Last month, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny launched the Government’s rural action plan ‘Realising our Rural Potential: The Action Plan for Rural Development’. This comes after a comprehensive action plan for housing and a longer term housing strategy looking forward Ireland in 2040. That’s a lot of plans! But what do all these plans actually mean, in real terms, if you are thinking of buying or selling a home or investment in rural Ireland over the next few years?
First things first, it has to be said that this is not just a Fine Fail/Fine Gael plan, it has the support of opposition members too, which should mean that it will live beyond the lifetime of the current government – in theory. From the input sought across a range of voluntary bodies and organisations, and the general public, there is clearly the intention to deliver real change for people living and working – or seeking work – in rural Ireland.
The ideas behind the plan are solid; there is a general recognition that there is a massive amount of potential locked away in rural areas. I see this myself in market towns across South Wicklow and County Wexford – there are highly skilled, motivated people who are unemployed or underemployed locally. Also, through my work, I meet people who want to return to their home towns but cannot do this until quality employment becomes available. And it’s not just down to employment; we have to look at the homes available, or the land that needs to be made available for development. I understand that many rural areas, particular in the West and Midlands, are plagued by ghost housing estates that no-one wants to live in, however, here in the Southeast; there is returning demand for available new homes. Local issues for us are more likely to be the derelict homes (with or without existing septic tanks on site) that buyers would be interested in if we could make them affordable and accessible.
The rural action plan aims to integrate existing frameworks of supports and to create new ones with the objective of increasing employment opportunities and access to public services in rural areas to increase the overall quality of life for people.
The plan involves co-ordinating and implementing a huge range of initiatives – there are 276 actions proposed – all to enhance the ‘economic and social fabric’ of rural Ireland. These initiatives focus on rural enterprise, tourism, culture, creativity and improving infrastructure and connectivity. It still sounds a bit vague, doesn’t it?
Here are the specifics:
What this means for owners of vacant, boarded up commercial properties is that it might just be time to start taking the boarding down. With grants and schemes coming on-stream to support local enterprise, vacant retail and office units will be in demand once more. The Housing Department are currently looking at rolling out a rates alleviate scheme, which would be great for commercial landlords and tenants, but we do not yet have any details.
Of interest to owners of vacant – even derelict – residential properties, renovation grants are now available to restore properties in rural communities. This will attract home buyers, particular returning emigrants, back to their home towns. They can apply for a cash grant, not a tax rebate, of approximately €20,000 to purchase and renovate homes in villages and small towns. Uniquely, this scheme will be available to all home buyers, not just first-time buyers. It is particularly aimed at old people living alone in isolated areas, it is hoped that many will accept the benefit of this incentive and refurbish town and village-centre houses. This makes absolute sense for most people, allowing them to feel safer and more included within the everyday activities of the community.
Also, investors might be interested to learn of the Buy & Renewal Initiative, which allows local authorities and approved housing bodies to purchase buildings in need of refurbishment for the purpose of social housing. This will come as a timely opportunity for accidental investors, who might have inherited property but have been waiting to off-load it.