Westmeath communities are being urged to get involved in applications for funding under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.
The scheme has made €20m in funding available for the rejuvenation of towns and villages with populations of 10,000 people or less.
At last week’s meeting of the Municipal District, director of services Barry Kehoe told councillors that there are two categories under which towns and villages can make applications - one for localities of less than 5,000 people and the other for those between 5,000 and 10,000.
This year’s scheme is focused on initiatives that can provide positive economic impact for small towns and villages. Up to 80 per cent of the overall cost of projects will be financed by way of the scheme, with the local authority providing the remaining 20 per cent.
There is a minimum amount of €20,000 available for a project and a maximum of €100,000. A higher allocation of €200,000 can be availed of if the proposed project has the potential to provide a “major economic benefit” to a locality.
Mr Kehoe said the provision of a tourist train between Athlone and Moate, a motion previously raised by Independent councillor Michael O’Brien, is one such project being considered under this scheme.
Cllr O’Brien said the linking towns and villages can only have a positive economic impact for rural Ireland. He queried whether the service would be managed by the council in the long term, or if a private business would take control.
Mayor John Dolan said this is a very positive scheme for rural Ireland. He questioned whether an application for €600,000 can be made through the scheme for a project along the lines of the tourist train, due to the fact that it will incorporate land in the vicinity of three local councils.
Fianna Fáil’s Aengus O’Rourke said it is important that word goes out that the process of applying for funding is not the same as applying for LEADER finance, with the latter known for being arduous.
Fine Gael councillor Tom Farrell questioned whether applications could be made to solve some of the issues relating to Portlick.
Mr Kehoe said it may be possible to make a case for joint applications between several local authorities in relation to the tourist train due to the fact that the scheme will affect three communities. He told councillors communities will be helped in making applications, and that all that is required from them is suggestions.
In relation to the tourist train, he said a private sector organisation would assume control of it for a specific duration, and suggested a competition may be held to determine who that might be. He concluded by saying initiatives in relation to Portlick will be difficult due to the fact that it is a special area of conservation.
People have until Friday, May 12, to make a submission of interest. The deadline for completed applications is June 30.