Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O’Rourke has called on the Municipal District to make a case to Government for an incentive scheme to encourage property owners to refurbish unused parts of their property, particularly in town centres where much of the upper floor space remains idle.
Speaking at Monday’s Municipal District meeting, Cllr O’Rourke said it is impossible to get away from the housing issue at the moment. “There is lots of idle space upstairs in shops and units in the town centre. There is an onus on the council to utilise the space at our disposal at a time when housing shortages are reaching crisis proportions.”
O’Rourke called for incentives to be introduced to encourage property owners in the town with empty space to let it out. He suggested that a “living above shops” initiative should be considered, the possible increased footfall and activity having the potential to give a new vitality to the town centre.
Fine Gael Councillor John Dolan agreed with Cllr O’Rourke, saying the motion provided an opportunity to do a lot for the centre of the town while also providing an extra income stream for the owners of units with free upper floor space. Dolan said that there is no sign of new houses on the horizon, and agreed that this is a solution that could work.
Director of services Barry Kehoe called the motion interesting, but noted that people’s aspirations in terms of housing and living conditions have changed. He said people today want houses and gardens. He did note that the policies in the County Development Plan are supportive of people living on the main street and reviving the town centre.
However, he suggested that the onus is firmly on central Government to implement such action, as the council would not have the fiscal power to incentivise such a large-scale initiative. He suggested that the council write to Minister Alan Kelly to see if such an incentive can be introduced.