Getting more people to live in Limerick city centre will have the greatest impact on its revitalisation, a new report on the future of the city has found.

The 'Future Development of Limerick City' report was commissioned by Limerick Chamber to provide sustainable solutions about its growth post-Covid, and in advance of the city being the first to elect its own Mayor later this year.

It was commissioned over concerns held by Limerick Chamber about the delivery of key public projects, the decline of footfall in the city centre, the shortage of private residential and commercial development, and a brain drain of graduates, particularly science, technology, engineering and maths or STEM graduates, who can deliver a greater employment share if they chose to call Limerick their home.

Footfall in the city centre has been decimated by the Covid restrictions, but it has been a problem well before that, with poor planning decisions which led to a significant sprawl of large housing and retail centres across the suburbs.

James Ryan, who runs a number of Centra stores in Limerick city centre, says the Covid pandemic along with remote working has now accelerated the online shopping habits of consumers, and contributed to increased concerns about long-term footfall in the city.

James Ryan runs a number of Centra shops in Limerick city

"It's now about a city centre experience - rather than just being about shopping. People, in particular families, need to visit town for kids entertainment, for walking, for pleasure, for tourism and culture products, and for night-time entertainment and hospitality."

"If we can get the day-time economy, along with family entertainment in well-spaced city environments, and the night-time experience all going right, then there is a future for city centres," he said.

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The recommendations in the new report

Catriona Cahill, who is Chief Economist with Limerick Chamber, said the report found that repopulating the city centre will have a greater impact on its revitalisation than any other policy intervention.

"This means delivering affordable residential units in the city centre by refurbishing vacant existing stock in the short term, and new developments in the longer term," she said.

She pointed out there are currently 300 fully vacant commercial and residential units in Limerick, and targeted urban incentives are needed to tackle this type of urban dereliction.

Getting more people to live in the city centre means demand for more homes.

The ESRI has forecast that the population of Limerick city and county will grow by 10% by 2040. That would mean a requirement for approximately 1,100 homes each year for the next 20 years. Currently only half of that is being met.

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Gordan Kearney is an auctioneer in Limerick who said the national 'Living City initiative' has had some success in seeing a number of empty Georgian houses in Limerick being transformed into quality apartments.

"But we need more of them if we are to attract people to live and work in the city. The demand is there from people who are employed by Uber, by Northern Trust and Teckro for quality city centre homes, and the Land Development Agency has identified hundreds of acres of land at Colbert station which could provide these city centre homes," he said.

Getting more graduates, particularly STEM graduates, to stay and make Limerick their home is another issue highlighted in the report.

The share of graduates from UL who stayed to work in the Mid West is up to 46%, but the percentage of STEM graduates is lower in Limerick than in Dublin, Cork and Galway. Having more STEM graduates in a community also increases employment possibilities.

Dee Ryan, CEO of Limerick Chamber, described this as a "brain drain" of our skilled young graduates leaving Limerick for opportunities elsewhere, and it is greater than other cities such as Cork and Galway.

"Having STEM graduates brings the highest employment pay-off, and while young people are always attracted to employment elsewhere, we have to ensure there are suitable employment opportunities to subsequently attract them to return, and this must continue to be a priority to match the skills needs of companies here," she said.