This is normally busy for the school run, says Carol Ballantine. A narrow scuffed-up tarmac pathway runs underfoot, as it passes alongside the new children’s hospital site.
“You have people pushing buggies, you have dogs, you have very small children on scooters,” the local resident says.
“You have people running to catch the Luas, and people on bikes going really fast, and you’ve got construction workers,” she says.
These days, tall walls line the path, put up to shield it from the dust and debris of construction work on the children’s hospital.
Ballantine says that buffer has made the path even narrower, eating into a neighbourhood amenity, the linear park.
“Where those containers are – that’s the linear park. They’ve taken it away for the last four or five years,” she says.
The linear park is a strip of green space that runs for a kilometre alongside the Luas Red Line from Basin View in the east to Suir Road Bridge in the west, and passing by the Rialto and Fatima Luas stops en route.
Since July 2018, Dublin City Council has been working on a plan to renovate the park, most recently drawing up a draft masterplan that went out to public consultation last November.
But one group of local residents, which includes Ballantine, say the plan doesn’t go far enough and have concerns about amenities, accessibility, and funding.
The new park could be a deserved reward for the years they have spent living alongside disruptive construction at the new children’s hospital – but only if it is done right, they say.
“It is a linear park in name, but it should be more than a direct route from A to B,” says Robert Tobin, a local resident.
The Current Plan
The revamped park would include “new play spaces, exercise equipment for young and old, places to sit, tree planting and herbaceous planting to enhance biodiversity in that part of the city”, said a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
The draft masterplan shows a playspace at the eastern, Basin View end of the linear park. As the park tracks westward, the plan shows landscaping and trees around the entrance to St James’ Hospital near the Fatima Luas stop.
Further westwards still, designs show a pocket with “skateable elements” and more trees and landscaping.
Just west of the Rialto Luas stop, near the entrance to the new national children’s hospital, would be an informal play area that is “subject to further detail”.
Onwards, there would be a cycle track, more trees, possible space for a community garden, and a wildflower meadow.
When it hits the canal near the Suir Road Luas stop, there would be a canoe-launching platform and kayak storage, the draft masterplan says.
But residents want to see a wider range of amenities to make it more of a destination, they said in a long submission to the council made during the public consultation.
Twelve residents who make up the New Ireland Road, Upper Cross Road and Portmahon Drive Residents Group have said they want to see facilities for markets, drinking-water taps, outdoor chess tables and basketball hoops – and basics like bins, too, which aren’t mentioned in council reports.
“This is our nature, you know,” says Ballatine, pointing to the discarded rubbish along the low wall. “There aren’t even any bins to throw your rubbish.”
Getting to the Park
The other big issue residents have been highlighting is the safety of routes in and out of the park, particularly around the western end.
One route in is a short laneway, that forks off midway along the strip of the park that runs between Rialto Luas stop and Suir Road, connecting New Ireland Road with the west end of the park.
Two steps lead up to the park. “What we want here is a ramp for our wheelchair users, and people with buggies,” says Maggie Ryan, who has lived nearby for more than 10 years.
Better lighting is needed too, says Ballantine. “You could imagine this is a bit of a spot, you know, where people gather.”
Local resident Helen Garvey says there was also drug dealing in the lane. “We feel if there were families in the park, it would deter those people,” she said.
At nearby Rialto Bridge, a barrier blocks the pathway to stop cars tearing down it, but leaves little room for walkers to squeeze by.
This spot needs a proper entrance too, says Ballantine.
One of the pathways here, eastwards along St James’ Walk, ends several metres before the bridge.
Accessibility issues on each park pathway out from Rialto Bridge need to be addressed, says Ballantine.
Cars turning left have poor visibility and it’s dangerous for pedestrians wanting to cross the bridge, says Ballantine. “It makes no sense, it’s very dangerous, somebody will be killed eventually here.”
Meanwhile, far at the eastern end of the park, just before Basin View, is a big green space with a wall along one edge blocking a private rugby pitch from view. Opposite, the green space is a derelict site.
Rather than a concrete wall, there should be metal gates to open the space up more, says Ballantine. “All of that green space, in such a densely populated area – why wouldn’t it be shared more openly?”
The area near Basin View, including a play space, will be designed this year with the aim of making it happen in 2022, said a recent council report.
But residents aren’t happy that the laneway and the traffic round Rialto Bridge are considered outside the park boundaries.
“The preliminary estimate so far is quite large, and we can’t keep extending the boundaries of the park,” said Bruce Phillips, the council area manager, to Dublin city councillors at a recent meeting.
Said Ballantine: “Being told by council officials that it isn’t part of the scope, just isn’t good enough.”
A council spokesperson said the consultation feedback on the Rialto Bridge, St James’s Walk and Suir Road issue has been forwarded to the council’s Environment and Transport Department.
There are plans for the laneway and Rialto Bridge, under a difference scheme, but it’s unclear when they’ll become reality.
As part of the “7B cycle route” – a planned cycle route that would run from Kilmainham to Thomas Street, part of which follows a stretch of the linear park – a ramp and improved lighting would be included in the laneway, said a council spokesperson in a response.
Rialto Bridge, too, “has been identified as an issue junction that should be improved as part of the project”, says a council report. The cycle-route design is in “early development stage” the report says.
When and How
Residents say having the hospital as a neighbour has its benefits.
“The public transport is good, with the Luas, and there’s good bus service, and there’s Dublin Bikes here as well,” said Ryan.
But for this project, they are worried that priority is being given to the hospital rather than residents.
The first phase of works is to be around the entrance to St James’ Hospital, says Tobin. “The hospital stands to gain from this first and we don’t feel that’s fair given the disruption we’ve had to put up with.”
Said Ballantine: “We have struggled to find out where the motivation, the money and the direction for the linear park comes from.”
Is it from the hospital, the council, or BAM, she says. “Who is responsible for it?”
The council currently estimates the budget for the park to be €550,000 over the next two years, with €450,000 of that spent this year and €100,000 next year, shows a report on its capital programme.
But that appears to be just a vague estimate.
“This project is still in its very early stages. “The funding elements still have to be worked out,” said Phillips, the council’s South Central Area manager, at a meeting last month.
Tina MacVeigh, a People Before Profit councillor, said she and others have been calling for wider contributions from those involved in the new hospital.
“We have argued it’s an opportunity for the hospital to contribute as a way of compensating the community for the years and years and years of disruption from construction,” she said.
She says she was told at one point that the board of the children’s hospital had considered making BAM Ireland, the contractor, available for construction work on the park.
But the hospital board had then said that it couldn’t use HSE money to pay for anything except the hospital, she said.
At the meeting, Phillips said there were a lot of players involved in the nearby hospital development, mentioning the new children’s hospital, St James’ Hospital and BAM Ireland.
“We are mindful that they can be contributors,” Phillips said.
MacVeigh said she plans to ask the council whether they have directly asked the children’s hospital if they’ll pitch in for the park in some way, at the next area committee meeting.
“It’s a point of principle, almost, that there should be some community gain,” she said.
The neighbourhood really has so much potential, says Ballantine. “But it’s really underdeveloped. There’s so much to be done.”