Cork City Council defends involvement in Sky Gardens despite criticisms over cost

Major refurbishment planned for Cork City park to help attract overseas visitors

The Irish Sky Garden during Chelsea Flower Show Press and VIP Day on May 23, 2011 in London, England. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Irish Sky Garden during Chelsea Flower Show Press and VIP Day on May 23, 2011 in London, England. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

 

Cork City Manager, Tim Lucey yesterday defended the council’s decision to become involved in the controversial Sky Garden project as the council unveiled plans for a new €2.3 million refurbishment of Fitzgerald Park incorporating elements of the award winning Chelsea Show garden.

The Sky Garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin won a gold medal at the Chelsea Show in 2011 but the project backed by Failte Ireland became mired in controversy over the cost leading to tensions between Mr Gavin and Cork City Council.

But yesterday Mr Lucey said he stood over Cork City Council’s involvement in the project and believed the incorporating of elements of the Sky Garden in the refurbished Mardyke Gardens in Fitzgerald Park would provide a major tourist attraction to Cork.

“What we have here is a €2.3 million euro investment in the Mardyke Gardens with more than 75pc of funding coming from Failte Ireland and Cork City Council contributing €500,000 to €600,000 - we haven’t had that level of investment in Fitzgerald’s Park for over 100 years,” he said.

“The Sky Garden was an award winning garden at the Chelsea Show and we are delighted to have elements of that here but this being a public garden, the Sky Garden had to redesigned to take account of health and safety issues in a public garden,” he said.

Mr Lucey refused to be drawn on how much had been paid to Mr Gavin for the Sky Garden as that was commercially sensitive but he did confirm that the Council had spent some€ 70,000-€80,000 of the overall cost on storing the Sky Garden for the past 12 months or so.

And Mr Lucey predicted that the refurbished Mardyke Gardens in Fitzgerald Park could attract an extra 50,000 to 70,000 visitors a year to Cork given the interest in gardens in both the UK and the Republic where huge crowds attend both the Chelsea and Dublin Flower Shows.

Fiona Buckley of Failte Ireland said that Mardyke Gardens refurbishment incorporating elements of the Sky Garden was designed to attract visitors to Cork from the UK which had been identified by Irish tourism experts as a sector of the international market that could be grown significantly.

Ms Buckley explained that British visitors were interested in the culture segment of the holiday market ranging from arts and food to horticulture and the Mardyke Gardens as part of a horticultural trail would help attract British visitors to Cork.

“Britain is our biggest market and our nearest neighbour but we have a problem penetrating the market there and we know that there’s a segment there interested in culture and gardens, great houses and castles are extremely important to that segment,” she said

She pointed to the historic British links with Fitzgerald Park which hosted the Cork Exhibition in 1902 and 1903 and said the Mardyke Gardens along with Fota Arboretum and Gardens, UCC Gardens and Blarney Castle Gardens would help address that gap in the market.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Catherine Clancy turned the first sod yesterday on the five-month long refurbishment project which will involve the restoration of the fountain and pond, the creation of a Victorian Fruit and Vegetable Garden, a new band stand and a public performance space