This month we speak to Ursula O’Connor, the Urban Regeneration Development Officer at Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council
Urban regeneration is an important component in ensuring towns and counties, like Dún Laoghaire, is sustainable for current and future generations to live, enjoy and do business in. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have this objective firmly in mind as they look to future-proofing the town and surrounding areas.
To learn more about this and just what exactly is happening, we spoke to Ursula O’Connor, the Urban Regeneration Development Officer, about her role within the council and what exactly it involves, but also what has been achieved so far and just why Dún Laoghaire is a great place for businesses and enterprises to locate to.
In her own words, Ursula describes her role: “We’re based in the Economic Development Unit within Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It’s a fairly newly resourced unit and in recognition for the need for our towns and villages to really support the businesses operating within their curtilages and to be sure we are presenting the best possible physical area for a business to operate in.”
“We would look to trying to maximise occupancy, improving the streetscape, working on placemaking, and providing a liaison resource for any of the businesses operating within Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.”
O’Connor says the council works closely with business network organisations and says it is much easier to get things done and for the council to be more responsive if businesses in one locality come together to form one voice for the greater good.
DLRCoCo supporting the business community of our town
Ursula explains there are a number of supports currently in place to promote the growth and development of businesses and enterprises already in the area, but also to attract potential business to the town.
“We would offer shop front improvement incentives, incentives to occupy vacant buildings, we’re also supporting outdoor dining by making spaces available over from the public realm to where people can sit and we also have a grant available that can cover the cost of table and chairs for this,” Ursula tells us.
“If you occupy a premises that has been empty for six months or more, there’s a grant that you can get against your business rates, and we also will go 50/50 with businesses on upgrading their shop fronts up to the value of €5,000.”
In the past 12 months, Ursula tells us 10 shopfronts in our town have been upgraded thanks to the support of the council.
A renewed focus on Dún Laoghaire Town
While urban regeneration had already been taking place across various different departments within DLRCoCo, O’Connor says it was formalised, centralised and really recognised for what it was two years ago. The project is a big undertaking, with Ursula explaining it needs cross-departmental coordination, cooperation and resourcing. She says the Urban Regeneration and Economic Development Unit brings all these threads together to achieve the objective.
As part of the Dún Laoghaire Summer Streets initiative, George’s St Lower has been pedestrianised, which as Ursula explains, is aimed at bringing visitors back to our town.
“Currently, a trial pedestrianisation of part of Lower George’s St is ongoing. The aim is to support the reopening of our businesses, facilitate outdoor dining and queueing and create a safer, more welcoming environment for residents and visitors alike.
“We hope to entice people back into the heart of Dún Laoghaire which will bring additional benefit to all retail businesses as well as hospitality. The trial will run until 30th September and will be the subject of a detailed assessment afterwards.”
The latest project, called ‘Dún Laoghaire Anseo’, with anseo meaning ‘here’ in Irish, is a series of contemporary street art murals appearing on buildings throughout the town, reflecting elements of what makes Dún Laoghaire unique. The aim of the project is to let everyone know that after the testing year we’ve all had, the town is still very much here and open for business. Established and up-and-coming and local artists helped bring this project to life.
What makes Dún Laoghaire great for business
“The location, It’s second to none,” says Ursula. “You have the coastline on your doorstep and then you have all these resources within the town. There’s great connections between the DART and bus services that come in and out of the town. Strong supports in terms of Digital Dún Laoghaire and what they can do to help.”
“The town has great history to it, great architecture, I think the demand for remote working hubs is going to go up and up. We have had a very different working arrangement in the last year than what we were used to and I think a lot of businesses will be thinking ‘well how do we capitalise on that, and how can we do things more locally?’. There’s also strong broadband so there is plenty of connectivity, so they can make the switch from perhaps working in the city centre to coming out here and doing business here instead.”
O’Connor added: “We’re critically looking at the town all the time and asking ourselves what can we do to make it better, what can we do to increase footfall. This is the county town and we are determined to make a success of it.”
New outdoor public areas that are being developed at St Michael’s Church and Bloomfields in the town will hopefully increase footfall for businesses and allow them a place to hold meetings outside of the office.
“It’s a great place to do business, it’s a great place to live and it’s a fabulous place to visit,” Ursula says.
Bright times ahead for Dún Laoghaire Town
While Ursula teases there are plenty more projects in the pipeline from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to benefit the area, she is particularly delighted with the uptake from businesses to upgrade their shop fronts with the help of the grant on offer and says more businesses are enquiring about renovating their stores.
“We’ve seen a lot of anecdotal posts on social media from people saying Dún Laoghaire has turned a corner and I really do think it has.”
Ursula says Dún Laoghaire currently has a number of vacant premises and she is hopeful over the next year these buildings will be given a new lease of life as new businesses and enterprises invest in the area. “It would be an absolute joy to see that happen,” says Ursula.
What’s the best part of being Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s Urban Regeneration Officer?
“Seeing something change in the public realm that you’ve had a part in, you had an opportunity to do it and you delivered on it. It really is a privilege to be able to put forward suggestions and see them come through. It seeing things in reality, it’s seeing the fruits of your labour, there’s a huge amount of satisfaction in that and it just spurs you on to the do next project.”