It’s a little more than 10 years since a former batch of councillors agreed a Local Area Plan for the Liberties, setting out a vision for what they wanted the neighbourhood to look like.
Headline aims included providing social and community infrastructure, diverse kinds of homes, more jobs, and better parks and public spaces.
The objectives of the area plan have been mostly met or are in the process of being met, said a report from city planner John O’Hara to councillors in the South Central area, recently.
Not all councillors in the area agree, though – and some councillors say they want a new plan that takes into account how the neighbourhood has changed.
The View from Wood Quay
O’Hara’s report points to the greening strategy in the neighbourhood, building on vacant sites, and new distilleries and other tourist attractions.
It also points to the growth in jobs from tourism and hotels, and the future knock-on from the children’s hospital at St James’s, once that’s built.
The ambitious public housing projects haven’t come off, though, “due to economic circumstances prevailing at the time” – but several “will proceed in the near future”, the report says.
Streets and public spaces are being improved with upgrades to Francis Street, planned upgrades to Meath Street, and plans to redevelop Newmarket Square among other changes, the report says.
For parks, it pointed to Weaver Park, St Audeon’s Park, and the plans for Bridgefoot Street park, among others. Community facilities, tied to public housings projects, “are anticipated to be delivered in the near future”, the report says.
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh is less upbeat about the progress made under the plan.
“It was visionary at the time but there are key aspects of it that haven’t been implemented,” says MacVeigh.
There hasn’t been enough of an increase in green areas, she says. “The work on Bridgefoot Street [park] has started but that’s been years in the making and the only significant green area in the Liberties.”
Add together Bridgefoot Street Park and Weaver Park, the Liberties is still far behind on the desired ratio of green space, says MacVeigh.
A part of the problem was that the Liberties Local Area Plan did not have enough power, says Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan.
“Legally, the Development Plan always overrides the Liberties Local Area Plan and the Ministerial guidelines have been overriding [the Development Plan],” says Moynihan.
The Dublin City Development Plan is a citywide blueprint for what should be built where in the city – and local area plans are, well, more local.
In recent times, the Minister for Housing has issued guidelines that overrule some of what is in the plan – including on issues such as heights.
As a result of that upward cascade of power, these council plans have become less powerful over time, she says.
Says MacVeigh: “The plan is exactly that. It’s a plan. It doesn’t really have the same kind of statutory footing as you would like it to have.”
In 2014, the area plan was supposed to run out. But it was extended by five years because of the effect that the recession had on the delivery of its aims, said O’Hara’s report.
It can’t be extended again, the report said.
Despite the lack of power, councillors still say that they want a new local area plan for the Liberties. “We need to look at the whole of the Liberties area with a fresh gaze,” says MacVeigh, the People Before Profit councillor.
In 2009, when the plan was adopted, you were unable to foresee student accommodation, hotels, and distilleries coming into the area and the effect that they would have on the housing crisis, MacVeigh says.
Moynihan, the Labour councillor, says she wants to see an emphasis on housing instead of the infrastructure that has been built since 2009.
MacVeigh said the council needs to rethink how it is creating communities. “If anything I would say, in a certain way, The Liberties has regressed.”
O’Hara’s report says a new plan isn’t needed – and that the development plan is enough.
While O’Hara’s report was on the agenda for the recent South Central Area meeting, that ran in a different way to usual given Covid-19 – with officials giving presentations at City Hall, and councillors watching on the Webcast, and texting in their queries.
A decision on what will happen next around a possible new plan, or not, for the area has been postponed to the next area meeting, says Moynihan.