Wide Streets Commission: Ireland’s first planners

Ireland’s first planning authority, set up in the 18th century, changed face of Dublin

The Wide Streets Commission was  responsible for much of the quays and the area around the Custom House

The Wide Streets Commission was responsible for much of the quays and the area around the Custom House

 

The 1963 planning Act – which introduced a national planning system – is seen as the advent of modern planning in Ireland. However, Ireland’s first planning authority was actually established more than 200 years earlier with the formation in 1757 of the Wide Streets Commission or, as it was somewhat less snappily known, the Commissioners for Making Wide and Convenient Ways, Streets and Passages in the City of Dublin.

The commission cut a swath through medieval Dublin and was responsible for creating the grand Georgian boulevards of the capital and for turning it from an east-west to a north-south orientated city though the development of new bridges.

One of its first tasks was the construction of Parliament Street through the warren of tiny lanes of Temple Bar to link the newly rebuilt Essex bridge – today’s Grattan bridge – to Dublin Castle.

Over its 94-year existence, it was responsible for the development of Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street, the widening of Dame Street, the construction of Carlisle bridge (now O’Connell bridge), and the extension of Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street, down to the river Liffey.

It was also responsible for much of the quays, the Liberties and the area around the Custom House.

Demolish “The Wide Streets Commission was a proto-planning authority with abilities to acquire property by compulsory purchase, demolish it, lay down new streets and set lots along the new streets for builders to develop,” says Dublin City Council heritage officer Charles Duggan. “It was a forerunner to the modern city council

.”

The commission was concerned with promoting quality of design and bringing a uniformity and grandeur to the civic spaces of the city.

It was responsible for the shape of the city as it largely still exists today, but the commissioners were not too concerned with the living standards of its inhabitants.

“Their purpose wasn’t to create better living conditions, and some of how they did their work – people were living in many of the buildings they demolished after all – well, it would be questionable how ethical it was,” Duggan adds.

A city council project assessing the work of the commission is under way and is expected to be published next year.