A comprehensive strategy for small towns to survive and prosper was launched at the National Ploughing Championships on Wednesday. “A Strategy For Rural Retailing” was launched by Graignamanagh woman, Ann Phelan who is also the Minister for Rural Affairs.
“As a rural dweller, I see at first hand the effect on rural life and community wellbeing of the declining importance of some rural town centres. On the other hand, I also know of other towns which are flourishing and I feel that we can learn from their experience,” she said.
She welcomed the fact that Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) had been actively working, over the past year or so, on a project to develop an indicative framework to help local authorities, retailers, consumers, citizens and communities energise and reinvigorate their towns.
“Their strategy evolved from the engagement of REI with their retail partners, local and community leaders and other stakeholders. With their assistance, REI carried out an analysis of the current challenges facing rural retailers and came up with a range of strategic interventions which could alleviate them.
“Central to their strategy is a strong belief that actions can be taken which will increase the engagement and relevance of rural town centres to local communities. These actions would be developed in partnership with, and implemented through “Town Teams” which must comprise active stakeholders from public, private, voluntary and community groups. Evidence has shown that success is assured, when these town plans are developed through active collaboration of all stakeholders, not simply a few ‘good citizens’, a definite, prioritised and costed plan is put in place and the Town Team is given a strong and supportive mandate to deliver on measurable actions.
“The strongest messages I take from this strategy are first of all that a lot can be done to improve the vibrancy and relevance of rural towns and cities, if communities are willing to work together on a cohesive plan and secondly that REI has actually provided a robust framework which will help communities take the first step along the way.
Minister Phelan said: “As the economy gets back on track, it’s essential that we see this growth return across urban and rural Ireland in equal measures. In the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger bust, many small towns find themselves trying to compete with large out-of-town retail parks, in an already challenging market. To level the playing pitch, we need to encourage a rural revival, including the establishment of rural enterprise development zones and a small-town stimulus programme.
“I am delighted to attend my first National Ploughing Championship in my capacity as Minister for Rural Affairs. One of the largest events of its kind, it offers a great opportunity to discuss issues directly facing rural Ireland. It’s hugely beneficial to hear an exchange of views and fresh ideas, and I look forward to engaging with all participants and visitors alike at this year’s championship.”
The strategy is very detailed and comes under the following headings: Town teams; carparking; retail mix and planning; local distinctiveness & branding; streetscape; benchmarking performance; property legislation; rent and rates control; training support; dealing with vacancy and safety; evening and night-time economy; auditing town performance and casual trading.