The Living Cities initiative has the potential to have a far greater and more positive impact on Limerick City than any shopping centre or office development. However important incentives for retailers might be, they are of secondary significance to the city’s development and renewal than efforts to enhance and promote residential uptake in the heart of Limerick. The primary and most progressive approach to our city’s future must be to entice those people and families who now live in the suburbs and surrounding hinterland to live in the city centre once again, and to do so by all means possible. In this way the city centre will become significantly more attractive to retailers and commercial investment, and this will in turn bring about an improvement in local employment and living standards.
Back in the heyday of Georgian Limerick the most sought after properties were those in the city centre. This, of course, is still true of most developed cities in Europe, but for obvious reasons – namely poor planning, dysfunctional local government, proliferation of suburban development, etc – the opposite is the case in modern Limerick. At odds with expert opinion, in recent decades Limerick has embraced the car-dependent, low rise, sprawling development pattern and the consequences have been bleak.
The Living Cities Initiative is significant because it marks a beginning of a reversal of the trend, but it is critical that Limerick City and County Council (LCCC) steps up to the plate and provides other incentives to encourage individuals and families to choose city centre living. The provision of parks, playgrounds, pedestrianised streets, cycle lanes, well designed public spaces are all within the remit and capability of LCCC and they should waste no time in providing these to the point where taking up residence in the centre is more preferable and advantageous than living in the suburbs or surrounding hinterland. The rate of progress in this regard has been painfully slow.
One issue with the initiative is that its narrow terms may reduce its impact. For example, the qualifying period was initially going to be 10 years but this has been cut in half to 5 years. There might not be enough time for it to gain traction and bring about the positive change that was promised on the initial announcement in 2013.
Another issue is the stipulation that the property must be between 38 and 210 sq metres. Georgian townhouses in Limerick city generally have total floor space of 210-400 square metres so the scheme encourages subdivision of Georgian townhouses rather than single occupancy. This in itself is not an issue if there is a diversity of dwelling types such as a living space over two floors for occupation of professional couple or family. However it could be a case of conversion to bedsits/studio apartments for maximum occupancy/profits as seen in recent decades. The level of intervention to Georgian townhouse to subdivide into apartments could have implications to fabric and character of building. It should be emphasised that interventions should be reversible with self-contained units converted back into a single residence.
LCCC should follow the lead of Dublin City Council and employ a conservation officer to produce templates for how historic urban buildings can be redeveloped for use as family homes. Furthermore, LCCC must insist on the highest standards of construction and renovation in this regard. However critical it is to enhance residential uptake in the city centre, this objective should not take precedence over the protection of the built heritage.
An Taisce campaigned for the Living Cities Initiative and welcomes its announcement given its potential to rejuvenate Limerick City and also to create employment for those with conservation, design, building and decoration skills. However, we urge caution to those purchasing a property and intending to avail of the initiative, and to demand expert advice and guidance from LCCC. We also urge LCCC to not rely on it solely to increase residential uptake in the city centre. As stated, there is much more that can be done.
The rejuvenated Limerick branch of An Taisce always welcomes new members with an interest in the built and natural heritage and can be contacted at email@example.com.