No ‘major retail’ for Phoenix Park, says OPW commissioner

More than 1,500 people made written submissions in response to strategic review

The OPW will press ahead with developing plans for the Ashtown centre, the Magazine Fort (above) and for the mobility study. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

The OPW will press ahead with developing plans for the Ashtown centre, the Magazine Fort (above) and for the mobility study. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has “no intention” of developing major retail or other commercial facilities in the Phoenix Park, OPW commissioner John McMahon has said.

Mr McMahon was responding to public concerns that proposals in a strategic review of the park’s “visitor experience” would result in “overdevelopment” and “commercialisation” of Dublin’s “green lung”.

More than 1,500 people made written submissions on the review with a further 4,511 signing a petition drafted by the Green Party. The most consistent view was that the park should be left largely untouched, with interventions kept to a minimum and retail facilities avoided.

“Certain people will always be suspicious of our motivation. There is a view that the whole review is an attempt to bring in large retail to the park, I can assure you that nothing is further from the minds of the OPW and the Government,” Mr McMahon said.

He said plans the OPW had for development in the park would be subject to the rigours of the planning process.

“Even if I was the devil incarnate with horns, or some unscrupulous developer, everything we do is subject to the full planning process, but I can tell you that major retail is 100 per cent not going to happen.”

Additional facilities

However Mr McMahon said some additional facilities were needed in the park, particularly toilets.

“There are approximately 10 toilets in the park for 10 million visitors a year. There are clear deficiencies in facilities. The Ashtown Demesne gets 1.9 million visitors a year, but the visitor centre was built 30 years ago when it got 25,000-30,000 a year and there are regularly queues out the door of the cafe.”

Just under 20 per cent of submissions opposed the commercialisation of the park and particularly mentioned being against a “large visitor centre”, while 14 per cent were against any further retail and cafe development.

The review said the OPW is considering a “very narrow focus” on the sale of artisan foods and crafts. It also said there must be “some increased capacity for parking” at the Ashtown centre.

There were mixed views in relation to parking and car parks. While 14 per cent supported a reduction in car usage, and a similar number were against additional parking, in particular the proposal to make the temporary parking used for the Bloom festival permanent. Others suggested commuter routes needed to be maintained and more dedicated car parks for particular facilities needed to be built.

Mobility study

Many submissions sought better public transport options including electric shuttles, a possible train station or an extension of the Luas line. Due to the various views on transport the OPW will next year undertake a mobility study for the park.

“This is a very important issue and I would like to think we would do this properly. Cycling is a big issue, as well as public transport and what we do with cars. If I was starting with a blank page, would I allow cars at all? But Chesterfield Avenue has evolved over decades as a commuter route and for many people it is a necessary way to get into and out of work,” Mr McMahon said. “Technology is moving so fast that we also need to consider the potential of driverless electrical vehicles.”

Almost 10 per cent of respondents welcomed the plans for the refurbishment of the Magazine Fort as a military history visitor attraction, but considered a funicular running from the fort to the War Memorial Gardens excessive and “gimmicky”.

“It was just an idea; we have no plans for a a funicular railway, certainly not in the next decade.”

The OPW will press ahead with developing plans for the Ashtown centre, the Magazine Fort and for the mobility study, he said. However people should be assured there will be no change to the character of the park, he said.

“People want the park to stay as it is, and that is essentially what we are saying ourselves. The 2011 conservation management plan is our bible and any development will be measured and sensitive – there will be no big dramatic construction.”