Can the centres hold? Regeneration of Portlaoise and three other Midland towns

Portlaoise, Tullamore, Athlone and Mullingar are neighbouring however competing cities within the Midlands of Eire. Because of their location and with good highway and rail hyperlinks, all have skilled wholesome progress in recent times. Right this moment, all 4 have increasing populations, although altering social and retail patterns have introduced issues of underneath use, emptiness and even dereliction to their central areas.

A Nationwide Imaginative and prescient

The 2002 Nationwide Spatial Technique envisaged Tullamore, Athlone and Mullingar combining collectively to type a Midlands counterbalance to Dublin however this idea was deserted attributable to a scarcity of funding and the important political assist. A lesson was realized and Venture 2040 -the Nationwide Planning Framework (NPF) – a way more credible initiative backed by legal guidelines and funding, emerged in 2018

The NPF units out guiding ideas and identifies Athlone because the Regional Centre for the Midlands with Longford, Mullingar,Tullamore, Portlaoise and Carlow/Graiguecullen as Key Cities. The Japanese and Midlands Area Spatial and Financial Technique translated this nationwide coverage into the County Plans of Westmeath, Offaly and Laois. It’s now the flip of the person native authorities to ship the mandatory floor stage actions by way of Native Space Plans.

The avoidance of additional city sprawl is a principal concern of the NPF and to advertise compact settlements, not less than 30% of all new homes should be constructed inside or beside present constructed up areas.

New Plans

Consultants will now convey ahead initiatives which may entice City Regeneration and Growth Funding. Civic designers will then discover what these would possibly appear like. Following a means of public session and engagement with stakeholders, every Council will undertake a statutorily binding Native Space Plan incorporating all or a few of the concepts.

These Native Space Plans will make use of three key gadgets to revitalise or enhance historic city centres:

Alternative Websites

These are the largely cleared, able to go websites in single possession that are present in all the 4 cities and whose regeneration throughout the context of agreed grasp plans might entice URDF funding. The redevelopment of the Grand Canal Harbour in Tullamore is a major candidate.

Architectural Conservation Space (ACAs)

ACAs are the principal instruments for safeguarding, enhancing and selling a city’s streets and squares of architectural and historic character. The realm across the Citadel and Cathedral in Athlone is an efficient instance.

Amenity Routes

These will probably be linked, protected and nice cycle or pedestrian routes round every city, effectively separated from automobiles. The deliberate traces alongside the banks of the Triogue River in Portlaoise and the River Brosna in Mullingar are typical initiatives.

The place can we stand at present?

Some cities are extra superior of their plans than others.


Six Alternative Websites are situated on the jap financial institution of the Shannon, two of that are outdated procuring centres. Two ACAs embody the historic Citadel/Cathedral space and the Primary Avenue. Pedestrian and biking routes are deliberate alongside the banks of the Shannon with hyperlinks to the Nationwide Greenway biking route. Essential waterside views are recognized for cover or enhancement. The city has just lately launched into the preparation of a Regeneration Examine to information its future growth. Athlone adopted an LAP in 2014.


Two main websites at Blackhall Place and the Canal Environs are presently the topic of Regeneration Research and a number of other different Alternative Websites are designated across the city.The historic centre is contained inside an ACA. Deliberate pedestrian and biking routes will create hyperlinks alongside the banks of the River Brosna and connect with the Greenway. Mullingar adopted an LAP in 2014.


Two Alternative Websites focus across the station (each presently partly underneath growth for housing) and a 3rd as an infill of the city centre. A fourth seeks to create a brand new quarter primarily based on a strolling and biking route alongside the banks of the River Triogue. All the city centre is included inside an ACA. Portlaoise adopted an LAP in 2018 and goals to be Eire’s first low carbon city centre.


Seven Alternative Websites are situated within the city centre, two of that are particularly recognized as acceptable areas for larger buildings. Although the Greenway biking route passes alongside the financial institution of the Grand Canal, there are not any cycleways deliberate across the city, nor are any vital traffic-free linked pedestrian routes proposed. Surprisingly, Tullamore is exclusive in being the one county city in Eire which doesn’t contemplate any of its streetscapes to be worthy of safety, nor has it adopted an LAP.

Issues could be about to enhance nevertheless, as a quick with a price of €200.000 has been awarded to consultants to arrange a Regeneration Framework Plan for the centre and separate research have been commissioned additionally to find out the way forward for the Grand Canal Harbour and the heritage worth of key streetscapes. It is going to be attention-grabbing to see how outdoors eyes take a contemporary have a look at the city.

Following the end result of those research, the method of making ready an LAP will start in 2023 which can hopefully be adopted and operational by 2024. Paradoxically, if effectively dealt with, coming late to the social gathering might show a bonus in the long term for Tullamore.

Issues and Complexities

Of the twenty three ‘Alternative Websites’ recognized within the 4 cities solely two have delivered some precise growth. A current case in Tullamore demonstrates the difficulties in implementing this in any other case worthy initiative.

Confronted with the continuing non-performance of a outstanding however lengthy underused Alternative Web site within the very centre of the city, the Council just lately permitted a stand alone single storey store with allied floor parking. Hopes for some onsite housing, further flooring, energetic avenue frontage and public realm beneficial properties didn’t materialise within the face of the developer’s protestations that these had been merely uneconomic. Time alone will inform whether or not the Council’s resolution will ship a brief time period tactical win by cleansing up an eyesore or whether or not its battle with the insurance policies of the adopted County Plan and the compromising of the total growth potential of a key city centre website was a long run strategic error.

However city redevelopment might be fraught with a number of concerns of possession, planning and byelaw restrictions, website assemblage and preparation, financial rewards or penalties and never occasionally, character clashes.Tackling emptiness, combating dereliction and respiratory new life into city centres, whereas supporting the safety of the setting and the tradition and heritage of cities is a frightening job requiring a uncommon mixture of expertise, not essentially obtainable in every Council. As well as, the Authorities’s complicated package deal of economic incentives and penalties to encourage restore and renewal whereas punishing land hoarding and dereliction would require expert administration.

City Regeneration Officers

Profitable city renewal programmes have usually been these overseen by a single objective authority or an impressed particular person and the current announcement of the appointment of Regeneration Officers to implement the Governments ‘City Centres First’ coverage is to be welcomed.

This bold initiative is being trialled within the smaller county cities of Clara, Moate and Rathdowney and €100,000 has been awarded to every to have interaction consultants to arrange plans which can unlock funding from the assorted city and rural renewal schemes. These will probably be accredited and promoted by local people and enterprise teams and personal stakeholders underneath the steering of the City Regeneration Officer. Classes learnt will then be absorbed and inform the plans for the bigger cities in every county.

As has been the expertise in Westport and Kilkenny, the wholehearted adoption of this plan led and fingers on strategy may consequence within the transformation of our Midland cities additionally. With imaginative civic designs allied to sound funding and growth insurance policies and promoted and managed by younger and enthusiastic Regeneration Officers, a brighter future is feasible.

We are able to solely hope.

Fergal MacCabe is an architect and city planner and a former President of the Irish Planning Institute

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