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Boyle features in new town centre living report

A new report on the pilot “Town Centre Living Initiative”, which examined how to encourage more people to live in rural town and village centres, has been published this week and it features the key findings and potential solutions identified to getting people to live in the town centre of Boyle.

The report also speaks of “a new sense of optimism in Boyle. It is leading to people with and without a connection to the town making enquiries both to the Roscommon Planning Department and Local Enterprise Office.

The section of the report on Boyle reads as follows:

Background

Boyle was one of six rural towns who received €100,000 to explore how to encourage increased residential occupancy in those towns while addressing the issue of vacant properties. The initiative was delivered by the relevant Local Authorities in collaboration with Boyle Town Team.

The independent report, prepared by Space Engagers, outlines the approach taken by each town under the pilot to encouraging increased town centre living.   It sets out the key issues identified in re-purposing vacant properties for modern living, and the key findings which emerged.  The report concludes by identifying a range of 15 suggested actions for further consideration.

In relation to Boyle the report says:

Boyle progresses the vision plan Boyle 2040 that resulted from collaboration between the Council and
Boyle Town Team. The project focuses on Main Street and recognises the potential of backlands facing onto the
river; the need for maintenance of historic buildings; and the value of a quality public realm. A proposal to
coordinate funding streams, for example relating to heritage, accessibility and energy efficiency is put

forward.

Boyle town and its environs had a population of 2,568 in the 2016 census. The population has declined since 1831, when Boyle town centre would have been a much smaller, compact area with a population of3,433. The Georgian town would have been a much more vibrant and prosperous place due to the density of buildings, uses and consequent interactions which this compact settlement pattern would have created. Located in North Roscommon on the Boyle River, Boyle is rich in historical assets and water/outdoor adventure, for example at King House, Boyle Abbey and Lough Key Forest and Activity Park. There are good access links by road/rail. The residential vacancy level in the Town Core (the study area of the Boyle 2040 plan) is 80%.

Pilot Project

Boyle Pilot study area. The chosen focus in Boyle is Main Street, which is part of the study area for the

Boyle 2040 plan, and has therefore already been subject to in depth examination.

Planning context

The town’s extensive engagement in developing the Boyle 2040 plan has been a key influence in this pilot.
Past experience has shown that experiments in peripheral developments have displaced investment from
the main streets of the town and Boyle 2040 envisions a gradual reversal of this process through attracting people back to live and invest in the core town centre areas.
Main Street is designated an Architectural Conservation Area in the current Boyle Local Area Plan and the
block is also within the Boyle Historic Town Zone of Archaeological Potential on the Record of Monuments and Places. Several buildings within the street are listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage or are protected structures, providing an opportunity to examine the challenges involved in the adaptive reuse of such properties.
The Boyle 2040 plan advocates a town centre first approach to the location of new urban communities as
well as public and private investment. Roscommon County Council worked very closely with the Boyle Town Team in preparing Boyle 2040 and this engagement has continued during the TCLI pilot project and as related projects have come on stream. The TCLI funding has, combined with Historic Towns Initiative funding, facilitated wider collaboration, for example with property owners and the Heritage Council. Engagement with property
owners has taken place on an individual basis and in a group. This has included advice on essential maintenance and guidance on outline steps for the renovation of one property as an exemplar.
The redevelopments achieved and ongoing under Department of Rural and Community Development
(DRCD) funding (including TCLI) in Boyle are centred around improving the public realm associated with
the adjacent River Boyle area with the aim of making it more attractive to live, work and invest in. Many
of the properties on Main Street back on to the River Boyle and the riverside pathway, creating

opportunities for redevelopment to the rear of these properties facing onto the River Boyle.

Projects include:

•The Boyle Cycle Corridor, currently being completed using funding from the Fáilte Ireland “Destination Towns” scheme, links Lough Key Forest and Activity Park with its 270,000 visitors through to Boyle town centre, passing the regional and nationally significant assets of Boyle Abbey and King House.
•The redevelopment of the old Royal Hotel site with associated riverside promenade, acoustic shell and kayak launch point is immediately adjacent to the study area.
•An Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) for the southern side of Main Street provided an incentive for owners to tastefully improve their street frontages using a heritage conservation led approach.
During the consultations with owners, the concern over the poor state of the public realm in this area was
raised as a disincentive to living and doing business on this street. Public realm improvements, allied with

creating a “defined approach” to this culturally significant area, will be part of the next project for the continued development of the town.

Ongoing or future activities

• Improvement of footpaths and public realm on the street.
•Application to the RRDF for Public Realm improvements in the wider area to address barriers to
wanting to live in an area which has suffered from decades of dereliction.
• Completion of work on the Royal Hotel site and Cycle Corridor which will impact on the attractiveness and permeability of the area.
• Implement the Destination Towns project which was announced in December 2019 and will improve linkages from the pilot study area to a number of key tourist attractions, including Lough Key Forest and Activity Park.

• Work with Boyle Town Team to promote the pilot study area and wider town for the relocation of families.

Findings

Issues arising
For the Team in Boyle, the aim of the pilot project was to identify both the macro and micro level issues
impacting on the low residential occupancy in the town centre. From their consultations and work so far,
a sample of the issues arising relating to vacancy are:
• Properties bought for investment several years ago where it is difficult to trace the owner.
• Properties not transferred following the death of an owner due to there being no will.
• If an owner uses the lower floor for commercial use they are not eligible for a mortgage for the overall property.
• Lack of “community” among owners resulting in high costs for maintenance when operating on an individual basis.
• Uncertainty relating to the structural integrity of the building until works commence.
• Age profile of owners.
• Complications and cost when properties are in the Architectural Conservation Area and/or are designated protected structures.
• Properties are stuck in probate.
• Lack of finance to renovate properties.
• Properties are in negative equity.
• It is difficult to make a return on investment.
• In a number of cases the lack of access to the rear of the properties and/or no garden limits the attractiveness for families.
• Preference for suburban living with access to own garden.
• Complaints about the public realm/footpath conditions in the area.

• Lack of adequate range of employment opportunities in the town to encourage people back who have skills in new areas (in particular for young people)

Potential Solutions

Overall, the funding received across the 3 programmes of DRCD, along with Boyle 2040, is leading to a
new sense of optimism in Boyle. It is leading to people with and without a connection to the town making
enquiries both to the Roscommon Planning Department and Local Enterprise Office. Work on the pilot
has identified the need for the following:
• A programme of incentives/funding to attract people in to renovate and live in the town centre.
• Continued development of the public realm and civic spaces to allow good quality shared spaces for families.
• Connection with SEAI and other potential funders to provide a package of supports for the renovation of properties.
• A step by step guide to the issues when you take over/purchase a property and an understanding of what works can be carried out without massive investment.
• Promotion to the diaspora of the area who may be encouraged to come back to former family connected town.
• Access to best practice examples from outside Ireland, where other models have worked in other locations.
• Access to expertise from Irish sources, such as the senior architect from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who was available during the pilot project, to consult on the on the ground reality of projects ongoing in Irish towns.
• Presentation and buy in from banks to support people to renovate.

• The model used to develop the Repair and Leasing Scheme, but for private owners and developers, would be worth exploring.

Following the publication of the report Minister Michael Ring said “I have asked my officials to review the 15 suggested actions identified by the authors of the report for further consideration, and to prepare proposals for new policy measures that will further encourage and support people to live in rural town centres.  To this end, I have asked my Department to convene a senior officials group from key Departments and agencies to bring forward a set of proposals for consideration by the incoming Government before the end of the year.”

(Boyletoday.com main photograph shows Main Street following it’s building enhancement under the Historic Towns Initiative)

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