Una Mullally: Dublin council may waste a golden opportunity in the Liberties

Marrowbone Lane site should be used for the community, not to build a super-depot

The Liberties in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Liberties in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Liberties in Dublin is at the centre of development and gentrification that’s going in multiple directions. There’s the rebirth of distilleries in the area. There’s high-end student housing encroaching on old neighbourhoods. Markets that filled gaps in Newmarket Square have been pushed out. New cafes and bars have opened. Diageo announced plans to redevelop 12 acres of its land around St James’s Gate. Weaver Park has been a massive success, providing space for Dublin’s skateboarders. 

Land is at a premium and the area seems to be moving forward in some ways, but with concerns about the heart and soul of The Liberties being diluted. Enter Owen Keegan. The chief executive of Dublin City Council has a plan for a site at Marrowbone Lane. That plan involves building a super-depot. There are about 32 depots in the city and the council wants to consolidate them into two super-depots, one in Ballymun, and one at Marrowbone Lane. While the consolidation of depots makes some sense, although not necessarily if street-cleaning vehicles have to travel longer distances to their destinations, this is a site of nearly five hectares that, if approached with vision, could transform the area. 

Open space

In 2015, the Marrowbone Lane site was zoned as open space. There is a depot on the site which Keegan says isn’t fit for purpose. He wants the land rezoned, so they can build the super-depot. Keegan’s approach to Marrowbone Lane is binary: either the council builds a new depot on the site, or it sits there and nothing happens.

It’s a funny position to take. You’d think that having nearly five hectares of land to play with in The Liberties would open up possibilities, not shut them down. I wonder is it a coincidence that these two super-depots are proposed for two of the poorest areas in Dublin? I wonder how you’d get on proposing a super-depot in Ranelagh? 

One of the council’s own plans for the area, The Liberties Greening Strategy, proposed a network of new urban parks. That strategy cited one of the starkest facts about The Liberties. In Dublin City Council as a whole, there are 49 square metres of acceptable quality public green space per person. In The Liberties there is 0.7 square metres per person, 70 times less. 

Kieran Rose, a local resident and former senior planner at Dublin City Council thinks that the site would be better served by being 50 per cent open space, and 50 per cent housing and other community facilities.

‘Digital Hub’

“If you look at the creativity and good planning and urban design that has gone into the Digital Hub for example, north and south of Thomas Street, or the scheme for St James’s Gate which looks interesting and is opening up streets that were previously closed off, that quality of planning and urban design and ambition should go into Marrowbone Lane.”

I spoke to Keegan about this and he was not for turning. “They zoned that site as open space,” he said of the councillors, “We told them we couldn’t get a pitch on that site, but we will find another site. which we have done. We also gave a commitment that we would develop the Weaver Square Park, whatever it is, and Bridgefoot Street Park. We have delivered the pitch, one park is completed, one is about to start, we need now to invest in this depot . . . If they don’t rezone the land the depot will just have to stay there because we need it. The depot will stay there in its current footprint and very bad state.”

One of the council’s own plans for the area proposed a network of new urban parks

Cllr Tina McVeigh is opposed to the plan, “There is no vision in this,” she said. McVeigh is right. There is no vision in putting a super-depot in the middle of The Liberties on a site where, with a bit of imagination, so much could happen. 

Zoe Obeimhen, a mother-of-four who lives nearby in the Oliver Bond Flats, spoke to me about the plan, and cited former governor of Mountjoy John Lonergan’s experience of seeing young people from The Liberties in prison, and the correlation between a lack of sporting facilities in disadvantaged areas and criminality.

The benefits that sport has in preventing and reducing crime and drug use is widely documented. Obeimhen says a sports pitch on the area would be of huge benefit to young people. “This is a key opportunity to shift this area and stop the pointless cycle, wasted lives, again and again. We have to do something new,” Obeimhen said. “We need sustainable communities.”

Let’s look at Dublin City Council’s own greening strategy for the area again, “If the opportunities that exist to address the inadequacy of green space within The Liberties are passed up, it is unlikely they will arise again,” the strategy states.

“The potential to leverage high-quality green space scale from private sector redevelopments is limited due to the size of sites available. Now is the time to redeem The Liberties and put in place a green space and public realm network upon which the community and future generations can thrive.”

They’re the council’s own words, so why in this case does Keegan seem so set against them?

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