CONSERVATION architect Cait Ni Cheallachain has expressed confidence that the Living Cities Initiative can achieve the desired effect of breathing new life into Limerick’s Georgian core.
The tax incentive scheme, which for residential refurbishment projects encompasses buildings older than 100 years, was announced by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan last week. In Limerick, it applies to properties in a “special regeneration area” stretching from Bank Place/Rutland Street to The Crescent/Barrington Street and also the Nicholas Street area.
Living Cities was originally announced by Minister Noonan in Budget 2013 and was to be confined to areas of Limerick and Waterford city centres. After its implementation was held up in overcoming EU state aid regulations, the scheme has only now been rolled out and will also apply in designated zones of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny for both residential and commercial refurbishment projects undertaken over the next five years.
Ms Ni Cheallachain said the Living Cities Initiative as it has now emerged was much more progressive than what had earlier been indicated.
“I welcome it. It is much more civilised than the last one [announced in 2012],” she said.
“In the last one, they put in this arbitrary date where they said only anything before 1840 would be considered. I had two buildings in Mallow Street which were 1850 and you think ‘Oh God’. But they have changed that to say everything pre-1915 for living areas. And that means it extends to everything within the zone,” said Ms Ni Cheallachain, a member of the Limerick chapter of the Irish Georgian Society but speaking in a personal capacity.
And she welcomed provisions into the scheme that have opened it up beyond owner-occupiers of historic buildings to developers who could sell the properties on with the tax benefits in tact for people moving in.
Those buying such apartments could claim tax relief over 10 years “which is fantastic and a great way to get people to live in the area”.
And she is encouraged that the scheme is designed with occupancy of the properties in mind rather than tax benefits to individuals.
“It is doable and very attractive and it will encourage people to live in the place. If you move on, you can’t take your tax relief with you. The tax relief applies to the place, the apartment and the building. If you die, too bad and nobody else gets it. If you move away, you lose it. So it is to encourage people to live there for at least 10 years.”
Ms Ni Cheallachain does not believe the costs involved in refurbishing the properties targeted are prohibitive and gave a vote of confidence that Limerick City and County Council would be able to properly oversee the scheme.
She said there had been “a sea change” in the attitude of the local authority towards the potential of projects in Georgian Limerick in recent years.
“The local authorities are far more open to ideas now and also want the buildings to be used. I am absolutely committed as a conservation person but the buildings have to be used. There is no point in having stuff standing there looking beautiful if nobody uses them. They have to be alive and they are brilliant places to live,” she said.