24 Sept 2022

Laois council bringing in experts for masterplan to rejuvenate of prime Laois town

Will include dereliction strategy

Masterplan to be building blocks for future of Laois town

Laois County Council has begun the process of recruiting experts to create the building blocks for the revitalisation of Rathdowney.

The local authority has invited tenders from a suitably qualified urban-design led team to prepare a Town Centre First Plan for the town in the south of the county. It is not the first such blueprint commissioned by the council but it is the first town in Laois to benefit under the Government's Town Centre First policy.

Laois County Council has already received €100,000 under this policy to work closely with local community groups, retailers and others to devise and develop a blueprint for Rathdowney which local representatives have said has fallen behind other Laois hubs in the development stakes. 

The council says the Town Centre Masterplan shall provide a vision for the development of the town which can be bought into by property owners and the local community. The successful bidders will be required to include a detailed study of the area and identify key projects / actions to further the
realisation of the vision.

This includes the preparation of a strategy to identify an address dereliction in the town, the refurbishment/ repurposing of vacant and/or derelict buildings and the development of underutilised infill/backland areas.

The council says the Masterplan must also offer a comprehensive path forward for the revitalisation of the town as a desirable place to live and work as a central component of the emerging Town Centre First Policy.

The local authority says it is envisaged that this Masterplan will subsequently provide a basis for the town to seek support
from multiple funding streams to maximise State investment, and offer an opportunity for the delivery of a co-ordinated programme of investment for the area, rather than funding being sought and spent on individual projects on an ad-hoc basis.

The council wants the Masterplan to explore a vision for the future direction of the town which is focussed on the town centre and immediate surrounds. The tender invite says it should emphasise “place making”, town centre living, the social and economic purpose of the town, enterprise/job creation and a collaborative stakeholder development approach which is led by a Town Team or similar structure.

The council says the Town Team should include public and private sector, community organisations, and business interests.

The council also wants the consultant to deliver on some key objectives and projects.

The local authority adds that Masterplan shall include detailed background information, which is key to understanding the
place and setting the vision for the future, and present proposals for projects/developments within the specified area.

Laois County Council also wants the appointed consultant to engage with community organisations, business interests, public sector and private sector interests in order to form a Community/Town Team for Rathdowney.  It says the town already has broad spectrum of community organisations including Tidy Towns, community hall committee, panto committee, arts group, sports clubs etc as well as the Donaghmore Museum Committee close to the town.

The council is requiring bidders to undertake a collaborative town centre health check.

As part of preparing the plan, a consultation exercise in collaboration with the Local Authority and Community/Town Team, will be required.

The council says this will afford an opportunity to all interested parties to participate in the process and thereby promote social inclusion.

It will also allow the dissemination of information to interested parties on all aspects of the Town Centre Masterplan, including the vision, development complexities, objectives etc.

The Consultant will also be required to prepare an analysis that will cover: the physical character of the town, it’s setting within the landscape, land use and vacancy survey, the history of the town, identification of key employers, review of all relevant planning policies.

The council's overall view is set out in the tender.

"The Masterplan process of analysis and appraisal shall set the basic ‘building blocks’ for a responsive Town Centre Master Plan. The plan shall provide a holistic response that builds upon existing assets, directly addresses pressing issues and identifies future challenges," it says.

The council adds: "The outcome of this process should be a plan for the town’s development, supported by key visuals that communicate a ‘feel’ for the town and the vision going forward. A number of key possible projects shall be identified; it is intended that those projects will be capable of being developed and refined at a later stage.

Other elements of the tender set out the following.
Role: What the town’s primary function is/will be (enterprise, industries, tourism etc.) in relation to its location and the broader hierarchy of settlements within the county/region.
Image: What the town is/will be known for, how it will attract people/investment and the impression it will leave on those who visit it.
Vibrancy and Vitality: How the town will generate activity, support a diverse range of businesses, provide animated streets and spaces and an attractive living environment.
Regeneration: How declining and derelict spaces should be regenerated
Economic resilience: how the Town can maintain or achieve economic resilience together with its ability to withstand potential future economic events
Inclusion: How the town will support the wellbeing of a diverse community.
Heritage and culture: How the rich history of the town (and broader hinterland) will become a meaningful part the town centre experience.
Climate: How the town will adapt to future challenges and build in climate resilience.

As part of the process of examining the above topics, practical issues to be addressed by the
Consultant shall include:
• Enhancement of the public realm to create more attractive streets and spaces.
• Encouraging a complementary mix of uses to generate activity within the town, with further regard to both the day time and night time economies. Broadening the economic base/stability of the town
• How to support economic development / job creation / enterprise in town centres to support vibrancy and a viable local economy
• Encouraging diverse living and housing choices with more opportunities right sizing for different needs over time.
• Digital transformation and new ways of working and living post pandemic.
• The refurbishment/repurposing of vacant and/or derelict buildings. The reimagining of streetscapes as a result of the removal/improvement of derelict and declining fabric
• The opening up or development of underutilised infill/backland areas
• Climate change and adaptation opportunities for the built fabric.
• Realising the existing cultural and heritage assets of the place.
• Identification of key future projects for the town
• Optimising connectivity and accessibility, in particular by public transport and sustainable modes.
• Traffic management / parking management so as to reduce the impact of private vehicles on the public realm and living environment.

To support the implementation of the Plan, the Consultant shall identify a clear path to delivery
within the plan, including:
• A number of key projects, context given for each, description and potential benefits of the projects, and key actions for immediate development. (Detailed plans may also be included where viable within the scope of, and funding provided for, the Masterplan). Where appropriate to the scale of the projects this may include:
• Identification of potential appropriate funding streams.
• An economic or business case that examines both the risks and opportunities of schemes in terms of viability, cost benefit and in some cases long term commerciality;

In formulating the objectives and projects the Consultant shall ensure that the objectives and projects will :
• address the idea of compact growth within a town centre first approach
• have a particular focus on the elements of placemaking, including the consideration of focal spaces, along with improved connectivity and permeability throughout the town,
• identify the potential development areas within the town, including opportunity sites for residential, amenity and other developments
• Recommend zoning of land to facilitate town centre regeneration and the anticipated population growth in accordance with the principles of compact growth
• respond to emerging opportunities such as those linked to remote working, climate change and digitalisation
• include for a strategy to identify an address dereliction in the town, the refurbishment/ repurposing of vacant and/or derelict buildings and the development of underutilised infill/backland areas.

Interested companies have until the end of March for the contract.

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