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Protecting and improving green spaces in the city is an issue that has cropped up time and again at City Hall during this council’s five-year term – from battling for a park at Bridgefoot Street in the Liberties, to a thirst for trees in the north-inner city.
It’s also one of the top-10 issues that our readers highlighted when we asked what they wanted us to ask candidates about in the run-up to 24 May’s local elections.
This week, we spoke with seven candidates from a spread of parties and areas about what parks and greening policies they would push if elected.
These candidates talked about green space as a resource that is vital for the well-being of local communities – but one that is not evenly distributed across all areas of the city.
Some said they wanted a community-led approach to the future development of green spaces. Others said some parks were underused and could be reimagined with amenities for broader range of residents.
There was a bigger picture at play: some candidates talked about wanting Dublin City Council to look again at zoning regulations designed to preserve green space.
All seven candidates said parks were an important amenity in their part of the city.
That lines up with what the Dublin City Parks Strategy 2017–2022 says – that the city council’s aim is to grow “towards a greener and more liveable Dublin City”.
This strategy paper looks at the kinds of parks there are for Dubliners in different parts of the city, and where new ones should be put in.
Green spaces are an important element of the “liveability of the city” says Tina MacVeigh, a sitting People Before Profit councillor who is running for re-election in the South-West Inner-City local electoral area (LEA).
“There has to be a place where you can easily step outside, re-create yourself and have access to nature,” MacVeigh says.
“Every factor of human life is supported by green space,” Jacqui Gilbourne, who is running for Renua in the South-East Inner-City, said by email.
The city has more than 120 public parks of different sizes, according to the Dublin City Parks Strategy.
They cover about 17 percent of the land in the city, with the bulk of green space in Phoenix Park, St Anne’s Park and Bull Island.
St Anne’s Park, “as far as I’m concerned is the lungs of the north side”, says Paddy Monahan, the Social Democrats candidate in the Donaghmede LEA.
Marie Sherlock, who is running for Labour in the Cabra-Glasnevin LEA, said there was a “concern about a potential overdevelopment or certainly in terms of what is being proposed” for the Phoenix Park.
The Office of Public Works (OPW) recently undertook a Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review of the potential for changes to the park.
Sherlock says she’s in favour of parts of the plans for the Magazine Fort, which the OPW is considering turning into more of an attraction, which exhibition and events spaces. But the park is also a habitat for wildlife, she says.
She’s supportive of developing green space, but not of over-developing it, she says. But since the OPW manages Phoenix Park, she said she wasn’t sure how much impact the council could have on future changes there.
Green spaces are unevenly distributed across the city’s area, partly because of how Dublin has grown as its population has expanded, the city’s strategy says.
Citywide, there is 38 sqm of open space per person. But fewer and smaller parks are located within the inner-city area, it says. In the city centre, the average provision falls to 5 sqm per person, excluding the Phoenix Park.
“We need more houses, but it cannot be at the expense of parkland,” says the Social Democrats’ Monahan.
He says he favours the city adopting higher-density housing. But “when people are living in closer proximity, they’re going to need really good quality shared green space”.
Gilbourne, of Renua, said by email: “In view of the enormous expansion development happening in the construction industry with regard to hotels and office space, as well as critical need for housing, I would say that the existing green spaces are the best we can hope for.”
Jeff Johnston, a Fine Gael candidate in the Clontarf LEA, said he would push for measures to make current green spaces more pleasant – in places such as Marino, for example. “They are slightly barren at the moment,” he says.
He said he would look for benches on the greens, and other extras that would be needed to turn them into higher quality amenities – such as bins.
“An elderly resident doesn’t just want to go and stand in the middle of a field,” he said. “You really need sensible provisions from the council to make these green spaces attractive.”
“I think we need to invest more thought and time and community into asking what could be done,” says Sophie Nicoullaud, Green Party candidate for the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh LEA.
MacVeigh, of People Before Profit, also said that the development of green spaces needs to be “community-led”.
She pointed to the grass-roots campaign for a public park at Bridgefoot Street in the Liberties. “We have to work with communities to identify need,” she said.
Sherlock, in the North Inner-City LEA, said putting in more green spaces “has to be resident-led. There has to be demand in the local community for it as well”. She pointed to Weaver Park on Cork Street as an example.
Residents use parks and green spaces for all kinds of activities: playing sports, hanging out, and walking and jogging.
Making sure there are walking and jogging pathways, and adequate sports facilities such as all-weather pitches and tennis courts is also addressed in the city’s current strategy for parks.
At the moment, parks and green spaces are not “utilised or developed enough to accommodate everyone”, says Keith Connolly, a Fianna Fáil candidate for the Ballymun-Finglas LEA.
He said he wants to see more facilities such as skate parks, BMX tracks and multi-surface sports facilities.
Gilbourne of Renua said there’s a need for playing fields and free-play areas in Dublin 8. She said she also wants “to create and develop late-night sports leagues at times and in areas when anti-social behaviour is most prevalent”.
Labour’s Sherlock said she will push for amenities for families. “I think it is about getting the balance right between providing appropriate and adequate play facilities for the kids … but also allowing green spaces to flourish and not be overly developed.”
Sherlock also said it must be possible for Dubliners to safely get to and from green spaces and parks in their areas.
“Ultimately there’s no point in having these fabulous parks if we have dangerous traffic situations or a lack of a cycle facility,” she said. “I think we have to think about green space, public transport and road infrastructure within that one paradigm.”
According to the current parks strategy, there are more than 60,000 trees on Dublin’s streets. In areas such as the north inner-city, progress on planting more has been slow.
Sherlock says she wants the council to plant more trees, “it does take the harshness or the austerity off certain roads”.
Nicoullaud, the Green Party candidate, says greenery could be more integrated into the city’s landscape, footpaths and streets.
Growing fruit trees or vegetables might “give a purpose” to some of the city’s parks. Larger green spaces could be used for “some kind of co-op scheme or small-scale farming”.
“What we should be doing is having less road surfaces, less hard surfaces, so green could be everywhere,” Nicoullaud said.
Zoning and St Anne’s Park
Monahan, the Social Democrats candidate, says he wants the council have another look at its system for zoning, to ensure that land meant for community use does not become vulnerable to residential development.
“I’m not against development, but I’m for clarity and certainty so we know which land is for development and which land is not for development,” he said.
This reflects Monahan’s concerns over the attempted development of land at St Paul’s College, beside St Anne’s Park in Raheny.
The land was zoned “Z15”, which seeks to “protect and provide for institutional and community uses” in the Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022, but An Bord Pleanála last April granted permission for a proposal to build more than 500 homes there.
This decision was quashed by high court order, and when An Bord Pleanála looked at the proposal again, it turned it down in September – because of concerns around nature conservation, rather than zoning issues.
But Monahan said he’d like the council to clarify the meaning of its Z15 zoning designation. “We cannot be sure what z15 zoning means anymore.”
Johnston, the Fine Gael candidate running in the Clontarf LEA, also focused on this proposed development beside St Anne’s Park. He said he supports the I Love St Anne’s campaign to protect the land at the back of St Anne’s Park “which is under threat”.
He offered ideas for how the situation could be resolved. If, for example, Dublin City Council could propose some kind of land swap – offering some of its land which is zoned for development in exchange for that site.
“So it could be brought back into public use and ownership,” he said.
Editor’s Note: We didn’t have room to talk to all of the candidates for this story. But we’re keeping track of who we’ve spoken to, so we speak to different folks for future stories in this series. We’re also asking for every candidate’s views on this and the other top-10 issues readers mentioned when we asked what they’d like candidates to talk about during this local election, and we’ll get their responses up onto the website before too long.
CORRECTION: This article was updated on 25 April at 10.20am to correct the spelling of Sophie Nicoullaud’s surname. It was also updated on 25 April at 20.50am to correct that Tina MacVeigh supported the campaign on Bridgefoot Street, not Richmond Street. Apologies for the errors.