Minister for Heritage launches Kilkenny City Centre Collaborative Town Centre Health Check Report

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Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD has launched a summary report assessing the strengths and opportunities of Kilkenny’s historic town centre.

The Heritage Council, Kilkenny City Taskforce, Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce and Kilkenny County Council all participated in the Kilkenny City Centre Collaborative Town Centre Health Check (CTCHC) report.

The 15-Step CTCHC assessment process, created by the Heritage Council, measures citizens’ perceptions of the historic city’s commercial, heritage and cultural assets. In addition, it measures public satisfaction with accessibility and cultural facilities. The report focuses on the survey results of a number of key indicators of the overall health and performance of the historic city centre, including the level of city centre activities, land/building use and vacancy levels, pedestrian footfall patterns and business operators and consumers’ perceptions of the quality of the overall well-being and environment of the historic city centre.

It is intended that the report will help to inform investment decisions for the future management and revitalisation of the city centre. It creates a pathway to meeting targets set out in Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2021 and commitment to delivering on the UN SDGs.

The report found that consumers and businesspeople felt Kilkenny City Centre would benefit from investment in the historic built environment. This includes investment in the historic building stock, enhanced liveability and accessibility for walking and cycling in the town centre, and further investment in cultural and natural heritage.

Key findings include:

  • The most popular reason to be in Kilkenny was being a resident (34.9%) followed by retail (27.9%).
  • 90% of respondents purchased the majority of their clothing in Kilkenny.
  • 61% of respondents thought pedestrianisation would enhance the liveability of the city centre.
  • 74.4% rate live music and events in Kilkenny as either very good or good.

The report also found that there are approximately 20 vacant retail buildings in Kilkenny City Centre – this represents a ground floor retail vacancy rate of 10.10%, which is at the higher end of the recommended level of vacancy in towns and cities. The CTCHC Programme believes that a healthy vacancy level in town and city centres should not exceed 11%.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister Noonan said: “This report highlights the importance of recognising the potential of our historic city centres through sustainable regeneration, investment and engagement with the people who live and work there. I look forward to the continued regeneration of Kilkenny City and will work hard to ensure that we continue to deliver on our commitment to a ‘Town Centre First’ policy.”

Mayor of Kilkenny, Councillor David Fitzgerald said: “The CTCHC report provides extremely useful primary data that will enable Kilkenny County Council, working in partnership with Kilkenny City Taskforce and other organisations, to focus resources and supports as the CTCHC Programme moves into Phase 2 – Town/City Centre Building Renewal and Investment Plans. This is a challenging yet exciting time for historic city centres all over Ireland.”

Chairperson of the Heritage Council, Dr Martina Moloney added: “The publication of the CTCHC report could not be more welcome as Irish towns and cities recover from the impacts of the lockdowns and deal with the ongoing war in Ukraine. The pandemic forced people to think about their local areas in new ways and this report highlights the improvements that business owners and citizens’ living in towns across the country want to see; rethinking how we use our spaces sustainably, making historic cores more accessible and ensuring that those living in or close to city centres have as high a quality of life as possible.”

Welcoming the report, Chief Executive of Kilkenny County Council, Sean McKeown said the baseline CTCHC report was a positive and constructive basis on which Kilkenny City Centre can move forward and will be complementary to the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan currently being prepared for Kilkenny City. He added: “This is a very useful baseline survey involving the historic city’s key strategic partners that provide us with a great framework for taking stock of Kilkenny’s many assets and opportunities. We must be equipped with this sort of data-driven process to build for the future in the new Climate Change era. As a key city in Ireland’s Southeast Region, Kilkenny, like other small cities, is facing unchartered territory, yet has so much to offer, and this collaborative health check report will help us to enhance and maximise the quality of life and overall well-being of everyone in the historic city.”

CTCHC Programme Founding Co-ordinator with the Heritage Council, Ali Harvey added: “The Kilkenny City CTCHC Report clearly demonstrates the importance of having a robust baseline and primary spatial data to inform communities and decision-making and investment proposals for the renewal of historic city centres. This data-driven, value-added approach to heritage and environmental management is hugely important as town and city centres throughout Ireland are facing a challenging time, as they recover from the Covid-19 lockdown and face into an uncertain future that requires them to meet strict climate change and EU Green Deal targets. The collaborative effort of the Kilkenny CTCHC partners has been rewarding and empowering, and the partnerships created during the project bode well for the future of this medieval city. The programme is an example and other historic towns can follow the CTCHC approach. The scaling up of the CTCHC Programme can help in the delivery of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and climate change targets in Ireland.”

The CTCHC surveying work was carried out and the report prepared by students from Queen’s University Belfast. Dr Neil Galway from QUB said: “The new partnerships that have been forged through this CTCHC data-creation process have been hugely rewarding, helping generate a collective place-making movement within all the partners, which is fundamental to empowering climate action by local communities. I believe that such partnerships can lead to true, long-lasting change for towns and cities within the CTCHC Programme, which are linked to the UN SDGs. Establishing robust baseline information and data is important to historic cities such as Kilkenny and it is essential that the Programme for Government invests in this much-needed programme to support the recovery and renaissance of historic places in Ireland. This will support communities and young people in achieving a brighter and more sustainable future”.

Chair of Kilkenny City Taskforce, Pat Crotty said the CTCHC Report provides useful signposts for the future. He added: “A healthy and vibrant city centre is important for everyone who lives, works and visits Kilkenny. This process of creating a baseline is fundamentally about how a city’s unique heritage informs our sense of place and enables communities to embrace a more sustainable way of living that enhances well-being. Heritage reminds us of how important our historic city is to who we are, and to how we live - it is as important and as simple as that.”

Contact: Ali Harvey, Heritage Council, Tel: 087-419 3458, email: aharvey@heritagecouncil.ie

Notes to Editors:

  • The report can be found here.
  • In 2021, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Heritage Council, Kilkenny City Taskforce and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), set up a collaborative town centre health check project as part of the Heritage Council’s Collaborative Town Centre Health Check Programme, supported by various representatives from Kilkenny Chamber and Kilkenny County Council.
  • The CTCHC Programme is included in the Programme for Government and the Town Centre First Policy. The CTCHC Programme has been advocating for TCF since 2019. There are 50+ towns on the waiting list wanting to join the CTCHC Programme - Phase 1.