Rural Future plan: Relocation grants and tax breaks to lure workers from cities to rural towns

Government’s Rural Future plan will introduce State-supported schemes to encourage people to live in small towns and villages

State-funded relocation grants and tax incentives for remote working are to be introduced by the Government to lure workers from cites to rural towns and villages.

A new shared ownership scheme, which will allow rural communities to take over local amenities such as pubs, shops or post offices at risk of closure is also promised as part of the Government’s Rural Future plan.

The plan, which has seen by the Irish Independent, will also see a €1bn Rural Regneration Fund used to convert old cinemas, theatres and town halls into 400 remote-working hubs with high-speed broadband.

Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys, who is unveiling the plan today, is also pledging to increase the number of public sector employees working from home over the coming years.

The minister will say the current target to have 20pc of the public sector working remotely by the end of 2021 will be increased every year for the next five years.

Her plan to move public sector employees from Dublin to rural areas is being described as “doing decentralisation properly” by Government sources.

Writing in today’s paper, Ms Humphreys says she wants to give people from rural Ireland the option of staying in their communities while also progressing their careers.

“There are many young people who moved to Dublin because it represented their only prospect of securing work. My message is let’s give those people a choice,” the minister says.

The 150-page report commits to major investment in rural communities and pledges to introduce a raft of new State-supported schemes to encourage people to live in small towns and villages.

Central to the plan will be the introduction of relocation grants, which will see the Government cover some of the costs related to moving from a city to a rural area.

The minister is examining a US scheme which saw people given $2,000 to leave Silicon Valley and move to rural parts of Georgia.

The plan also says the Government’s Tax Strategy Group is examining what new tax incentives for remote working can be introduced in October’s budget.

There is also a pledge to work with local community and voluntary groups to put in place arrangements to “welcome and integrate newcomers to rural towns and villages”.

Local authorities will be given funding to specifically attract people to their counties by showcasing their resources for remote working.

There are a range of new commitments to utilise existing buildings and amenities in towns and villages to make them more attractive places to live.

This includes new funding to renovate old buildings into homes and businesses.

Funding will also be provided to introduce “multi-purpose spaces in the community” for sports, leisure or cultural activities.

Meanwhile, a new fund is being developed with the Vintners Federation of Ireland which will see financial support provided to rural publicans to convert their pubs into community spaces.

This could mean funding for projectors and screens so part of a pub could be turned into a small local cinema or a library.

The rural plan also commits to a scheme, similar to one introduced in the UK, which will see the Government provide financial assistance to communities wanting to take over local amenities at risk of being closed down.

Under the scheme, the Government may match funding raised by locals to buy a pub, theatre or post office.

They are also examining whether ‘meanwhile use’ legislation can be introduced so that empty buildings and shops can be brought back into short term use as pop-up stores, street markets or exhibition spaces.

State-subsidised hackney services for small rural communities and a ride-hailing app to allow carpooling are also committed to in the new plan.

Major investment is also planned for tourism with funding being committed for more walking and cycling tracks while also putting more money into existing projects such as the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, and Ireland’s Ancient East.

A national outdoor recreation strategy is due to be published later this year and will see Coillte, Waterways Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, national parks and local authorities develop a plan to encourage people to take advantage of the country’s natural resources.

A new dark skies strategy is also being worked on to develop stargazing into a tourism attraction.

There are also climate action commitments including setting a target of retrofitting 500,000 homes and installing 400,000 heat pumps across the country up to 2030.