UN agency to be asked to designate Phoenix Park as world heritage site


UNESCO IS to be asked to designate Dublin’s Phoenix Park as a world heritage site because of its “international importance” as one of the largest designed landscapes in any European city, with a history dating back 350 years.

Established in 1662 as a royal deer park with 11km of perimeter walls, it covers an area of 1,697 acres – significantly larger than Central Park in New York (843 acres) but smaller than the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (2,090 acres).

According to a conservation management plan published yesterday by the Office of Public Works (OPW), the Phoenix Park is characterised by “its historic continuity together with its vast scale, urban setting and tranquillity”.

It says “one of the greatest threats to the park” comes from unregulated vehicular traffic and indiscriminate parking. “The park caters for an average of nine million car journeys per year, the majority of which are merely passing through.”

This daily average of 25,000 vehicles represented a threat “not only to its management, conservation and presentation as a very special historic landscape, but also because of the dangers posed to users wishing to enjoy the recreational amenity”.

“At times of heavy traffic, particular safety issues arise for pedestrians crossing Chesterfield Avenue and also on the North or Back Road,” the plan says. “Cyclists are often forced out into heavy traffic at these times, creating unacceptable levels of conflict.”

It notes the “unacceptably high levels of commuter parking”, which restricted access for park users and had a “negative impact on visual amenities within the park”, and the “dearth of good public transport options for members of the public”.

Options being considered “might include” prohibition of free public parking in one continuous period of more than three to four hours, prohibition or restriction of through-traffic and closure of most roads to vehicular traffic at evenings and weekends.

But the plan says the main route through the park – Chesterfield Avenue – “should be reconstructed and maintained to an appropriate standard for continued medium to long-term use by current levels of vehicular traffic”, in the interests of safety.

The OPW proposes to “develop a policy on substantially reducing the parking of vehicles” by commuters and within the park, while facilitating the public users of the park, “through the consideration of various actions such as paid parking or clamping”.

The purpose of the conservation management plan is to provide guidelines and a set of specific actions to manage the park for future generations “while addressing the needs of the current generation within the context of a national historic park”.

If the park is to retain its essential character, “it is imperative that the conservation management plan establishes clear and unambiguous policies for the ongoing conservation of the park, whilst continuing to facilitate appropriate use of this valuable resource”. The “fundamental challenge” is to maintain the integrity of the park “in the face of increasing pressures arising from the growth and expansion of the city, the increasing demand for recreational space and facilities and the threats posed by inappropriate developments”.

Noting the park’s 350th anniversary occurs next year, the OPW said “adequate financial, human and other resources” would be essential to sustain its management.

An photography exhibition on the park will be opened today by President Mary McAleese at Farmleigh House. It is in aid of the Society of St Vincent de Paul

Park life: Proposed changes

* Prohibition or restriction of through-traffic, particularly on Phoenix Park’s main avenue, are to be considered, as well as clamping cars parked on roadsides for more than three to four hours.

* “Closure of most roads to vehicular traffic at evenings and weekends” and restrictions on the number of concerts and events.

* Apart from seeking world heritage site status for the park, the plan seeks to have it made a “landscape conservation area” by Dublin’s local authorities.

* A register of “veteran trees” is to be prepared, as well as measures to “restore” lost vistas.

* The plan seeks to link the Irish National War Memorial Gardens with the park with a bridge over the Liffey.

* It is proposed to undertake surveys of key buildings.

* The OPW is to pursue the return of two statues by sculptor John Henry Foley blown up by the IRA.