to action for central, local government and the private sector to come together to rejuvenate the heart of these rural communities. 

“We’d like to see restrictions on large scale retail centres which compete with rather than complement small town centres and the establishment of an Irish towns partnership to enable the sharing of best practice, innovation and mentoring from one town to another,” Purcell said. “Strategies must also be commissioned to create attractive high streets while government can help address the issue of vacant properties by considering the introduction of a land value tax."