Michael Ring: Government intends to redistribute investment to rural areas

Project Ireland 2040 will make villages and towns more attractive places to live, in expectation of substantial population growth, says Michael Ring.

The Department of Rural and Community Development was created by the Taoiseach last June, at an opportune time.

As someone who has spent his career working with rural communities, I intend to help rural Ireland emerge stronger from the challenges it is facing.

We need to ensure balanced and sustainable regional growth.

An additional one million people will be living in Ireland in 20 years’ time and we need a plan, and a programme of investment, to determine where they will live, work, and study and how they will travel around.

Under Project Ireland 2040, which will be launched by the Government, in Sligo, tomorrow, 75% of that population growth will be outside Dublin, with 50% in rural towns and villages.

People should have a decent quality of life, no matter where they live. Our challenge is to make rural Ireland a more attractive place to live and work and I believe that Project Ireland 2040 will accomplish that.

I, and my colleagues, have worked with Finance Minister, Pascal Donohoe, and Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, to ensure that Project Ireland 2040 delivers for rural Ireland and I am confident that it will.

The document has been fundamentally redrafted, since the initial draft, last year.

By having a practical, workable growth plan, and by backing it up with smart and significant investment in our rural communities, towns and villages, Project Ireland 2040 can enable rural Ireland to realise its potential.

Despite what the professional naysayers will have you believe, there is a huge amount to be positive about in rural Ireland.

The tide is turning on rural job-creation.

Whereas, at the start of the recovery, much of the job-creation was in Dublin, that trend has been reversed. In the last year, nine out of 10 new jobs created were outside Dublin.

Many of my department’s investments in rural communities are focused on supporting jobs and economic activity.

Digital hubs are springing up around the country, many with financial assistance from my department.

These hubs provide rural innovators and entrepreneurs with a shared workplace, among like-minded individuals and access to high-speed broadband.

Ultimately, the hubs allow people to live and work in a rural setting, often in the community they grew up in, instead of having to commute long distances or relocate for work.

I recently visited The Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen.

It was allocated €150,000 by my department, through the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Over 30 business interests are operating out of the hub and it has been such a success that businesses are now leaving the hub and taking up previously empty premises in the town.

The Town and Village Renewal Scheme was created as part of a government response to the challenges being faced by rural towns and villages.

So far, 400 towns and villages have benefitted from the scheme and I look forward to announcing another round in the coming months.

I am also confident that Project Ireland 2040 will significantly benefit our rural towns, villages, and communities.

My department also administers the Rural Recreation Scheme, which provides financial support for recreational amenities, such as greenways, cycleways, and walkways. Local communities get a wonderful amenity, which, in many cases, helps to attract visitors to the area, thus boosting the local economy.

The Waterford Greenway is a perfect example of the recreational and economic benefits of this approach. Of the 250,000 people who have walked or cycled the greenway, in its first nine months in operation (an extraordinary figure), two-thirds were from Co Waterford.

15% of them use the greenway daily, while 27% use it weekly.

Of those people from outside the county, 80% stayed in paid accommodation, spending on average of €100 per night.

68% of these people said the greenway was the main reason they had travelled to Waterford.

Overall, 41% of users spent money while using the trail, and of those who spent on food and drink, the average spend was €28.50.

So it has been a resounding success, both as a local and national amenity, and has provided a huge boost to the economy along the 46km of the trail.

It shows that, through smart investment in local infrastructure, we can help rural communities to exploit the economic and recreational potential of their local areas.

This is an exciting time for rural Ireland.

With the economy on a sound footing and a significant planning and investment package about to start, we have the opportunity to rebalance development away from Dublin and make rural Ireland a more attractive place in which to live and work.

 

– Michael Ring is Minister for Rural and Community Development.

Reference list: Irish Examiner. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/views/analysis/michael-ring-government-intends-to-redistribute-investment-to-rural-areas-828134.html

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