Plan for major Croke Park entrance would see 1960s flats demolished

 

A MAJOR new phase of development for Dublin’s Croke Park involving a new “processional entrance” to the stadium, offices, restaurants, shops and handball facilities is planned by the GAA.

The development, which would include the regeneration of the 1960s flat complex Croke Villas, will depend on the GAA reaching agreement on the purchase of land from Dublin City Council.

The council had planned to redevelop Croke Villas, an estate of 79 flats on Sackville Avenue near the stadium, under a public-private partnership agreement with Bennett Developments, but the plans collapsed in December 2008.

In late 2010, the council determined it was “extremely unlikely that Croke Villas will be redeveloped in the foreseeable future”. The flats were in a state of decay and it was determined they should be vacated. Fewer than 20 of them are now occupied.

Plans put forward by the GAA have given new hope for Croke Villas. The return for the GAA would be the acquisition of council land to allow it to develop a new grand entrance to the stadium and office facilities – and crucially a new handball centre.

“Croke Villas was, is and continues to remain in an appalling condition, so we decided to see could we conceivably do something to help to change that,” Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna said.

The plans would involve the demolition of the flats and the widening of Sackville Avenue to provide a boulevard or processional entrance to the stadium. This would become the only match-day entrance and would take crowds out of surrounding streets.

The residential element would be relocated away from the road and a new “urban village” would be created which could be used to encourage local enterprise with elements such as a dance studio or artisan bakery. The development would allow for the expansion of Croke Park’s office facilities and a handball centre.

After a lengthy planning process, the GAA last August secured permission from An Bord Pleanála to demolish the 1970s handball facility and community centre and build a new expanded centre, with 500sq m of office space in addition to sports, recreation and community facilities.

The plans were opposed by several groups including the occupants of the existing community facilities, represented by the Croke Park Streets Committees, principally on the grounds that bar facilities in the handball centre would not be replaced in the new centre.

Their concerns had been acknowledged by An Bord Pleanála inspector Mary Crowley, who recommended refusal of permission, stating the facilities available to the community would be “significantly compromised or lost”.

The dispute between the committees and the GAA has become entrenched, with legal proceedings recently issued by the GAA against members of the committees over their refusal to vacate the bar building. The committees’ chairman, Eamon O’Brien, said the dispute could be resolved if the GAA would agree to the replacement of the bar, popular with older community members.

“We were totally supportive of the redevelopment of Croke Villas and were fully prepared to move because Mr McKenna guaranteed full replacement facilities in the new development – but he has since gone back on that.”

Mr McKenna said it was the GAA’s belief the facilities included in any new development should be chosen by the community as a whole, not any one group.

“A lot of local people would be appalled at the idea of having a bar as part of the new community facilities, but it will be for the community to decide. Really it’s an unnecessary distraction. This is an opportunity to make a phenomenal transformation in people’s lives – and to try to relate it to this issue is grossly unfair to the people living in Croke Villas.”

The GAA requires the support of city councillors for the Croke Villas project to go ahead.

CROKE PARK AND ITS HANDBALL CENTRE A CHEQUERED HISTORY   

1970: The Handball Community and Social Centre is opened by then president of Ireland Éamon de Valera. It is built using funds provided by the government, GAA and private companies.

1979: The centre is registered as a club and club bar facilities are opened.

1985: New sports, fitness and function rooms are added to the handball centre at a cost of £350,000.

1988: Hill 16 is rebuilt.

1992: An application for the redevelopment of Croke Park in four phases is lodged with Dublin Corporation. The application states the handball centre and Hill 16 terraces are not included in the redevelopment.

1995: Phase one redevelopment of stadium completed.

2001: Phase two redevelopment completed.

2002: Phase three completed.

2005: Phase four completed. The total cost of phases one to four is €265 million.

2005: The Croke Park Streets Committees object to the 11 bar licences sought by the GAA for the new stadium.

The GAA objects to the drinks licence for the handball centre.

The GAA is granted its bar licences and the handball centre loses its licence, but this is subsequently reinstated.

2010: The GAA applies to Dublin City Council to demolish the existing handball centre and replace it with a much larger building with handball, office and community facilities, but no bar. The council grants permission, but the decision is appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

August 2011: An Bord Pleanála grants permission for the new centre against the recommendation of its inspector, Mary Crowley, who said the amount of office space was excessive and unjustified and that the range of facilities available to the community would be significantly compromised or lost.

December 2011: The GAA issues legal proceedings against members of the Croke Park Streets Committees seeking their removal from the handball centre in order to allow development to proceed.