Scottish ‘Town Centre First’: Lessons for Kilkenny

Various images of Scottish town centre scenes with people doing different activities
Town Centre Action Plan – the Scottish Government response. Publication 2013

Kilkenny County Council in partnership with local agencies, business and the wider community could adapt local elements of a Scottish Government policy to protect and enhance the vibrancy of Kilkenny City centre as a pilot for a possible national rollout.

‘Town Centre First’

Town Centre First’ is a National Scottish Government policy which addresses key areas such as proactive planning, infrastructure, development and place, digital city, business rates relief, governance and community engagement. 

‘Having considered varied approaches to urban regeneration I think that adopting the ‘Town Centre First Principle’ points policymakers both local and national in the right direction towards a comprehensive and whole system approach to the myriad of challenges faced by our urban centres’

Cllr Malcolm Noonan

‘Having held a number of public participation events on the theme of the future of our towns, I am convinced that there is an energy among the wider community to engage with the local authority and business community to do something radical and innovative in Kilkenny’.

Cllr Noonan said thorny issues such as the pedestrianisation of the town centre, putting significant political energy into the completion of the ring road, developing exemplar town centre living projects and prioritising cycling and walking need to be considered. 

‘I also believe that the brewery masterplan needs to be revised completely; its not fit for purpose and we; the people of Kilkenny need to take back control over it’s future development. The town centre first policy is based on a collaborative approach to urban planning and would act as a failsafe against the loss of such an important public asset and ensure that the views of those who take part in a planning process are reflected in the final outputs’.

Other elements of Town Centre first allow for variable rates for start ups and local enterprises, a business rates incentivisation scheme, a Town Centre Investment Zone and an architect led pilot schemes for urban regeneration.

‘While we have tried some elements of these in the past; this is the first and in my view most comprehensive approach to consolidating the vibrant future for town centres; led from Government through a coordinated and not piecemeal approach and through a more rigorous, collaborative and community led approach at local level’ said Cllr Noonan. 

He said that while Kilkenny is still performing better than many regional towns, there is a worrying trend of shop closures, a significant deterioration in the built fabric and risk to many heritage assets in the City. ‘I want our Civic Trust to be centrally involved in the conversation and in supporting our town centre. This is what it did well in the past. Equally we are fortunate to have the National headquarters of the Heritage Council here and they have pioneered much of the policy reflected in the Scottish Government approach. We should be making the best of their presence here’ he said. 

‘Ultimately this is up to the people of Kilkenny to get behind the development of a collaborative plan to future proof our town centre. Scotland’s policy is a good way forward; the Sustainable Development Goals should be our template and in particular SDG11 and the creation of sustainable cities and communities’. 

‘Far too much of our focus in placemaking in our city centre in recent years has been directed at tourism but I believe that if a city works for the people who live in it and is a fun place to spend time in, then it is right for visitors too. We have an opportunity now through our next development plan to reflect a wider ambition, to be courageous and to support a vibrant, climate proofed, healthy, economically viable town centre with many more families choosing to live in the heart of our city. Town Centre First policy is a way forward towards achieving this’ concluded Cllr Noonan.