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A plan to revamp Francis Street was on the agenda at a meeting last Wednesday of Dublin City Council’s South Central Area Committee.
The aim is to make it better for pedestrians, tempting people to stay longer in the area, and to make sure there’s enough parking and loading for those who run the antique shops and need to haul in bulky items, said David Healy.
That means looking at the possibility of a separate cycle lane, and adding greenery on the street, said Healy, who is a council administrative officer.
The council is looking at narrowing the road, increasing the width of the footpaths, and bringing in more shrubs or trees. “That’s essentially replicated the whole way down,” he said. “Narrower road, wider pavements, and additional greening and landscaping.”
There’s an accident blackspot at Dean Street, and the council want to make that safer to cross, he said. “There is a traffic island at present in the middle of that.” They’re looking to get rid of that.
Some councillors raised concerns around the proposed reduction in parking spaces on the street from around 60 to 40.
Sinn Fein’s Criona Ni Dhailigh said it would be great to see people turn off from Thomas Street and go down to Francis Street on their way across the city. “I think it’s not appreciated,” she said.
She said she is concerned about parking, especially with a couple of aparthotels planned for the area, she said. “We need to be mindful of that.”
Healy said the council is thinking, after some public consultation, about whether they can put a few parking spaces back. “It is possible we could look at reducing the loading bays and putting a couple of parking spaces in there,” he said.
They’re looking at having an artery off the Dubline route that runs down Francis Street, too, he said.
Committee members agreed to put the plan out for public consultation.
The Exorbitant Costs of Ballyfermot Leisure Centre
Last Thursday, councillors on the finance committee had a few questions around the way the costs of the Ballyfermot Leisure Centre soared. Not least, could the same thing happen again with future projects?
In 2004, Dublin City Council entered into a contract with Ferrovial Limited to build a new leisure centre in Ballyfermot for €18.2 million, including VAT. But the final bill was put at more than €45 million, according to a local government audit.
The report sets out a timeline for what happened. While the project was supposed to be finished in July 2006, it wasn’t done until 2008.
“Ferrovial were of the view that the problems were the responsibility of Dublin City Council but the Council did not agree with that. As a result, the dispute resolution mechanism in the contract was initiated,” said a report, presented to councillors at the meeting.
Once the building was done, Ferrovial submitted a claim for €37 million above the original contract figure under provisions in the contract around “variations, delays, disruption and increased costs”. (This later fell to €27 million.)
The council filed a counter claim for €6.2 million, because of defective tiling that meant the pool had to close for repairs and the council lost money.
“We then had no option but to fight it,” said Declan Wallace, council assistant chief executive, at the meeting. (He stressed that all this happened before he was involved.)
The arbitration hearings didn’t begin until July 2015, and the report doesn’t go into detail about what exactly the different types of claims were based on.
“The situation was that the council was only completely successful in one of those claims,” the report reads. For some of the other claims, it managed to reduce the amount Ferrovial was claiming.
The report lists two reasons why the council decided to settle at that point: one was that it was unlikely to be awarded costs for defending the majority of the claims, and the other was that it would have been hard to win its counter-claim.
“It was felt that the council might have some difficulties in proceeding with the counter-claim from an evidential view point,” the report says.
The council asked for advice on what to do, said Wallace. “The senior council advised that it looked like it would be at least two more years before the hearings would be complete,” he said.
That would have cost an estimated €10 or €15 million, so the council made an offer to the contractor to settle, which in the end was for €5 million, plus €8 million towards Ferrovial’s costs.
“It doesn’t read very well but it just shows that you can’t leave a process when somebody makes a claim, you have to fight it,” he said.
Wallace blamed the high costs on the number of expert witnesses such as tiling experts, as well as needing to pay the arbitrator and lawyers.
This didn’t answer all of the councillors’ questions. “I actually don’t understand it still,” said Labour’s Dermot Lacey.
Independent Councillor Paddy Bourke, who said he had 25 years of experience in the construction industry, said Dublin City Council has been involved in contracts for hundreds of years. Have they not learnt something in that time? Why was it not a fixed-price contract?
Fine Gael’s Paddy McCartan asked if this was being built today, would it be the same story. “Could the same thing happen again? If it couldn’t, why couldn’t it?”
Independent councillor Ruairi McGinley pointed to a line in the report that said it hopes that a scenario such as this won’t arise in the future. “I’m afraid that’s not very confidence inspiring,” he said.
Wallace, the assistant chief executive, said that public procurement is difficult and that sometimes – not this contractor – but others put as many staff on claims right away, as they do on doing the work. “This is just the system. The system is a very difficult system.”
If there’s a problem with rules for procurement contracts, then the council needs to examine what has gone wrong, and lobby for change at the higher levels of government, said Tom Brabazon at Fianna Fail.
St Thomas’ Abbey
By Philip Shestialtynov
At last Wednesday’s meeting of Dublin City Council’s South Central Area Committee, City Archaeologist Ruth Johnson gave an update on an ongoing project around St Thomas’ Abbey in the Liberties.
No trace of St Thomas’ Abbey remains on the modern landscape, but part of its church was uncovered in an archaeological dig in 1996, not far from where St Catherine’s Church is today. Not long after, it was designated a national monument.
The Abbey was founded in 1177. When it was dissolved in 1539, its lands in Dublin included 4 mills, 8 orchards, 30 acres of woodland, and a group of special buildings called “The King’s Lodgings”.
“The abbey was used for a period as a secular dwelling, and it was demolished in the seventeenth century, which is why we have nothing in the landscape today,” said Johnson. At the moment, part of it is an allotment site.
In 2005, the council did a feasibility study to explore options for excavation and preservation of the site. It became clear through the report though, that they didn’t know as much about the site as they should, given its significance.
“That’s the springboard for the project that we’re working on,” Johnson said. The council’s South Central Area Office and advisers are working on it. “It’s very early on in this project,” she said.
The aim is to investigate a gap in the knowledge about the abbey, and to raise awareness of the abbey for tourism, she said. She showed an image of a missal that was used in the abbey with the music they sang there. “That’s something that we’d like to try and record,” she said.
The council commissioned archaeological artist Stephen Conlin to reimagine how the abbey would have looked when it was there: grand and dominant in the landscape. “We should have it finalised by the end of March,” she said.
A couple of weeks back they met with community groups, with ideas for walking tours, explanations of the history of the site, and ways to get schools involved. “We’re taking that on board,” Johnson said.