Practical plan for Dublin market has realistic chance of success

Boom-era scheme was never about the food

 Dublin City Council’s fruit and vegetable market in the north inner city.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Dublin City Council’s fruit and vegetable market in the north inner city.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

It is easy to scoff at the follies and foibles of the preceeding generation – the clothes, the hair, or more recently the giant overblown development projects. The council’s boom-time plan for the Victorian fruit and veg market is not even a decade old, but in terms of sentiment it may as well have been a lifetime ago.

In what now seems an embarrassingly flash proposal, there were to be six-storey apartment and office blocks, restaurants and a culinary school. Merrion Hotel restaurateur Patrick Guilbaud was reported to be “in talks”.

The plan now looks as dated as a 1960s cigarette ad featuring a tennis-playing doctor. And, like a puff of smoke, it evaporated.


Market vs property
In the context of the market, it was always a bad plan. Successful European markets aren’t like this. They largely operate as they did when they were built, even if that was a couple of hundred years ago, and are essentially focused on food. The 2002-2007 plan wasn’t. Yes – a retail food market was part of the plan, but it wasn’t central.

The development was driven by the land surrounding the market owned by large wholesalers eager to get out of town to the M50 and realise the value of their lands for apartments and offices, just like everyone else. The council’s new proposals are modest, realistic and achievable. The small fruit, vegetable and flower wholesalers which serve surrounding restaurants and shops are to stay, and the council hopes they will provide some of the retail.

Market research commissioned by the council found fresh fruit and veg was what people wanted most, followed by bakery goods, meat, cheese, then fish. When asked if they wanted “everyday” foods, specialist/unusal products, or a mix, predictably most plumped for a mix (63 per cent), but more went for everyday products (23 per cent) than specialist ones (14 per cent).

The new market will benefit from the gradual uplift in the area. Capel Street has improved significantly in recent years and its new crop of cafes is starting to creep down the Luas line towards the market. Stoneybatter’s trendiness is also edging up from the other direction.

Jim Keogan, the council’s executive planner, is reluctant to brand the market redevelopment a linchpin or anchor for the area’s regeneration – perhaps because that’s exactly what the old plan did when it described the market as an “iconic reference point”. It’s not, he says. It’s a working building and should stand on its own merits. Slow and steady, not big and showy, is what will win this race.

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