Would you like to rent a massive city centre Victorian market for just €600 a week? It’s a remarkable deal, especially when space is at such a premium in Ireland. But this is an agreement currently in place between Dublin City Council and a construction company that needs somewhere to store its materials while it is building a Hilton hotel around the corner. In a city starved of amenities, I doubt the public thinks this to be an ideal use for the astonishingly beautiful and historic Fruit and Vegetable Market in the Smithfield area of the capital.
MB McNamara has been renting three bays of the market building to store materials since June 2020. Its lease has now been extended again until the end of January 2022. Dublin City Council said the agreement between itself and MB McNamara was issued as a “Covid measure to support redevelopment in the area for reopening” and “to minimise the impact of construction space requirements on the public realm”.
I recently visited the Iveagh Markets in Dublin 8, and it was hard not to cry at the state of the place. What could be a star of the city is an open sore
When it was closed two years and four months ago, the market was still a functioning one. The closure appeared to have an air of urgency about it, and the conversion of the market into a public amenity was in the offing. In fact, the council paid the wholesale traders operating out of it about €5 million in compensation; they had asked for an extension from the council, which was refused, and the market was closed in August 2019. Back then, Dublin City Council said the building needed to be vacated to carry out conservation work. Now a chunk of it is a storage unit for a builder.
I recently visited the Iveagh Markets in Dublin 8, and it was hard not to cry at the state of the place. To think that this wonderful, splendid building, with all its history, has been allowed to fall into the most severe dereliction you can imagine. What could be a star of the city is an open sore.
In Newmarket in Dublin 8, where brilliant markets had to leave because of “redevelopment”, there was a stipulation in the planning permission for Eight Building – the name of a development there – that market space be part of the ground floor. But now, permission is being sought to change that to “a convenience retail unit”.
Nearby in Portobello, Dublin 8, another deal has been struck on a public space and amenity. You may remember the brouhaha over the closure of Portobello Plaza, aka the public square at what was Portobello Harbour at the Grand Canal. Dublin City Council previously closed this public space, at a time when people were being asked to socialise outdoors. The council insisted antisocial behaviour necessitated the closure; after much public outrage, it was reopened. But now it’s closed again.
The reason it has closed is because a developer is building a hotel nearby. You can probably sense a pattern emerging here about what kind of “redevelopment” preoccupies the city. According to the council, it has “licensed a portion of the public square to the developer on behalf of Jurys Hotel for the duration of the development”. Construction will begin after Christmas, and will take somewhere between 18 months and two years.
If we treat the city like our home, as we should, then if you had the most beautiful livingroom imaginable, would you keep the contents of the shed in it?
According to the council, it has been paid a cash bond – often what a road opening licence is referred to as – of €227,430, which Dublin City Council will then repay when the works are complete “and the area is handed back to Dublin City Council to its satisfaction”. The Council repeatedly used the term “a portion”, but the size of that portion is 630sq m, and so the reality is the public square will not exist in any real way during the hotel construction. A large hoarding has been erected around it.
When I was talking to someone in the council last week who has a good deal of knowledge when it comes to the Fruit and Vegetable Market, they said that the rent was set at what the rate was in the area. But looking at different industrial storage units for rent, it does appear to be quite cheap, even leaving aside the fact that you’re not renting a blank unit in an industrial estate somewhere – you’re in a protected structure that needs conserving.
It’s also a place that means something. If we treat the city like our home, as we should, then if you had the most beautiful livingroom imaginable, would you keep the contents of the shed in it?
Planning is hard, and redevelopment of public amenities can be arduous. But for all Dublin City Council complains about bureaucracy, it is fluent in the language of it, propagates it, and often leans into the boundaries of bureaucracy, not creativity, of what can be achieved, and fails to zoom out. Right now the public and its local authority are on completely different pages regarding how to use the city. The council has an inability to recognise the strangeness of its decisions, the public’s desires and concerns for public amenities and space and, even on a superficial level, the optics of allowing builders and developers use public space for long periods of time so that they can build hotels for tourists to stay in.
Presumably those same tourists may wonder, when they walk around the city, why on earth our prized Victorian markets are derelict or vacant.