The Urbanism Awards 2008
Assessment Report Summary

Award Category: Town
Nomination Name: Kilkenny

Kilkenny City is a place of urban settlement which has endured through the centuries by adapting to the needs of its inhabitants, whilst retaining its unique appeal to visitors. The unique built heritage and winding streetscapes provides a link to ancient times whilst continuing to be a vibrant place to live and work. Kilkenny retains its charm by allowing modern uses in old buildings so that they don’t become museum pieces, but rather provide the means to enjoy old buildings in modern settings e.g. Kilkenny Civic Trust, Shee Alms House etc. In 2007 Kilkenny celebrates 800 years of town government and 400 years of City government in 2009. Kilkenny City’s 1609 Charter of James 1st conferred Kilkenny with City Status.

One of Kilkenny’s strengths is its compact nature, both in physical size and in scale. The pattern of narrowed streets with ancient slip ways provides an ambience which pedestrians can enjoy and facilitate easy access and movement around the city. The street network has remained largely undisturbed over the centuries. The High Street is a vibrant area, with a mix of uses to attract shoppers and workers.

The historic core – the spine from Kilkenny Castle through High Street, Parliament Street, Irishtown, to St. Canice’s Cathedral, links these various themes of civic authority and worship. The Tholsel, (pictured below) seat of urban local government with its arcaded front and distinctive bell tower has acted as a focal point for local governance for centuries. A long tradition of local politics is maintained to the present day, whilst the civic archive is preserved there as a reminder of the urban history of Kilkenny.

Kilkenny has long been a place of where cultural pursuits have found expression from a vibrant crafts environment to theatre and performance art. The Kilkenny Arts Festival continues to thrive with the support of local and state authorities. Kilkenny Borough council recognises the role being provided by the Arts festival and supports this and other initiatives which provide a platform in which the creative arts can thrive. Kilkenny Borough Council plays a vital role in maintaining the Watergate Theatre, which provides a venue for the performing arts – drama, dance, and music.

Kilkenny continues to be a place of prosperous commercial activity. Investment in Kilkenny is at an all time high. New commercial developments currently underway or in planning will ensure that Kilkenny is well placed to avail of the economic opportunities of the modern Ireland. Kilkenny has been designated as a “Hub” in the Irish Government’s National Spatial Strategy. This designation will bring with it opportunities to continue with Kilkenny’s development into the future. The need to plan for such development is the major influence on Kilkenny’s new Development Plan for 2008 to 2014.

The Kilkenny City and Environs Development Plan will be the end strategy of an inclusive exercise involving the public, developers, planners and elected members. The draft plan, currently on public display, is the result of a collaborative process designed to facilitate and encourage public participation. One of the main aims of the plan is to achieve the “ten minute city” to ensure that citizens and residents of Kilkenny do not have to travel more that ten minutes from their homes to access services such as, schools, doctors, shopping and the like. This aim is seen by the City as being key to ensuring its future sustainability.

Recreation, whether passive or active, is becoming increasingly more important as people become more conscious of leading a healthy lifestyle. Kilkenny is fortunate in having a diverse range of active sporting activities – hurling, rugby, golf, swimming, soccer, are all played locally. The availability of such a diverse range of sports was favourably mentioned in the Recreational Needs Assessment carried out in 2003. This report has set the context for recreational developments since then. The development of the Kilkenny Castle Park, under the aegis of the Office of Public Works, provides a fantastic urban park which is sited almost in the middle of Kilkenny.

Recently the River Nore, which runs through the centre of Kilkenny, was the subject of major drainage works, which will alleviate flooding in Kilkenny City. Almost €50 million, was spent by the Irish Government, on a scheme which will benefit future generations. In tandem with the drainage works, Kilkenny Local Authorities have taken the opportunity to develop a linear park along the river Nore, thus reviving the amenity of the river for recreational purposes.

Kilkenny has enjoyed considerable economic growth in recent years. The City has developed and retained firms in growth sectors such as financial services and healthcare. This has helped to attract employment and population growth into the City and County. The major focus for expansion has been in the Environs of Kilkenny City

For the City and Environs, the Census figures show that the population of the Borough area increased by a small amount, with the major expansion of the population taking place in the environs of the city. This is to be expected and it shows that the local authorities have reversed the trend of a decreasing population within the Borough area over the last two Development Plans.

Kilkenny has a strong Arts and Crafts base which owes its origins to the establishment of Kilkenny Design Workshops in the 1960’s, which was a state funded body responsible for promoting product and graphic design in industry which operated to the 1980’s. The brand also draws on the very strong clusters of creative businesses in and around the city and county – everything from artists to craftspeople, musicians and graphic designers. The Crafts Council of Ireland (CCoI) has been centred here since 1998, which has consolidated Kilkenny’s position as “the creative heart of Ireland”. The CCoI is the national design and economic development organisation for the craft industry in Ireland. Its activities are funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment via Enterprise Ireland. Approximately 10% of Kilkenny County Enterprise Board assistance has been directed towards the Craft Sector since 1993. As retailing is vitally important for many crafts people, the location of any proposed workspace is vital.

Technology, tourism, craft & design, engineering and food processing are the dominant industries in the county. Glanbia PLC (Kilkenny is the location for the headquarters of the Glanbia multinational food group) and Smithwick’s St. Francis Abbey Brewery are major food and beverage processing companies located in the county and are examples of industrial development, which evolved from the agricultural hinterland to their current position as market leaders in the food sectors. In the tourism sector, Kilkenny City has a thriving tourism product.

Kilkenny city is characterised by beautifully restored old historical buildings and winding slipways and is small and compact enough to explore on foot. The tourist potential of Kilkenny focuses sharply on its distinctive architectural and historic heritage. The basic tourist resources of Kilkenny can be summarised as: an overall and coherent character – in particular the heritage townscape of the historic centre; the number and quality of architecturally and historically significant buildings, such as Kilkenny Castle, St Canice’s Cathedral, Rothe House, Shee Alms House, etc; the fine quality of smaller scale elements – shopfronts, houses, slipways, stone walls and general architectural details; the natural beauty of the Nore River Valley; the services provided in the city, including: hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, shops, Design Centre, theatre, galleries, cultural events, etc; the reputation of the city for arts, culture and crafts; the special attractions such as the Arts Festival, the Caths Laugh Comedy Festival and the Rhythm and Roots Festival; and the bustling nature of the City Centre

The 20th century saw Kilkenny’s rise as a creative centre, and the city is home to many craft and design shops, offering everything from knitwear and leather goods to jewellery, candles and pottery. Perhaps best known is the Kilkenny Design Centre and Workshops. Kilkenny’s international reputation as a centre of design and high quality craft production is a proven asset.

In the current decade, there is considerable investment and effort being directed to Kilkenny’s regeneration and renaissance including McDonagh Junction, a 5 hectare site located close to the core retail area of the city centre, adjacent to McDonagh Train Station. The site was once used as the machinery yard for Kilkenny County Council and contains four protected structures which had fallen into a state of disrepair. An Integrated Area Plan (1999-2002) was prepared for this site to stimulate the economic, social, cultural and environmental development of this area. Objectives for the site included the preservation of the protected structures within the property, improved accessibility, both vehicular and pedestrian, and the development of a relationship between developers/investors and the existing community with attendant potential for socio-economic development.

In November 2004 planning permission was granted for the redevelopment of this site to include apartments, a shopping centre, high-tech offices including science and technology-based and starter units, a hotel, restaurants, a childcare facility, a bowling alley and community facilities. The scheme includes the restoration and reuse of the protected structures on site. There are two substantial public spaces within the development; one located adjacent to the Goods Shed, a protected Structure, and one at the Workhouse Square, also a protected structure. This development has been under construction for the last three years, creating over 500 jobs. The development is now nearing completion.

In 2005 the Elected Members of Kilkenny Borough Council adopted the City Centre Local Area Plan. The Plan establishes a vision for the city centre, to ensure its continued vitality and viability, striking a balance between preserving its architectural and archaeological heritage and facilitating modern living. The plan concentrates on establishing new linkages, improving permeability, determining suitable uses within the city centre and assesses the existing and future need for car parking.

The plan evolved from extensive consultation with the Elected Members of the Borough Council, a Council Steering Group (Officials of the Borough and County Councils), the Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce and Industry, local land owners and local interest groups. The intention of the consultation was: to afford an opportunity to all interested parties to participate in the process and thereby promote social inclusion; to disseminate information to interested parties on all aspects of the local Area Plan, including the vision and the development complexities; to inform the Local Authority of the various opinions, ideas, views, areas of conflict that exist so they may be assessed and incorporated in the plan as appropriate; to promote and stimulate interest and enthusiasm for the project; and to give each stakeholder a sense of ownership of the plan.

The objectives of the Kilkenny City local area plan are intended to improve existing commercial and tourist linkages (and to suggest new linkages where appropriate) and permeability throughout the city; to assess specific sites within the city; to assess the land uses of Kilkenny’s Core retail area (High Street, Kieran Street, Parliament St., Rose Inn Street and also John Street) and to propose strategies for their future development; and to propose a framework for existing and future car parking requirements and general directional signage within the city.

The plan is used by the Borough and County Councils when dealing with planning applications and infrastructure projects for the city and its environs. The plan is also used by members of the public, developers, land holders and any organisation interested in the future development of Kilkenny city.

Photo by Cliff Ayotte (via Flickr)

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