The Government says the new Our Rural Future is a new whole-of-Government blueprint policy for rural Ireland for the period 2021-2025.
The Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael / Green Party coalition also say it represents a new milestone in the approach to rural development policy for Ireland.
"The policy builds on, but goes beyond, the Action Plan for Rural Development 2017-2019 by adopting a more strategic, ambitious and holistic approach to investing in and maximising opportunities for rural areas. It addresses both the challenges facing rural areas and the opportunities for rural economies and communities, including in areas such as remote working and the transition to a climate-neutral society.
"The policy’s objectives will be achieved through the delivery of 150 commitments, to be implemented progressively over the next five years across a range of Government Departments and agencies. Further commitments will be added to over the lifetime of the policy to respond to emerging needs and opportunities in rural areas.
"It will be underpinned by investment across Government in areas such as the roll out of high-speed broadband, remote working facilities, job creation, town centre regeneration, community development, improvements in regional and local roads, new cycling and walking infrastructure, expanded rural transport services, funding for tourism, culture and heritage projects, and a just transition to a climate-neutral society.
"Our Rural Future complements, and will support, the delivery of other Government policies and strategies such as Project Ireland 2040, the Climate Action Plan, the forthcoming National Economic Recovery Plan, the National Broadband Plan, the National Remote Work Strategy and the Town Centre First initiative. The policy places a particular emphasis on the relevance of those initiatives to rural areas," it says.
The Government adds that the development of the policy was informed by an extensive consultation process with a wide range of rural stakeholders in 2019 and 2020.
Key actions which the Government says will be delivered through Our Rural Future include:
Vision and Objectives
Our Rural Future sets out a Vision and Objectives which sees rural Ireland as central to our post-COVID recovery and integral to our longer-term national economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing and development.
The Vision emphasises the interdependence of rural and urban areas and recognises:
- the centrality of the people who live in rural Ireland;
- the importance of vibrant and lived-in rural places; and
- the possibilities for rural areas to support quality jobs and contribute to sustaining our shared environment.
The policy will encourage and support rural communities to develop cohesive and integrated plans to meet the long-term needs of their own particular area, recognising that each rural place is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to meet the developmental needs of every area.
· 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
Tourism, Culture & 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 neutral economy
The high-level outcomes of delivering this policy will see:
- More people living in rural Ireland, including in our towns and villages and on the islands;
- More people working in rural Ireland, with good career prospects, regardless of where their employer is headquartered;
- Rural Ireland contributing to, and benefiting from, the transition to a low-carbon economy and a climate-neutral society;
- Rural towns being vibrant hubs for commercial and social activity; and
- Rural communities, and especially young people, having an active role in shaping the future for rural Ireland.
Our Rural Future addresses the following thematic objectives:
§ Optimising the opportunities for rural communities from high speed broadband, in particular through investment in remote working
§ Supporting improved quality employment and career opportunities in rural areas
§ Assisting the regeneration, repopulation and development of rural towns and villages
§ Enhancing the participation, leadership and resilience of rural communities
§ Enhancing public services in rural areas
§ Transitioning to a climate neutral society
§ Supporting the Sustainability of Agriculture and Natural Resources
§ Supporting the sustainability of our island and coastal communities
§ Nurturing our culture and heritage (runs throughout the other thematic areas).
Over 150 policy commitments, each led by a named Government Department or Agency, will be progressively delivered across these themes over the policy’s five year timeframe. An annual work programme will enable new actions to be added over the policy’s lifecycle, to respond to the emerging needs of rural communities.
What the politicians say
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said:
“Ireland is heading into an era of unprecedented change, and with that comes unprecedented opportunity.
“Over the course of the pandemic, we have discovered new ways of working and we have rediscovered our communities.
“The policy we launch today, Our Rural Future, provides a framework for the development of rural areas over the next five years.
“The policy is forward-looking and ambitious and addresses both the challenges facing rural areas and the opportunities which rural economies and communities can capitalise on.
“The Government’s vision is for a rural Ireland which is integral to our national economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing and development.
“That vision is built on the talent, skills and creativity of people in rural communities; on the importance of vibrant and lived-in rural places; and on the potential to create quality jobs and sustain our shared environment.
“Rural Ireland will play a central role in our recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
“The commitments outlined today will benefit individuals, families, communities and businesses. It will enhance the wellbeing and quality of life of people living in rural areas.
“It will build resilient and sustainable rural communities and economies through investment, supports and services. And it will ensure that rural communities are at the heart of designing and delivering responses that meet local needs.”
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.
“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, revitalise our town centres, reduce commuting times, lower transport emissions and most importantly - improve the quality of life of our people.”
An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar said:
“We want to have more people working in all parts of Ireland, with good quality jobs on offer and good career prospects. The COVID-19 pandemic has already shown us what’s possible in terms of remote working and flexible working. Our Rural Future is one of the ways that the Government is making that a permanent option.
“Our Rural Future will help the tourism and hospitality sectors to recover after the pandemic, create jobs in the Green Economy and the Agri-food sector, and make it easier to set up and grow a business in Rural Ireland.
“It means more people will be able to live in their communities, or move to new ones, with the option of good quality employment. It will mean less commuting, and more vibrant communities as people have more time to spend with their families, their neighbours, and local clubs and organisations.
“Broadband and new technologies are key to making this happen. That work has already started. I am proud to have been part of the Government that kicked off the National Broadband Plan – the biggest investment in rural Ireland since electrification. And I’m equally proud to be part of the Government that is now making it happen.”
Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan stated:
“Now is the time to be ambitious for rural Ireland. The governments investment in climate action will bring new job opportunities to rural communities, in areas such as renewable energy, retrofitting and sustainable farming and tourism. The National Broadband Plan will act as a key enabler for the development of new businesses in regional and rural Ireland, together with an increased opportunity for people to work from home. Through the Just Transition Fund, Government is supporting the retraining and reskilling of rural workers and assisting local communities and businesses to adjust to the low carbon transition.
“We want to put the development and regeneration of our rural towns and villages at the heart of decision making, so that they are vibrant centres where people can live, work and socialise, with walking, cycling and public transport options connecting people and places. The Government will continue to support this active mobility through the National Transport Authority, with €72m in funding being allocated in 2021 for high quality cycling and walking infrastructure for our more rural towns and villages across the country. Through the implementation of Our Rural Future, Government will seize this unprecedented opportunity for rural Ireland.”
Our Rural Future, Ireland’s Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 is available here.
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