The serious challenges involved in regeneratinng and protecting Irish town centres will be addressed at the Irish Planning Institute's autumn conference in the Gibson Hotel, Dublin, on October 5.
Titled 'Unlocking Town Centre Potential -- New Developments in Retail Planning and Town Centre Management', expert speakers will explain recent trends in retailing and town centres and describe how active town centre management can lead the way in regenerating town centres and shopping streets.
"The need for a comprehensive, multi-layered and multi-disciplined response to the challenges facing Irish town centres is central to the revival of the Irish town", explains Joanna Kelly, president of the Irish Planning Institute.
"Vacancy rates in the majority of Irish towns, in particular provincial towns, have seen a dramatic increase in the past year. Financial difficulties and uncertainty surrounding budgetary measures have damaged consumer confidence and retail sales.
"When this is combined with unaffordable rents and the rise of new sales channels, shops in city and town centres are being squeezed out."
The closure of just one premises in a town centre has a knock-on effect because neighbouring retailers are affected by the consequential drop in footfall, she says. The decline in smaller shops and the rise in shopping centres and retail warehouse parks on the periphery have also multiplied the demand for car use in an age of increased fuel prices and greater awareness of the need to reduce transport emissions.
Town centres are the heartbeat of towns, serving the needs of local communities, acting as a hub for commerce and enterprise and representing a significant tourist attraction. Nearly everyone depends on them for access to shopping, entertainment, leisure, public services and transportation and they act as a political and cultural focal point.
However, the challenging economic environment has impacted on these centres nationally and internationally. If retailers want to maintain competitiveness, they must implement strategies to help them continually adapt to the dynamic marketplace. Similarly it is not sufficient to simply preserve existing town centres, it is also vital to take positive action to promote and manage them.
"This is recognised in the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government's recently revised Retail Planning Guidelines. Its objectives set out in the Guidelines include promotion of both greater vitality and viability in city and town centres," Ms Kelly says.
Amongst the issues to be addressed are: accessibility, public transport, parking, culture, site assembly, the quality of buildings and provision of safe, vibrant public spaces. The shift to internet retailing also has significant implications.
Active Town Centre Management and an appropriate diversity of uses based on sound planning principles can transform town and city centres into high quality, healthy places with both day-time and night-time economies.
Such town centres are inviting places leading to longer stays by shoppers and visitors and increased spend per head.
- Donal Buckley