Chapter 4: Town Centre First
The Limerick Development Plan acknowledges the challenges facing rural communities and the important role that rural towns play as economic and social centres for their hinterlands. Recent government policy publications, such as Town Centre First 2022, Housing for All – A New Housing Plan for Ireland 2021, Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021 – 2025 and Vacant Homes Action Plan 2023 recognise the debilitating impact of vacancy on a town’s prosperity, economic performance, public realm, while also stifling inward investment and general depletion of the attractiveness of a town to live in, work in, invest in or visit. Government policy and the higher-level spatial plans seek to create vibrant communities in urban settlements, including smaller towns, such as Abbeyfeale to encourage families back into living in the heart of towns and the town centre functions as the location to do business in and visit.
This Plan aligns with higher-level spatial plans seeking future development in settlements on the principle of the ‘10 Minute’ Town concept. This urban development theory promotes a balanced, compact settlement form, with efficient transport links (including public transport, walking and cycling) between employment, education, services, business and residential locations, facilitating easier circulation and convenient mobility within the town. Spin-off positive impacts include active lifestyles, improved environmental quality and public safety, opportunities for improved public realm and social interaction. It can bring new life and footfall, contribute to the viability of services, shops and public transport. It is about creating connected communities where a range of community facilities and services are accessible in short walking, cycle or public transport timeframes from their homes to destinations that meet their daily needs.
The Government published Town Centre First Initiative in 2021 – a major new policy that aims to tackle vacancy, combat dereliction and breathe new life into town centres. It consists of a co-ordinated, whole-of-government policy framework proactively addressing the decline in the health of towns across Ireland and support measures to regenerate and revitalise them. The policy is supported by multi-billion-euro investment spread across major Government schemes such as the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF), the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF), Croí Conaithe (Towns) Fund, European Regional Development Fund 2021- 2027, the Active Travel Fund, Climate Action and Retrofitting Initiatives, Built Heritage supports such Historic Structures Fund and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme. Abbeyfeale was one of the 26 towns selected nationally to develop its unique Town Centre First Plan.
The Town Centre First policy recognises that every town is unique. It lays the foundation for each town to develop, at a local level, taking account of their own opportunities and challenges. The Town Centre First Plan will be driven by the local community and businesses as part of a Town Team who will be supported by the Council, in the implementation of the Plan. Funding will be available through a number of existing funding mechanisms, such as the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, Town and Village Renewal Schemes and other funds as they arise.
Central to the Town Centre First programme are local communities and local businesses who will have the opportunity to reimagine and shape the future of their town/ village through the development of a Town Centre First Plan with the support of their Local Authority. A Town Team comprising of representatives of local residents, business people, community/voluntary groups and other stakeholders with the support of the Local Authority has been formulated and have been informing the formulation of this Local Area Plan and will follow through with the all-important actions to make their area a better place to live, work and visit.
In this regard, the Council have already been working on securing funding to enhance towns and villages throughout Limerick. The Council has a proactive regime in place, which aims to tackle the issues of dereliction and vacancy throughout Limerick. A dedicated team within the Council work on a continuous basis seeking to reduce vacancy and dereliction, through the various tools available, including the Derelict Sites Act 1990 to tackle derelict, vacant and underutilised properties. The Council were successful in securing Rural Regeneration and Development Funding under Call 2 in 2019/2020, receiving grant approval of €2.5 million, which sought to address the serious issue of dereliction and vacancy in town and village cores, in 12 no. settlements across Co. Limerick. Abbeyfeale was one of the towns selected in this application process.
The aim of the project is to bring derelict properties in the settlements, back into use, with the main emphasis on the delivery of housing. The funding received included financing the purchase or compulsory acquisition of derelict properties or brownfield lands that can be repurposed for housing or repurposed for an alternative use, where housing cannot be accommodated. The benefits of this scheme in Abbeyfeale are evident and the Team continue to work through the various mechanisms that are available to tackle dereliction.
Figure 4.1: An example of a property acquired and redeveloped on Convent Street in Abbeyfeale
Abbeyfeale has also benefitted from funding secured under funding schemes, including:
- The acquisition of the former Provisional Bank and its redevelopment as a e-work hub WorkBase on Main Street;
- The formulation and progression of the Traffic Management Scheme for the town;
- The acquisition of the former Bank of Ireland in the Square.
Furthermore, the Council are currently progressing a number of other projects that will be delivered, subject to funding, which will enhance the town of Abbeyfeale, such as the further enhancement of the Greenway facilities and connection of the Greenway to the town centre.
Policy TCF P1: Town Centre: It is policy of the Council to:
- Support the implementation of the Town Centre First Programme in Abbeyfeale, in collaboration with the local community and the Town Team, in accordance with the Town Centre First Programme, aligned to the commitments of the Programme for Government, national policies and higher-level spatial plans.
- Capitalise on the infrastructural investments in the town that support the Town Centre First programme within the lifetime of this Plan and seek further opportunities to promote Abbeyfeale as a viable, vibrant and attractive town centre to live, work and visit fulfilling its roles as the service, social, cultural, economic and recreational hub for the local community and hinterland sensitive to the town’s rich architectural heritage and improved public realm.
- Promote high quality place-making and public realm, in accordance with the Limerick Development Plan 2022 – 2028, including the Development Management Standards, any replacement thereof and any relevant Section 28 Guidance. All development shall demonstrate climate resilience measures to climate-proof critical infrastructure.
- Ensure developments are sensitive to the town’s rich architectural heritage and apply the highest quality of public realm and urban design principles are applied in the town centre, and the opportunity areas identified in this Plan.
- Ensure development proposals give proper consideration to the urban design criteria of site context, built heritage, climate resilience, connectivity, inclusivity, variety, efficiency, distinctiveness, layout, public realm, adaptability, privacy and amenity, parking and detailed design.
4.2 Town Centre First Approach and the ’10 minute’ Town Concept
This Draft Plan promotes the ‘Town Centre First’ approach with a focus on creating a thriving town centre with a strong service and social function. This is based on the principle of the ‘10 Minute’ town concept. Through the re-use of buildings, infill development, re-purposing of under-utilised lands within the town centre for mixed uses, including residential, small local shops or creative workspaces, the Draft Plan seeks to consolidate the town rather than encourage sprawl. In addition, the Draft Plan supports investment in high quality pedestrian/cyclist's friendly public realm and attractive public spaces, where people can gather socially. The provisions of the Traffic Management Scheme will support improved connectivity in the town in particular on Main Street with a new pedestrian link to the public car park and Collins Park.
Figure 4.2: 10-minute walking and cycling network from Abbeyfeale town centre
Policy TCF P2: Town Centre First and ‘10 Minute’ Town Concept - It is policy of the Council to:
a) Implement the 10 Minute Town Concept in Abbeyfeale ensuring that future development including residential, community and educational facilities, employment centres are within a 10-minute walk or cycle from the town centre and/or accessible by public transport services connecting to settlements, including Limerick City, North Kerry, West Limerick and North Cork.
b) Prioritise the town centre as the most appropriate location for future development of the town. Planning applications for future development will be assessment as per the zoning objectives of this Plan and considered sequentially in relation to the town centre zoning.
4.3 Vacancy in the Town Centre and the Town Centre Health Check 2023
Unfortunately, a trend of increasing building vacancy has been evident in Abbeyfeale’s town centre, over a long period. Comparative figures are outlined below, which show some progress made between 2013 and 2022, however both residential and commercial vacancy remain very high in Abbeyfeale. A preliminary building survey of the Town Centre in 2013 for the purposes of the Abbeyfeale Business and Retail Incentive Scheme highlighted high vacancy rates for commercial/ retail units and residences. In 2023, Limerick City and County Council carried out a more detailed Town Centre Health Check in Abbeyfeale in August 2022 as a useful tool to establish a baseline, to monitor and inform the vacancy in the town. The Health Check establishes the use of each building and takes account of vacancy and dereliction. The challenges to address vacancy are varied and complex and there are a number of sources of data, in this regard, including the Census and Geodirectory to analyse vacancy. However, these can suggest different estimates due to different definitions of vacancy, data collection methodologies and different geographic boundaries. Nevertheless, the Census and Geodirectory reflect the same trends as the Council baseline data of very high vacancy on residential and the commercial/retail vacancy in Abbeyfeale town centre.
Figure 4.4: Business and Retail Incentive Vacancy Survey 2013
Figure 4.5: Town Centre Health Check August 2022
Policy TCF P3: Vacancy - It is policy of the Council to:
a) Promote and facilitate the re-use of under-utilised or vacant lands/buildings in Abbeyfeale through the active land management mechanisms, under the Derelict Sites Act, 1990 (as amended), the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 (for vacant sites), Residential Zoned Land Tax and also guided by key Government policies, such as Town Centre First, Our Rural Future, and Housing for All and any replacements thereof. The Council will engage with property owners to advise on remedial measures and give guidance on schemes and supports available to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into productive use.
b) Support the provision of new services, economic opportunities, improved infrastructure, public realm, and the provisions of the Town Centre First programme to encourage the re-use of buildings and underused lands in Abbeyfeale’s town centre.
According, to the 2022 Town Centre Health Check undertaken by the Council, there are 82 businesses operating in the town centre, but 30% of commercial/residential units are vacant. Retail services account for the highest percentage of business (24%).
Unfortunately, according to GeoDirectory, Abbeyfeale was amongst the 15 towns in Munster with the highest retail vacancy rates 30% in Q2, 2022. The retail and commercial sectors are pivotal to the revitalisation of the town, as they determine footfall, which in turn has positive spin-offs in terms of social interaction, cultural and civic activities, perceptions of safety, due to the presence of more people, improved visual appearance, community pride and place-making, and general ambiance of the town.
The Retail Strategy for Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area and County Limerick 2022 – 2028 designates Abbeyfeale as a Tier 3, Level 1 Service Town. Policy ED 14 Town Centres in the Limerick Development Plan state that for Abbeyfeale as a Tier 3 Level 1 Town, it is the policy of the Council to a) Support the improvement of retail facilities so as to improve the service they provide to their local catchment population; b) Encourage the provision of tourism and visitor orientated retail provision to capitalise on the inherent potential in this centre
The Council supports the sequential approach for the provision of retail as promoted by Government policy and the Retail Strategy, when assessing planning applications. Out-of-centre locations for retail business and services are generally not permitted in efforts to consolidate the existing retail centre, encourage the reuse of vacant units within the centre and provide services close to the existing development.
The Draft LAP anticipates that additional retail development in Abbeyfeale will be achieved through the redevelopment of vacant units or the change of use of existing units. All retail development will be subject to compliance with the Retail Strategy which forms part of the Limerick Development Plan.
Policy RL 3: Retail Strategic Policy: It is policy of the Council to:
To support the sustainable long-term retail growth of Abbeyfeale as a Tier 3 Level 1 Small Town, in accordance with the Limerick Development Plan and the Retail Strategy for the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area and County Limerick 2022 – 2028.
Objectives RL 01: Retail Development: It is an objective of the Council to:
Enhance the vitality and viability of Abbeyfeale as a retail service centre and to improve the quantity and quality of retail provision in the town by:
- Emphasising the town centre as the primary shopping location.
- Encouraging the upgrade and expansion of existing retail units and the development of new units in the town centre.
- Ensuring that proposals with retail development elements comply with the provision of the Retail Strategy for the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area and County Limerick 2022 – 2028 in relation to site suitability and the sequential approach and ensure proposals which would undermine the vitality and viability of Abbeyfeale town centre will not be permitted.
- Encourage proposals at ground floor level within the town core for commercial uses.
- Prohibit the proliferation of uses in the town centre which would detract from the amenities, or the vitality and viability of the area such as fast-food outlets, amusement arcades, off-licences, bookmakers and other non-retail uses. Storage use is not permitted as the primary use of ground floor units.
- Encourage the use of upper floors in retail premises for commercial or residential uses.
- Enhance the physical environment of the town centre as a location for shopping and business through measures aimed at improving conditions for pedestrians.
- Encourage the upgrade and refurbishment of existing retail units and the maintenance of original shopfronts, or the reinstatement of traditional shopfronts, where poor replacements have been installed, and discourage the use of external roller shutters, internally illuminated signs or inappropriate projecting signs.
4.5 Opportunity Areas in the town centre
The purpose of the Opportunity Areas identified by this Draft Plan is to encourage the restoration, consolidation and improvement of these potential sites for the long-term benefit of Abbeyfeale Town Centre. Appropriate development is needed to enhance the attractiveness of town centre living and the range of economic, social and environmental benefits this brings. It also needs to reinforce the approach to community growth by directing future investment and the location of urban development inwards, concentrating future living communities and jobs centrally and thereby promoting further investment in the public realm in order to create a distinctive place.
Objective TCF 02: Opportunity Areas: It is an objective of the Council to:
a) Encourage and support the appropriate and sustainable development or redevelopment where appropriate of lands, areas and buildings identified as having development potential in line with the principles set out in opportunities sites outlined below.
b) Ensure that new development in the town centre and in particular the opportunity areas and buildings comprise the highest of qualitative and design standards, complimenting the existing historical built fabric, or national heritage, sustaining Abbeyfeale, as a town in which to live, work, invest in and do business.
The inherent potential of the town centre to provide an attractive lifestyle choice needs to be actively pursued, particularly for the younger and older sectors of the community who are often not so concerned with personal open space or provision for private cars. To successfully deliver town centre living opportunities, developments need to provide a variety of well-designed homes and businesses in good neighbourhood settings, in walkable distance of key facilities, in close proximity to high quality urban spaces, and with easy access to the natural environment.
The Opportunity Areas are well-connected to and compliment the significant transportation and public realm enhancements proposed as part of the Abbeyfeale Traffic Management Scheme. The sites are located within close walking distance of the town centre and other key facilities and amenities. Developers are strongly advised at an early stage to engage with the planning authority and avail of a pre-planning meeting to discuss their proposals.
Indicative layouts for each of the identified areas are as follows:
- Opportunity Area 1 - Backland development - North of Main Street;
- Opportunity Area 2 - Backland development - South of Main Street (east);
- Opportunity Area 3 - Backland development - South of Main Street (west);
- Opportunity Area 4 - Old Cinema Site;
- Opportunity Area 5 - Land between Grove Crescent and Collins Park;
- Opportunity Area 6 - Link between Killarney Road and Pound Lane;
- Opportunity Area 7 - Connecting with the Limerick Greenway
Fig 4.7: Opportunities sites in Abbeyfeale – with associated Traffic Management Scheme
Opportunity Area 1 – Backland development - North of Main Street
This backland site is located to the rear of Main Street and New Street. Pedestrian access to the site is possible via a laneway from Main Street adjoining Murphy’s Bar and has two rear shared access points onto Colbert Terrace. Much of the site is presently in use as a tile centre and associated storage yard.
Given its location the site presents considerable opportunity to allow for improved pedestrian permeability and town centre consolidation through securing a high-density mixed-use scheme.
Opportunity Area 2 – Backland development - South of Main Street (east)
This large backland area presents considerable opportunity for creating multiple redevelopment opportunities within the heart of the town centre. This area is currently in use as under-utilised backlands to Main Street and consists of several narrow plots, bounded to the south by the Council owned public carpark and Collins Park housing estate.
The development would allow for town centre expansion that includes a range of housing types and new commercial uses, with a focus on a new urban civic square, fronted by retail development and over the counter commercial services where possible. A pedestrian street is proposed linking the new urban civic square and Main Street. Residential developments in the form of family townhouses and apartments could front the through streets. The new urban form should promote pedestrian scale and permeability, with vehicle access restricted to shared space treatment and Homezones. Pedestrian links to Main Street and to a possible future public park located on the vacant strip of land between Collins Park housing estate and Cedarville/Belfry housing estates will be encouraged.
Overall any proposed development of this area would require plot amalgamation and the co - operation of multiple landowners. The proposal would have to demonstrate a well-planned, integrated scheme for the redevelopment of the entire area.
Opportunity Area 4: Old Cinema Site
The former cinema located towards the eastern end of Main Street has been derelict since the 1980’s. In 2013 a local ‘tidy town’ group carried out improvement works to the façade. The building is a Protected Structure and entered onto the NIAH Building Survey of Ireland (ref. 21833021):
Detached three-bay, three-storey Art Deco style former cinema, built c. 1940. Its symmetrical design includes towering pilasters which coupled with an angular parapet wall creates a sense of increased height to this impressive façade.
Adjoining properties in the block include O’Tobins garage, also with a distinctive angular facade, with single storey residential adjoining.
An extensive rectangular under-utilised open space extends southwards behind the block to Collins Park.
Opportunity Area 7: Connecting with the Limerick Greenway
The 40km Greenway in Limerick follows the old Limerick to Tralee railway line, providing an off-road cycling and walking route that can be accessed through one of six entry points. Starting in Rathkeale, the route passes through Ardagh, Newcastle West, Barnagh, Templeglantine and Abbeyfeale in Limerick and continues onto to Listowel in Co. Kerry. The Abbeyfeale railway station was once one of the busiest stops on the Limerick to Tralee railway, sitting on the border between Kerry and Limerick as the system was expanded in 1880.
The Draft Plan seeks to deliver a safe walkway/cycleway connection of the Limerick Greenway to Abbeyfeale Town Centre, to promote sustainable mobility and to capitalise on the tourism potential of Abbeyfeale. The Council are currently examining options for a safe connection to the Limerick Greenway from Abbeyfeale Town Centre.