Council Briefs: A New Heritage Plan, Building Community Wealth, and Compensating for Bank Closures

A New Heritage Plan

Dublin City Council plans to run a public consultation this summer to draw up a new plan to protect and promote Dublin’s heritage.

The new heritage plan will “deepen our understanding of the archaeological, architectural and cultural heritage dimensions”, said the council’s heritage officer, Charles Duggan, in a presentation to the arts and culture committee on 17 May.

It should improve the way heritage is managed in the city too, he said.

Key achievements of the last heritage plan included converting the Georgian house at 14 Henrietta Street into a museum, and renovating St Luke’s Church in the Coombe, he said.

“Providing access to key heritage data is very important,” said Duggan.

The County Dublin Archaeology Project mapped around 3,000 archaeological reports from excavations, which were previously not available to the public and are now up online, he said.

Virtual heritage projects included 3D animations of major heritage sites that are missing, like most of the city walls, he said. “Showcasing what we have lost.”

The Heritage Department recently published a series of booklets on 20th-century architecture, and it is working on a community architecture project in St Anne’s Park.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney asked for more details about that.

It’s a work-in-progress and will hopefully be happening virtually and in real life this summer, said Duggan. “It is very exciting.”

Independent Councillor Vincent Jackson said it would be good if there were more of a focus on the heritage of the suburbs. Duggan said he agreed.

An extensive review of the last plan will feed into the new one, he said. There will be a focus on community engagement and so he plans to carry out surveys and host open days in July and August, he said.

“We feel there is a need to define heritage in a much more broad way, to incorporate tangible, intangible and digital heritage,” he said.

The committee agreed to form a new heritage forum, including councillors and other stakeholders, to meet twice a year.

Building Community Wealth

Members of the council’s finance committee intend to develop a policy on “community wealth building”, promoting initiatives and businesses that are rooted in the local community.

“In general, across the globe, there has been a trend … towards larger corporations … that will tend to hold wealth centrally, in that corporation,” said Kathy Quinn, the council’s head of finance, at a meeting of the finance committee on 20 May.

Jobs with global companies can move suddenly, leaving gaps in the local economy, she said, while investing in local businesses tends to increase stable employment and resilience.

In a report to the finance committee, Quinn said that an example of community wealth building is when “anchor institutions” like local authorities, universities and hospitals help companies based locally to win their contracts.

“There are benefits around environmental, the supply chain, social return and then productivity,” said Quinn.

Community wealth building is based on “a really strong connection to the place”, she says.

It is not about expanding social services but about looking at the assets you already have, said Quinn.

Councillors thanked her for the detailed report, which highlighted successful initiatives in Cleveland in the USA, in Mondragon in Spain and Preston in the UK.

“It seems like it will keep a lot of wealth in the community, which is what we need to do,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan, who had originally pitched the idea to the committee.

He wondered if there were any potential negatives with such schemes.

“I think this is a very exciting body of work,” said Caroline McMullan, professor of business and society at Dublin City University, who sits on the committee.

She suggested hosting an online conference and asking for input from people working within established initiatives in other cities.

Aidan Sweeney, a senior executive with the business lobby group Ibec, said the committee needs to think about what role the council can play. Regional development funds and social funds “can really unlock some of these projects as well”, he said.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland suggested that the council consider hosting a half-day event around the idea.

Sinn Féin Councillor Séamas McGrattan, who chairs the finance committee, agreed but said the committee should first work out the details before proposing to the full council that they adopt it as policy.

Cash Is King

Members of the council’s finance committee say they’ll consider measures to try to compensate for the upcoming closure of many retail banks in the city and look at ways to promote basic bank accounts for vulnerable tenants too.

Ulster Bank said in February that it plans to close down its business in Ireland, and in March Bank of Ireland announced plans to close 88 branches across the state.

International evidence shows that cash is good for the local economy and “has been shown to be a more local spend”, said Kathy Quinn, the council’s head of finance, at the finance committee meeting.

There is also evidence to suggest that start-up businesses find it easier to get loans if there is a bank in their area, she said.

Quinn said in a report** **to councillors that initiatives are being piloted in eight communities in the UK to find alternative ways for people to access cash locally and get bank staff to visit communities.

Quinn suggested to committee members to consider approaching the banks about a possible pilot in Dublin.

Sweeney, of Ibec, said that the fundamental issue is the future of retail.

Since Covid-19 hit, most businesses have been encouraging people to pay by card, which has accelerated an already existing trend towards card payments, he said.

The Dublin Economic Monitor – a joint initiative of the four Dublin local authorities to track developments in the city’s economy – could look at the future of cash within the city and look at the trends, he said.

“I don’t think the pilot initiative will be necessarily the way to go,” said Sweeney.

Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan said the number of banks that have left the market is “quite remarkable”, and read out a long list of banks that have moved on. Others will come in and fill the void though, he said.

Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callagahan said that some vulnerable people, including some of those who live in social housing, don’t have bank accounts.

She would like to see any new initiative also used to promote the existence of basic bank accounts that don’t charge fees, she said.

The committee agreed to communicate the issues to the team behind the Dublin Economic Monitor and to ask the remaining banks about whether they offer basic accounts.

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