For Herbert Park, a Spruce-Up May Be on the Way

People living near Herbert Park have been lobbying Dublin City Council for some time to fix it up. Last week, the council revealed its new draft plan to do that.

Among other proposals, the Herbert Park Conservation and Management Plan suggests that the water fountain be restored to working order, and that the railings be refurbished. It also suggests that the trees be thinned, and the paths be given more definition.

If this plan goes ahead, it would also see the overhaul of the pond. Two footbridges would be added, as well as fountains to improve water circulation.

The plan also proposes to move the position of the bandstand, and to create a green tunnel where a pergola used to be (stone columns with decorative plants forming a roof ).

These last two ideas were opposed by both Labour councillor Dermot Lacey and independent councillor Mannix Flynn – who are rarely heard speaking in unison – at last week’s South-East Area Committee meeting.

Lacey asked that a plaque be added to the bandstand to commemorate its use in Thin Lizzy’s music video “Old Town“. But, generally, councillors were happy.

The north side of Herbert Park

Sceptical Residents

Though the plan hasn’t had any community involvement to date, it will now go to local residents associations for their views.

Donnybrook Residents Association would be happy with the plan, say public relations officer David Doyle and treasurer Owen Walker – if it was ever implemented. But they aren’t too optimistic.

“It took four years to get tarmac put down,” says Doyle. The council fixed the path after years of requests, but only on one side, he says. The footballers’ changing rooms were also done up, but the council had no choice because there were health-and-safety issues, he says.

Residents of Donnybrook feel the park has been neglected for the past two decades, say Doyle and Walker. Lacey admits that “It has gone down a bit over the last couple of years.”

But he says some of the maintenance works were probably delayed while waiting for this master plan. And he highlights work that has been done in the park: draining the pitches, and the changing rooms and the new café that will open in the new year.

“A lot of good things have happened in it,” he says, “and I think this new conservation plan will pull all of that together.”

Signs of Neglect

The Donnybrook Residents Association seem to have a love-hate relationship with the council.

Doyle and Walker are exasperated with trying to lobby councillors, and they aren’t happy that the council has been slow to address their complaints about Herbert Park.

But the council has assisted them in transforming a nearby piece of land into a well-kept pocket park. They stress, however, that this was down to the housing department, and that they’re responsible for this park’s upkeep.

Walking around Herbert Park on a cool Sunday afternoon, Doyle and Walker point out examples of neglect. Overgrown trees and bushes. The pongy pond, which hosts families of rats.

The bandstand – which dates back to 1907 – has a pair of runners wrapped around its apex and weeds hanging from its gutter. The antique water fountain no longer works. And the Edwardian pergola is nowhere to be seen; it collapsed in the snow of 2010 and was never replaced.

In one of the dated, graffiti-covered shelters, an article about the shed’s deterioration from a local newspaper has been stuck to the wall by the homeless man who sleeps there.

The south side of Herbert Park

A Tale of Two Playgrounds

You could argue that all parks have been affected by council cutbacks and that Herbert Park is doing well to have the facilities it does. But what really irritates Doyle and Walker is what they see as the unequal way the two sides of the park are cared for.

They see the smaller, north side as the “privatised side” and the south side as the “public side”. They say the south side isn’t maintained as well as the north side – which hosts a number of private organisations, including the bowling club, a yoga group, the tennis courts and, soon, a café.  The park also hosted a barbecue festival in August.

It is easy to see how they’d get this idea when comparing the park’s two playgrounds. The playground on the north side is bright and pristine, while the one to the south is overgrown, dirty and neglected.

“Look at this playground – everything is growing through it. They don’t care about it,” says Doyle, as he ducks to avoid tree branches.

At last Tuesday’s presentation of the plan, independent councillor Mannix Flynn voiced his concerns about the suggestion to create an event space in front of the café.

“I’m not sure whether parks are the appropriate place for marketing enterprise,” he said. “I think they erode the amenity in my view, and they become commercialised.”

Instead, he called for the creation of quiet areas within the park.

A Wish List

Donnybrook Residents Association’s main issues are with security and maintenance.

Residents would like to see railings put back up around the whole park (parts were removed to make way for flood defences along the Dodder), the gates locked at night and more than one ranger on patrol.

“You’re not safe in the park day or night,” says Doyle.

Earlier this year, some primary school children independent.ie/irish-news/news/schoolchildren-find-bag-of-machine-gun-bullets-and-shotgun-cartridges-in-south-dublin-park-31230794.html">found machine-gun bullets while playing; he believes that wouldn’t have happened if there had been more rangers around.

The residents would also like the park to be kept tidier. “Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t even see a cigarette butt in this park,” says Walker. “We want them to maintain the park to the way it was.”

How Much, How Long?

The one thing that the council’s detailed, 64-page plan for Herbert Park lacks is numbers. There are no estimated costs, and there is no time frame for works.

“I think there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of implementing such a report, and, indeed, financing such a report,” says Lacey. “We’ll always find funds if there’s a real will and a real wish for it.”

So how much would it cost to implement this plan and what is the council’s budget for it? According to a Dublin City Council spokesperson, it’s too early to comment.

She did offer: “The Conservation and Management Plan for Herbert Park is indicative of how the park could be restored . . . Any proposals will ultimately be part of a long-term plan for the park, which will be implemented in phases subject to available funding.”

Comments on the plan can be sent to parks@dublincity.ie, another spokeswoman adds.

After public consultation, Lacey believes the council should provide funding for the plan.

“That’s the part of Dublin that pays by far the highest proportion of local property taxes in the country and it’s reasonable that they should get something back,” he says.

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Louisa McGrath: Louisa McGrath is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lmcgrath@dubinq.com.

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