Mamy Nzema lives in Cherry Orchard, but when her kids want to go to a playground she drives them to Palmerstown.
The playground in Cherry Orchard is covered in broken glass, she says, and looks abandoned.
The one in Palmerstown is kept clean and has running water, says Nzema. “The kids ask, ‘Why don’t we have this in Cherry Orchard?’”
Nzema moved from Drimnagh a couple of years ago, she says, and noticed the difference. “It’s a very different environment. We don’t have facilities like other areas.”
Around 8,000 people live in Cherry Orchard, but there are no playing pitches, no cafes or restaurants, no health centre and only one shop.
In 2019, Dublin city councillors voted to pass a new local plan for the area, to build a village centre with amenities, a plan pulled together after lengthy consultation with those living there.
That plan suffered a setback last month when the council learnt it had failed in its bid for €30 million to kickstart the development from the central government under what’s called the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF).
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it still plans to proceed with the local area plan for Cherry Orchard.
But its plans for how to fund it seem sketchy.
The Department of Housing, which is responsible for the URDF, said an expert group carried out a rigorous assessment process before deciding which areas should get the regeneration funding.
They didn’t directly answer a question about whether an area’s deprivation was taken into account when deciding where the money should go.
Where It Went
The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund aims to support “compact and sustainable” development, by part-paying for “regeneration and rejuvenation projects” in urban centres, says the Department of Housing website.
The idea is to make “more parts of our urban areas become attractive and vibrant places in which to live, work, visit and invest”, it says.
Eight projects in the Dublin region won funding in the latest round, the department announced in March. Together, they got €430 million.
The largest grant, almost €177 million, is to be invested in a train station for Clonburris.
It has one of the most strategically important land banks in the country, said a spokesperson for the Department of Housing.
That funding will “act as a catalyst for the wider regeneration and development of one of Ireland’s largest underutilised sites”, he says.
In May 2020, Dublin City Council applied for funding for the north inner-city and the south inner-city, as well as Cherry Orchard and Clongriffin/Belmayne, says a spokesperson.
Then in September, the department asked the council to prioritise proposals for two concept areas, she said.
That was to be done based on “the high-level vision for the concept areas” as well as how they would contribute to compact growth and the key infrastructure required.
The council put forward the north inner-city and south inner-city because it decided that the city centre would have more “need to recover from the impact of Covid 19”, said the spokesperson, and that these projects “would have wider regeneration benefits for the whole city”.
The decision on the allocation of funds was entirely made by the department though, says the council spokesperson.
Dublin City Council got €121 million for the north inner-city and €53 million for the south inner-city.
Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor, says that while the inner-city is an area of deprivation, people who live there benefit from access to facilities and services.
Those who live in Cherry Orchard do not, he says. While Cherry Orchard – where the council owns almost half the vacant land – did not get funding, the privately owned but similarly named development Cherrywood did.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council got €40 million from the URDF for “public access and permeability” at Cherrywood, south of the city, where thousands of homes are planned.
The Cherrywood development previously benefited from around €15 million in funding through the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, a fund set up to help pay for infrastructure and to deliver more-affordable homes.
The state also loaned the developer €50 million for “enabling infrastructure” from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
Under the URDF, there is also €25 million for the “rejuvenation” of Balbriggan and almost €10 million for strategic infrastructure at Adamstown.
Smaller pots of money have also been allocated: €4 million for a cultural and civic hub at Dundrum and around €41,000 for a feasibility study at Dunsink.
Another False Dawn?
There are green areas in Cherry Orchard, but there’s a lack of facilities for organised team sports, which is detrimental to the development of children and young people, says Zoe Obeimhen, an activist who has campaigned for sports facilities in Dublin 8.
“Team sports are so important for children to learn about managing emotions, to learn about winning and losing and playing on a team,” she says.
Says Nzema: “We need more investment in Cherry Orchard. It is sad.”
Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor, says he is shocked and disappointed that Cherry Orchard was not prioritised for regeneration.
The hopes of residents in Cherry Orchard have been dashed before. A previous council plan for the area never went ahead after the last economic crash in 2008.
“Cherry Orchard has had too many false dawns. We can not allow this to be another one,” says Doolan.
The €30 million that the council applied for was only to get the ball rolling on the first phase of the local area plan, he says, and there is no obvious alternative funding stream that he is aware of.
Together with Máire Devine, another Sinn Féin councillor, he plans to table a motion at the council’s local area committee requesting that they apply to a €17 million tourism fund to help develop outdoor activities and dining schemes in Inchicore and Cherry Orchard.
The council spokesperson said the regeneration funding would have helped a lot but the Cherry Orchard local area plan is not dependent on it.
“We continue to implement the plan through a combination of City Council and Government funding such as the Serviced Sites Fund,” she says.
The serviced sites fund is granted by central government to councils for infrastructure on public lands that are earmarked for affordable homes.
“We will continue to look for additional funding as opportunities arise, including future rounds of the URDF,” the council spokesperson also said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says it will shortly provide feedback about why applications were unsuccessful.
“The projects were chosen after a rigorous assessment process, overseen by a project advisory board consisting of government departments, state agencies and national and international experts in areas such as building, architecture and planning,” they said.
Says Doolan, the councillor: “Consecutive governments have ignored Cherry Orchard. It continues to get overlooked for regeneration funding.”
“This has led to a community that struggles with the causes and consequences of the drug crisis, unemployment, lack of sports and retail facilities, even a decent bus service,” he said.