Image from design statement by Darmody Architecture

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When Dublin City Council put forward plans for a Lidl food store, student accommodation and several retail units to be built just north of the old Ballymun shopping centre, some locals said it wouldn’t be enough to meet their needs.

After all, a food store alone wouldn’t change the fact that they frequently have to travel outside the area for basic items like clothes. But most local representatives maintained that it would lead to further investment in the future.

Even that addition to the neighbourhood, though, looked uncertain last month, when the the National Transport Authority (NTA) wrote to the council and asked that the development “be refused”.

The NTA, it seems, wanted to keep the site clear while it thought about whether it wanted to put a station there for the long-delayed Metro North line, now scheduled for completion in 2026.

The authority has now withdrawn its objection and confirmed this in a letter dated 6 December, according to a spokesperson. But the damage has been done, says Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAulliffe. “I’m worried about the chilling effect this will have on investment,” he says.

A Crisis, Resolved?

In its letter to the council, the NTA said that the planned shopping hub might interfere with a station for the Dublin Metro North, a proposed 17km rail link between the city centre and Dublin Airport.

The NTA is looking, along with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, at where the best place for the station would be. The evaluation “would be finalised by the end of 2017” and a public consultation process is set to take place next year, although an exact time frame for this has not been decided.

On Tuesday, Councillor Noeleen Reilly of Sinn Féin said that she had contacted Lidl ahead of councillors’ North West Area Committee meeting, which is held every month in the Ballymun Civic Centre.

“I rang Lidl, they have received a letter from the NTA saying there’s no objection,” she said. “They were looking at using some of that space for a stop so now they are not going to be using that for a stop at all.”

NTA Head of Public Affairs Dermot O’Gara has confirmed that the authority now does not object to the plans for the area just north of the now almost empty 1970s shopping centre.

Lasting Impact?

Councillor McAuliffe says he believes that the NTA’s objection, widely reported in the media, has hurt the community nonetheless.

“What signal has this sent out to anyone looking to invest here? The NTA were fully consulted on the LAP [local area plan] at every turn,” he said.

At present, the NTA website lists 14 north-side stops between the Swords area and St Stephen’s Green, with two – Ballymun and DCU – listed “at surface”.

Furthermore, it is uncertain exactly when the consultation process described in the NTA’s November letter will begin or how long it will take.

“We’ll publish recommendations on our website. At that point the consultation starts, it usually goes on for a few months after that as we collate all the feedback we’ve got from the public and we make a final recommendation based on that,” says O’Gara.

In a subsequent email, he said that “no details on public consultation for Metro [are] yet decided”.

The original Dublin Metro project, deferred in November 2011, is seen by many as a casualty of the economic crash that followed years of Celtic Tiger affluence.

That plan included a stop in Ballymun close to the planned Spring Cross shopping centre. When the developers, Treasury Holdings, got planning permission to build the shopping centre in 2009, it was expected that a large retail complex would be served by an underground Metro line, although neither came to pass.

In September 2015 a new Metro plan was announced, with fewer stations and more surface-level or elevated stops. Work is expected to begin on the line in 2021 and finish six years later.

In response to queries from a constituent after the objection to the Lidl store became public, McAuliffe wrote to the Minister of Transport, Tourism Shane Ross. He received a letter on 30 November saying that Minister Ross had “no statutory function” related to the matter.

Tom Farrell

Tom Farrell is a freelance journalist based in Dublin who has written extensively on Asian politics for various publications in Ireland, the UK and elsewhere.

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