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Dáil debates bill to deal with 'crisis in Irish towns'

The government has declined to accept a private members’ bill put forward by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil today.

Barry Cowen speaking in the Dáil this morning
Barry Cowen speaking in the Dáil this morning
Image: Screengrab via Oireachtas TV

THE GOVERNMENT HAS said it will not accept a Fianna Fáil bill that proposes to create ‘town teams’ that would oversee the revitalisation of urban centres across the country.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, the Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan said that while Barry Cowen’s private members’ bill contained some good proposals much of what was being put forward has already been done by the government

“I do believe putting in another layer would be confusing,” she said of the proposed ‘town teams’.

The Local Government Town Centres Bill, proposed by Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, would create the ‘town teams’ in each local authority that would be charged with overseeing a range of revitalisation plans.

Among the responsibilities of the teams would be revamping the current system of commercial rates, changes to parking charges, greater flexibility on building use, changes to planning laws to encourage town centre development, and abolition of upward only rent review.

“Under the bill each town would have a team drawn from business, civil service, politics, Gardai and Civic groups to evaluate the issues the town faces,” Cowen said.

“While the broader difficulties are nationwide problems they manifest themselves in different ways on the ground. A localised team for each town allows them to identify their own local needs and requirements rather than an unwieldy top down approach.”

Cowen said there is a “crisis in Irish towns” where “outside of the M50 towns are struggling with an incessant stream of closures”.

Speaking for Sinn Féin, Brian Stanley called for a referendum on upward only rent reviews if one is needed. The government has said that abolishing upward only rents would be problematic due to constitutional difficulties.

Stanley said there was not a need for full-time ‘town teams’ but voluntary ones that would be backed up with “strong local government”.

O’Sullivan acknowledged that “life has been sucked out of our town centres” as a result of the economic collapse and said that “vibrant town centres contribute to social inclusion”.

She said one of the best ways of addressing this would be overall economic recovery.

The Minister said that while Cowen’s proposals “have merit” they do not require the structures he has proposed, highlighting the government’s own plans to create municipal districts within new local authority structures.

Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan said that establishing another structure “would lead to a lot of confusion”.

O’Sullivan said that the government would not be accepting Cowen’s bill.

Read: Nearly one in eight commercial properties in Ireland is unoccupied

Read: In landmark decision, court says Bewley’s Grafton Street rent should fall

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Hugh O'Connell

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