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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
James Horan/Photocall Ireland George's St, Waterford.

Column A new pilot scheme could breathe life into cities with high unemployment

The ‘Living Cities’ scheme is all about urban regeneration and the aim is to revitalise retail in Waterford City – and Limerick – through a series of tax incentives, writes Ciara Conway TD.

I’M THE LABOUR TD for Waterford and, along with health, the issue of employment is the one I’m asked about most often – and rightly so.

It’s no secret that Waterford and the South East has its difficulties with a high unemployment rate. Almost one in five people are without a job; that’s significantly higher than the national average.

The tide may be turning, however.

€44 million injection

Just this week we had an announcement from Sanofi, a major multinational drugs company, that it will invest €44m euro at its Waterford Genzyme base. It will become the main plant for the production of ‘Lantus’ , a leading brand of insulin that will be supplied worldwide. It’s a vote of confidence which could create up to one hundred jobs in the process.

On Wednesday, Minister Noonan published the Finance Bill and, buried in this large document, was news of a pilot scheme which could be another step helping to get the buzz back into the city centre.

In case you didn’t know : Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland.

It’s where the Vikings first landed, and where Strongbow and Aoife got married. In recent times it has taken big hits on the jobs front, and the businesses in the city centre have suffered as the doughnut effect kicks in with many large shops moving to the outskirts.

Living Cities

The ‘Living Cities’ scheme is all about urban regeneration and the aim is to revitalise retail in Waterford City – and Limerick – through a series of tax incentives.

There are two strands – one focusing on incentivising local businesses to refit and upgrade their premises, the other based on encouraging people to live in historic buildings. Waterford has an abundance of beautiful period properties so it will be a good test location.

As regards the regeneration of the retail heartland; the focus will be on assisting and encouraging local business. This is NOT a back door return to the old investor schemes, where developers came in, bought property, claimed the reliefs then left the properties lying empty.

Retailers will be entitled to relief on works undertaken to upgrade or refit their shops.

Accelerated Capital Allowances, a type of relief which has been in place for quite some time, will be available to retailers to allow them to claim for refitting works etc over a period of seven years at a rate of 15 per cent for the first 6 years and 10 per cent for the final year.

It’s a small step, but I think it’s positive in the sense that it shows that this Government recognises that there are serious problems in Waterford and any measures or schemes that propose to tackle that are very welcome indeed.

Signs of positivity

We have a long way to go in terms of getting our fair share of investment in Waterford, but there are signs. A Pilot Scheme, a major investment from an international company. Site visits from the IDA have increased dramatically, and it has just invested heavily in a modern ‘smart building’ facility that will be another piece of the jigsaw. A local company that started up just over a year ago, Eishtec, now employs 400 people in Waterford, and 250 elsewhere in the South East.

Minister Bruton’s department has a dedicated Action Plan for the South East, with a focus on jobs for Waterford. A quick look at today shows 80 positions available in Waterford alone, not to mention neighbouring counties in the south east.

Behind the scenes, meetings are being had and work is underway with companies, and groups like the IDA being lobbied hard, and lobbying hard.

It won’t happen overnight. There’s a long way to go. But there are signs of positivity for places like Waterford, and lots happening behind closed doors that can’t always be reported in media.

So will this new ‘Living Cities’ pilot scheme make a difference ?

Maybe so.

It’s another piece in the slow jigsaw, and is a signal that Waterford’s issues are being recognised and that can only be a good thing.

Ciara Conway is a Labour TD for Waterford, and the Vice Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Health,Children and Youth Affairs.

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