An initiative to promote heritage-led regeneration and to improve the quality of our historic towns and villages for residents and tourists.
Many of our city, town and village centres are historic places with their own distinct identities. Sustaining these is a complex process that in many cases involves the conservation and re-use of existing buildings, the care of public spaces and the provision of community facilities. The conservation and interpretation of this heritage makes our towns interesting, unique and attractive to residents and visitors.
In support of the Town Centres First policy set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future (2020), the Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) is a joint undertaking by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Heritage Council which aims to promote the heritage-led regeneration of Ireland’s historic towns.
The recently published government strategy Housing for All (2021) commits that ‘the [Historic Towns] initiative will be adjusted to encourage private owners and/or occupiers to bring vacant floor area in historic buildings back into use and projects that address dereliction and vacancy will be particularly focussed on, subject to going through the planning process as necessary.’
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 sets out a roadmap for Ireland’s transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich and climate neutral economy by no later than the end of the year 2050. This shift to a climate neutral future means that the conservation and repurposing of existing historic building stock has become increasingly more important. Existing buildings contain embodied energy which is lost if they are demolished; while the greenhouse-gas emissions involved in the demolition and replacement of a building have been calculated to take decades to recover.
The sustainable use of the historic buildings of our towns has added benefits in increasing the quality of life for all by offering reduced commuting as these buildings are generally closer to amenities and services. More directly the impacts of climate change on our built heritage are increasingly evident and should be taken into account in any proposals under the HTI. These impacts may be both immediate and cumulative – so that damage from catastrophic events such as floods and storms are likely to increase at the same time as the slow-onset of changes in deterioration processes. The built heritage is also vulnerable to maladaptation, that is, the inadvertent loss or damage to structures and sites during adaptation works. With increased weathering and severe climate events, the repair cycle on the built heritage of our towns is likely to become shorter. Increased maintenance and repair will be key to building resilience in our historic buildings and towns to enable them to withstand the effects of a changing environment.
The HTI has been in operation since 2018 and to date has supported heritage-led regeneration projects in twenty-three towns: Youghal, Co Cork; Ballinrobe, Co Mayo; Kells, Co Meath; Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary; Portlaoise, Co Laois; Kilmallock, Co Limerick; Ballina, Co Mayo; Navan, Co Meath; Letterkenny, Co Donegal; Boyle, Co Roscommon; Nenagh, Co Tipperary; Kilrush, Co Clare; Callan, Co Kilkenny; Sligo, Co Sligo; Tralee, Co Kerry; Ramelton, Co Donegal; Clones, Co Monaghan; Roscommon, Co Roscommon; Tramore, Co Waterford; Listowel, Co Kerry; Enniscorthy, Co Wexford; Ballyshannon, Co Donegal and Birr, Co Offaly.
The HTI pilot developed a framework approach to regenerating a town based on the principles of heritage-led regeneration. This framework and a review of the HTI pilot programme are available below under "Resources".
The steps in the framework include an audit of the character and identity of the town, building up local support, identifying the challenges and opportunities, developing a vision for the future of the town supported by an action plan and carrying out those actions. The framework and review are a useful source of information for local authorities considering an application for funding under the HTI.
The HTI relies on the strength of local communities and businesses to regenerate their historic town, supported by local and national government and other agencies committed to improving the quality of life for the town. Examples of activities in other towns can be found in the online links at the end of this document.
Drawing on the experiences of the programme in 2018-21 this nationwide programme will continue in 2022 administered by the Heritage Council. The Historic Towns Initiative will award up to a total of €2 million competitively to a number of historic towns for heritage-led urban regeneration projects in 2022.
€2 million available for heritage-led regeneration of towns in 2022
View the Press Release
The Heritage Council hosted a zoom information workshop on the scheme for 2022 on 13 January 2022. Some of the 2021 projects funded were showcased at this event. Watch it back on our youtube channel
Aim of the Historic Towns Initiative
The Historic Towns Initiative 2022 aims to provide support to historic towns engaged in a programme of heritage-led regeneration. In 2022 we are particularly interested in projects that address residential vacancy in town centres, that proposes the re-use of historic structures and that can act as a demonstrator for future projects. We are introducing two funding Streams for the HTI 2022.
Operation of the HTI
- The HTI is administered by the Heritage Council, as advised by the HTI National Steering Group.
- Each local authority puts forward one annual application for funding under the HTI for a historic town in their functional area. Applications will only be accepted from local authorities. Matching funding of at least 20% of total project expenditure is required for each project funded.
- The programme is intended to support a small number of towns. Funding is allocated on a competitive basis, in accordance with the assessment criteria set out below.
- Applications are assessed by the HTI National Steering Group which will make recommendations to the Board of the Heritage Council for funding under the programme.
- Priority is given to applications that are ‘plan-led’, i.e. in line with a HTI Management Plan based on the HTI framework, or a Conservation Plan, or a Public Realm Plan, or eligible actions from a Town Centre Health Check Plan, or equivalent.
- It is expected that local authorities will work with a range of partners in delivering HTI projects and evidence of such partnerships, e.g. letters of support, should be included with any application.
- Funding for each successful town will be in the region of €150-200K, depending on the projects proposed. Applications should reflect the scale of the likely funding available and the identified actions should be achievable within the allocated funding timeframe.
- Projects funded under the HTI should show strong public engagement. Social media should be used to promote events where members of the public are invited in to learn about the project, and if possible to take part. Examples how this might be done include demonstrations, training, community or NGO-management, or encouraging under-represented groups to take part or to share their heritage. It is expected that successful towns will hold an event about their projects during Heritage Week. However, it should be noted that any grant awarded by the HTI can be used to fund capital works only.
Heritage Council publication Ballybrilliant: heritage-led regeneration in 5 Irish towns (2018) available on the Heritage Council website.
Historic Towns Initiative Pilot Programme Review 2013-14
Historic Towns Initiative: Framework for the Pilot Phase in Listowel, Westport and Youghal 2013 – 2014