Last week, Dublin City Councillors voted through permission to press ahead with plans to develop a park on Bridgefoot Street, not far from the Oliver Bond Flats.
Now gardeners who helped to run a community garden on the site say they’re watching closely to make sure that they’re going to be part of the development.
“What we really would have hoped for was that we would be participating in the development of the new garden and allotments space and a good migration plan for what crops we can save, what perennials we can save,” Richie Taplin said on Tuesday.
For many moons now, Taplin has been helping to run the community garden and Men’s Shed on the site where the park is to be built. He also helped to organise an in-depth community consultation to find out what local people wanted from the planned park.
The gardeners thought the project was going to be “a community-run, community-led, park, and gardens”, he says. So when he and other gardeners got an eviction notice recently, without any other communication, it worried him.
“We were just a little bit dismayed,” he says. “We were told to hand our keys back in January and we would go on the waiting list for the next allotments.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said they do intend to hold meetings with the groups involved in the park in the coming weeks.
Under the plans for the site, the new park will include the community gardens, as well as a playground, an entertainment space, a Men’s Shed, and allotments.
The garden would have to move, however. “The existing community garden will be re-located”, the plan says. From the look of it, it would move north a bit, towards the river, but remain along the eastern edge of the site.
“The surface would be broken up and cut out in organic shapes, to create a playful community garden space. A portion of the existing steel fence will remain intact and will serve to enclose the space,” the plan says.
“A number of individual allotments will be provided on the periphery also. The approach of the design team is that the allotments as they are currently on site are a rather positive feature to the existing park space. It is the designer’s intention that this atmosphere is cherished and preserved,” it says.
The gardeners are happy to move to the other part of the site, out of the shadow of a nearby building, says Taplin. But it seems the gardens will have to leave the site entirely during the construction of the park, and then return to their new location when it is done.
And Taplin says they want all this upheaval to be well-planned so they can keep as many of their plants alive as possible. A council spokesperson said the council will try to help.
“Where possible, assistance will be provided in respect of the removal and storage of materials, soil, crops, etcetera during the park works,” she said.
Taplin says that the allotment holders are also still seeking a guarantee from the council that they will be allowed back, once the works are done.
The council’s Parks Department will be taking over stewardship of the site, but so far the gardeners haven’t managed to secure a meeting with any of its officials, Taplin said.
This worries him. “We did think we would be at the table for discussions on what is planted in the area and how the wildflowers feed the winter birds,” he says.
The community garden puts an emphasis on planting wildflowers, and so the gardeners have succeeded in creating a vibrant ecosystem, Taplin says.
They want to ensure that animals continue to flourish even throughout the development of the park. “There is a lot of wildlife within the ecosystem,” he says.
There are also a few other issues to resolve.
The Ballyfermot Partnership recently came on board to help the community gardens, and hired two volunteer workers through the Tús scheme, which provides work for people in the community and voluntary sector.
“We are training up the lads, they are getting their manual handling, safe passes, these are lads that would have been in long-term unemployment,” says Taplin.
Those Tús schemes will run for another five months, he says, so he doesn’t know what will happen when they are evicted from the park on 31 December. “We won’t have access to the garden,” he says.
He said he had hoped that their volunteers and Tús workers could get involved in building the park themselves, he said.
“Dublin City Council will be contacting allotment holders and users of the community garden in the coming weeks to discuss the transition phase,” said the council spokesperson.
In the meantime, the activities in the park will continue.
On 3 December, Christmas lights will be turned, and there will be weekly carol services for the month, Taplin says, “bringing the spirit of Christmas to what it is supposed to be: family, friends, and neighbours”.