In 2017, 2040 and Beyond: A Vision for Portlaoise, a strategy for a better town centre, was developed by Laois County Council. The strategy re-examines and re-purposes the town centre of Portlaoise. The overarching aims are to formalise a shared vision to focus on public spaces, buildings and walkways in a way that acknowledges
the unique characteristics and heritage assets that the town possesses, and to provide the foundation for the future development of a thriving town centre.
This vision for Portlaoise presents a unique opportunity to transform the town into Ireland’s first ‘Low Carbon Town Centre’ through:
- reducing the impacts of car use on the public realm;
- improving overall air and environmental quality;
- supporting more active travel through walking and cycling;
- providing a better-quality environment for leisure and social
The project also envelops the idea that refurbishing and repurposing derelict buildings impacts positively on low carbon commitments. A low carbon town centre must also create balance: preserving heritage and history while promoting the re-occupation of vacant residential stock within Portlaoise town centre, as well as the efficient use of the town’s convent, CBS, and parish lands for residential and other uses. The project aims to increase the residential population of the town centre from c.600 to 2,500 by 2040 by increasing the provision of social spaces and facilities for exercise, play, and relaxation to improve community health and well-being.
The Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework identifies Portlaoise as a national demonstration project on how sustainability and low carbon development can be implemented at community level.
The aim of the Low Carbon Town Centre is to remove the dominance of cars within Portlaoise town centre and address the poor pedestrian and cycling experience of the area. Laois County Council will be investing an estimated €2.7 million over the next three years to make the Low Carbon Town Centre a reality. The objective of this is to ensure and increase the resilience of infrastructural assets and the built environment, informing investment decisions. This will be achieved by removing large volumes of traffic from congested areas, utilising the South Circular Road, and reconfiguring existing traffic flows throughout the town centre. Building on the development of the ‘Park and Stride’ policy, Laois County Council will also promote an increase in cycling by extending on-road and off-road cycleways, and creating the Triogue River Blueway as an environmental and amenity objective.
The local authority will also upgrade the laneways of Portlaoise by improving their overall appearance, retrofitting existing streetlights with energy-saving LEDs, and adding additional lighting to poorly lit areas. Further energy-efficient amenities will include the addition of 30 EV charging points. The number of solar powered compactor bins in the town will be increased to 50. The local authority will also partner with retail services and businesses in providing ongoing advice and support in relation to energy performance and aligning businesses with the low carbon objective.
Laois County Council also plans to re-purpose the old Scoil Mhuire at the heart of the town centre site to become the new home for the Laois School of Music, Music Generation Laois. Repurposing existing buildings reduces the carbon footprint created by new builds.
A low carbon town implementation group was established in May 2019 involving stakeholders from the sphere of academia, energy generation, the health service, retail, and transport. The group is serviced by Laois County Council and its aim is to work with the community in implementing energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures at all levels of urban living. The Portlaoise Town Team, in existence since 2017, has also established a low carbon subgroup that collaborates with the low carbon town implementation group. The Town Team draws its membership from local business, traders and retailers. One of its primary objectives is to work towards
sustained progress in transitioning to renewable energy, better insulation standards, modal shift and reduction of single use plastics.
Benefits of solution
The project, which is a community-implemented, community-led and community-driven solution, will provide seven key benefits:
- removal of large volumes of traffic from the town centre via
delivery of the Portlaoise Southern Circular Road;
- reconfiguration of traffic flows through the town centre is
expected to reduce traffic and traffic congestion;
- significant reduction in carbon emissions driven by
interventions at James Fintan Lalor/Lyster Square;
- re-balance the existing circa 3,600 car parking spaces;
- 40% increase in bicycle usage by 2040;
- 300-500 trees planted in the town centre; and,
- reduction in dereliction by re-purposing existing buildings.