29 March 2021
By Mary Bermingham
Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard has said that a new Government plan – Our Rural Future – reflects the changes in living and working patterns during Covid-19 and will maximise the recovery for all parts of the country.
“This plan, Our Rural Future, is the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in decades,” said Senator Lombard.
“The policy reflects the unprecedented change in living and working patterns during Covid-19 and the significant opportunities this presents for rural communities – from remote working and revitalising our Cork town centres, to job creation, to developing a green economy and enhancing our outdoor amenities.
“Our Rural Future sets out a blueprint for the development of rural Ireland over the next five years and is supported by 150 commitments across Government, which will address the challenges facing communities and deliver new opportunities for people living in rural areas.
“The policy complements, and will support, the delivery of other Government strategies and initiatives such as Project Ireland 2040, the Climate Action Plan, the forthcoming National Economic Recovery Plan, the National Broadband Plan, the National Remote Working Strategy and the Town Centre First Initiative.”
Senator Lombard continued, “For decades, we have seen global trends where young people leave their local communities to live and work in larger cities. As we emerge from Covid-19 we will never have a better opportunity to reverse that long-standing trend.
“The move to remote working, underpinned by the rollout of the National Broadband Plan, has the potential to transform rural Ireland like never before.
“It will allow people to work from their own local communities in Cork, revitalise our town centres, reduce commuting times, lower transport emissions and, most importantly, improve the quality of life of our people.
“Our Rural Future will also support the recovery of our Tourism and Hospitality sector, create jobs in the Green Economy and the Agri-food sector and make it easier to establish and grow a business in Rural Ireland.
“We will also assist rural businesses to diversify into new sectors and markets by taking advantage of high-speed broadband and new technologies.”
The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys said: “Our Rural Future represents a new milestone in the approach to rural development for Ireland.
“As we recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine rural Ireland and harness the talent, skills and creativity running through our rural communities.”
An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar said: “The Government’s ambition is to have more people working in all parts of Ireland, with access to quality employment and good careers.
“Remote working presents an opportunity for people to live and work in rural Ireland, no matter where their employer is based.”
Examples of some of the key actions which will be delivered through Our Rural Future include:
- Establish a network of over 400 remote working hubs nationwide, to enable more people to live and work in rural communities.
- Pilot co-working and hot desking hubs for public servants in regional towns.
- Move to 20% remote working in the public sector in 2021, with further annual increase over the next 5 years.
- IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta to promote and enable the uptake of remote working across their client base.
- Fund the repurposing of vacant buildings in town centres into remote working hubs.
- Review the tax arrangements for remote working for both employers and employees as part of Budget 2022.
- Introduce legislation in 2021 to provide employees with the right to request remote work.
- Provide funding to Local Authorities to run targeted campaigns to attract remote workers to their area.
- Examine the introduction of specific incentives to attract remote workers and mobile talent to live in rural towns.
Revitalising Rural Towns and Villages
- Put the future development and regeneration of rural towns at the heart of decision making through a new Town Centre First approach.
- Invest significantly in the revitalisation of town centres through the €1Billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
- Develop a new pilot scheme to support the use of rural pubs as community spaces and hubs for local services.
- Examine the establishment of a Community Ownership Fund to help community groups and social enterprises buy or take over local community assets and facilities at risk of being lost.
- As part of Budget 2022, examine the introduction of new financial supports to incentivise residential occupancy in rural towns.
- Exempt ‘over the shop’ type spaces from requiring planning permission for change of use for residential purposes.
- Enhance the powers of Local Authorities to offer commercial rates-based incentives targeting vacant commercial units.
- Provide funding for the enhancement and upgrade of shopfronts and street facades.
- Examine the introduction of ‘meanwhile use’ legislation so that empty buildings and shops on main streets can be brought back into use on a short-term basis as pop up shops, street markets and exhibition spaces.
- Expand the Town and Village Renewal Scheme as a key enabler to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use as multi-purposes spaces and for residential use.
- Fund the adaption of town centres and the development of outdoor spaces in rural towns for socialising.
- Prioritise the siting of new State agencies, Departments and enterprises in towns and cities outside of Dublin.
Optimising Digital Connectivity & New Technologies
- Roll-out the National Broadband Plan, the largest scale investment in rural Ireland since electrification.
- Explore how the NBP can be accelerated to deliver connectivity as soon as possible in rural areas.
- Increase the capacity for remote and blended learning to enable young people to access further and higher education courses while living in their own communities.
- Support rural enterprises to diversify into new sectors and markets by taking advantage of high speed broadband and new technologies.
- Provide grants to retail businesses in rural towns and villages to establish an online presence to complement traditional footfall trade.
- Develop and implement a new Adult Digital Literacy Strategy so that everybody, regardless of age, can capitalise on the connectivity and opportunities presented by the National Broadband Plan.
- Through the updated National Development Plan invest in key infrastructure projects to support balanced regional development.
- Target 400 new IDA investments for regional locations outside of Dublin over the period 2021-2024.
- Develop and construct Advanced Technology Buildings and landing space for multinational companies in 19 strategic regional locations.
- Invest in and deliver more Technological Universities to help support regional growth and to act as an anchor for regional economic development, research and investment.
- Publish a new Action Plan for Apprenticeship to ensure that we have a modern and responsive apprenticeship programme in key regional sectors
Rural Ireland’s Unique Tourism, Culture & Heritage
- Introduce a new National Outdoor Recreation Strategy, backed up by increased investment in trails, greenways, cycleways, blueways, angling and other rural amenities to capitalise on the increased demand for adventure tourism and bring economic benefits to rural towns and villages.
- Develop Ireland’s first ever Dark Skies Strategy, with a focus on the opportunities this unique blend of tourism and science can create for rural communities.
- Support the development of new flagship cross-border tourism projects, such as the Ulster Canal.
- Implement Culture and Creative Strategies in each Local Authority area, including “Culture Days”, to showcase local cultural heritage.
- Update the Rural Housing Guidelines for planning authorities.
- Identify the scope to channel additional Government services through the post office network.
- Implement a €70 million Transitional LEADER Programme for community-led rural development for the period 2021-2022, and develop and deliver a new LEADER programme to commence in 2023, in line with the next EU funding framework.
- Provide improved rural public transport services, including enhancements to Local Link, a subsidised Local Area Hackney Scheme for remote locations and a pilot to examine the potential for ride hailing services to improve rural connectivity.
- Increase the number of places on the Rural Social Scheme, TÚS AND Community Employment Schemes to support rural communities.
- Establish 96 new Community Healthcare Networks across the country to support people to live more independently in their community by coordinating and integrating services, with general practitioners, health and social care professions and nursing leadership at the local level.
- Support research and development in areas such as agri-food, biobased systems, smart agriculture and precision agriculture to promote and encourage innovation and diversification.
- Expand the number of farmers’ markets, farm shops and community-owned markets in all towns, to showcase produce from local farmers, growers and food producers.
- Enact legislation implementing revised provisions for the Fair Deal Scheme in respect of assets which are family-owned and operated farms and businesses.
- Support generation renewal, including young farmers and women in agriculture, through the CAP, taxation measures and access to finance initiatives.
- Publish and implement a new 10-year policy for the development of our offshore islands.
- Establish enterprise hubs on our islands to support employment opportunities
- Utilise the islands as test-beds for innovative technologies in areas such as eHealth and micro-generation of renewable energy.
- Develop an integrated, place-based approach to rural development to maximise investment and meet the long-term needs of individual parishes, villages and towns by supporting rural communities to develop long-term cohesive Master Plans for their areas.
- Develop a single online portal to provide a funding roadmap on the range of programmes and schemes available across Government for rural and community development.
- Establish a Rural Youth Assembly to allow young people living in rural Ireland to make an ongoing contribution to issues that impact on them and their future.
- Establish a permanent Volunteer Reserve in local areas that can be called on by community and voluntary organisations and local authorities.
- Develop and implement Local Digital Strategies in each Local Authority area to maximise the potential of improved rural digital connectively for businesses and communities.
Transition to a climate neural economy
- Maximise our resources and strengths in the Green Economy to support employment opportunities for communities in areas such as renewal energy, sustainable tourism, retrofitting, the bioeconomy and the circular economy.
- Provide funding to support the development of local allotments and community gardens.
- Through the Just Transition Fund, deliver flagship projects of scale, such as the €108million Bord na Móna Peatlands Restoration Project, to assist communities in the transition to a carbon neutral economy.
- Enable community energy to play a role in reaching the target of generating at least 70% of electricity through renewables by 2030, through supports such as a Community Benefit Fund and a community category within the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme.