Green Party councillor and general election candidate Mark Dearey has more reason than most to welcome the €2 million EU funding for Clanbrassil Street. The €2m grant assistance will fund the Clanbrassil Street and St. Nicholas rejuvenation scheme with matching funding provided by Louth County Council.
Dearey’s store on Clanbrassil Street is where he grew up, and when the rest of us were growing up it was one of the town’s landmarks, in fact, it’s still hard to believe that it's gone.
It was an anchor business not only of the street but the town, and the absence of such iconic shops has contributed to the decline of our high street.
Of course high streets have suffered greatly, not just here, but in every EU country, so this funding - when matched by the council it will come to €4 million - is a step in the right direction.
Cllr Dearey reminded me this week that it was the executive of Louth Local Authority, the body that comprises Louth County Council, and the three municipal committees, that went after the funding and secured it.
The local authority gets its share of criticism these days, but it was their professional commitment and expertise that landed this funding and all that’s needed now is a consensus of all concerned as to how it can be best utilised.
“Dundalk councillors had a very significant input into the refurbishment of the Market Square and I hope that will be the case with this project,” Cllr Dearey said.
“An architect will be engaged and that is to be welcomed, but I’m very much aware that Park Street is not part of the project, so in the long term we will have to look beyond it and to the rest of the town and link it to a total revitalisation of the town centre.”
But he is very optimistic and believes that a redevelopment of the streetscape is the start of seriously tackling the economic woes of our town centre due to the wrong planning decisions having been taken over the past 15 years when business was moved out of the centre of the town, to the outskirts, at the cost of the town centre.
The chief executive of Louth Local Authority, Joan Martin, is also committed to working with town centre business to see what measures can be taken to give the town back its unique atmosphere.
And the town has a unique atmosphere. Leave this office here in Crowe Street, step outside the front door, walk up the centre of Dundalk, and you will meet the friendliest people, in business or shopping.
We can match any town in Ireland for friendship and conviviality.
Later this month, the chief executive will meet members of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce and Dundalk BIDS to see how they can all use their expertise to help the town centre.
If this €4 million facelift does for Clanbrassil Street and Nicholas Street what the rejuvenation project did for the Square, then it will be a good start.
Cllr Dearey would like to see this streetscape project backed up by a scheme that helps the refurbishment of town centre properties
such as happens with the Living Centre Initiative.
The Living City Initiative is a scheme of property tax incentives for special regeneration areas in the centres of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny.
Cllr Dearey has written to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to have Dundalk included. so far, no luck, but he hasn’t given up.
“I will be writing to Michael Noonan about the Living City Initiative because investment in property as well as developing the streetscape is crucial,” Cllr Dearey said.
Senator Mary Moran has also welcomed the announcement that Dundalk is getting the €2m grant allocation from the European Regional Development Fund.
“This is very welcome news for our town centre,” she said, “and will give a badly needed new lease of life to this area of the town. A number of improvements are expected to be carried out under the rejuvenation scheme and I would encourage Louth County Council to keep accessibility for the disabled in mind at all times in going forward with this project. Full accessibility is a must for this project.”
“I continuously raise the issue of accessibility with Louth County Council officials. I have particularly highlighted the lack of accessibility right in our town centre including An Tain Theatre which is not properly accessible for wheelchair users or people with mobility issues.
“I have walked the town with wheelchair users assessing the accessibility situation for people with a disability and for people with buggies who also find it difficult to access certain areas of our town centre.”
“An excellent accessibility report was compiled in recent years by local man, John Morgan, which I brought to the attention of Louth County Council and would encourage that they look at this report again in light of this funding allocation.
Disability groups and local people should be consulted on accessibility needs in the town before ground breaks on this project.
“Full accessibility needs to be a priority in this rejuvenation scheme and I have written to the Chief Executive of Louth County Council on many occasions to highlight this matter,” she said.
Fine Gael deputy Peter Fitzpatrick said the money will be channelled towards formulating a new identity for this part of the town. There are also plans in place to improve connectivity for all members of the community and for visitors to the town.
“This funding will be spent on refurbishing footways and providing full accessibility for all users,” he said, “modernising existing pedestrian crossings; replacing street lighting and improving the roads.
“I am absolutely delighted to see this important funding delivered for Dundalk and the local community. Fine Gael has a plan to keep the economic recovery going to ensure we have the State resources available to invest in exactly these kinds of projects to benefit the whole community,” he said.