Andrew O’Connell helped found a residents’ committee for St Teresa’s Gardens when he was aged 19 or 20, he says.
There used to be perfectly good playing pitches attached to the flats back then, he said, on a recent Monday.
He walks through the fenced-off lands where the flats, now demolished, used to stand.
Beside an abandoned basketball court, he clambers onto a bench and looks out at an overgrown disused green space that was once the Boys’ Brigade pitches.
“Those pitches were there for 50 years,” he says. “They were perfect. They were the best pitches on the south side of the Liffey, inside the canals.”
For O’Connell, what happened to those pitches – which were supposed to be redeveloped years back as part of a public-private partnership – is a cautionary tale.
These partnerships create uncertainty, he says.
The latest plans for a big pitch in the area have tied it into the larger redevelopment of the nearby Bailey Gibson and Player Wills sites, owned by the developer Hines.
Last year, councillors agreed to swap land with Hines and, in exchange, the company would build a full-size GAA pitch, with dressing rooms and a boxing club.
Last week, Hines’ plans to develop the sites were dealt a blow, when the High Court referred the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission to the European Court of Justice.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson says the pitch and an adjoining linear park are dependent on Hines getting planning permission.
O’Connell is worried that this could mean years of delays. “It is going to go on forever,” he says.
The council should take the land back and just build the pitch, he says, as 15 years of talk about regeneration is exhausting. “People are just burned out.”
Nature has taken over what used to be the Boys’ Brigade pitches. O’Connell has even seen foxes there, he says.
It was about 15 years back when Dublin City Council decided to close the pitches because it had plans to regenerate the area under a public-private partnership, he says.
Then came the 2007 crash, and the regeneration plans evaporated. The pitches were abandoned, overgrown and derelict.
“The site formerly used by the Boys Brigade is zoned for residential housing,” said a council spokesperson.
A public-private partnership is a complicated way to develop land and leads to delays, says O’Connell, now sitting on a bench in the old playground at St Teresa’s Gardens, encircled with boarded-up homes.
“This has been going on for 15 years. People are tired,” he says.
The current plan for a pitch and park are in phase 3 of the Hines plans. O’Connell says that with phase 1 stalled, there’s no knowing when they will be built.
It certainly won’t be in 2022 as originally outlined, he says.
Sporting Liberties, an umbrella group representing 31 different sports clubs in an area with around 50,000 inhabitants has been calling for a full-size sports pitch for years.
“We are obviously disappointed that it’s going to be delayed,” says Tommy Daly of Sporting Liberties. “We are keen to get young people involved in sports as young as possible.”
The campaign for a playing pitch in the area has been going on for around 10 years, says People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh. “That is a child’s entire playing lifetime.”
“There is nothing for young people to do, and then we complain about kids running around the area with nothing to do,” she says.
Finding the Money
The sports pitch should never have been left to Hines to build along with its development, says MacVeigh. The state should fund the construction of parks and pitches, she says.
Said a council spokesperson: “The Council does not have the financial capacity at present to deliver this infrastructure.”
The public-private partnership approach doesn’t work, though, says MacVeigh.
“It isn’t delivering for communities,” she says. “It didn’t deliver in 2007 when everything crashed and it is not going to deliver now.”
How the development has been structured is also causing conflict within the local community, she says.
A residents’ group has brought a judicial review action against the private developer, which is then having a knock-on impact on sports facilities for children.
Both groups have “very legitimate needs and very legitimate rights”, says MacVeigh.
According to the city development plan when large residential schemes are developed over time “an agreed phasing programme will be required to ensure that important physical, social and community infrastructure is delivered in tandem with the residential development.”
The council will ensure that such development is phased in line with the availability of essential infrastructure including recreational facilities, it says.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing didn’t answer questions about whether relying on these kinds of public-private partnership deals is a good way to fund public infrastructure.
“Housing development masterplans and the provision of parks and playing facilities are a matter for the relevant local authority,” they said.
The Department of the Environment can fund parks and green spaces and the Department Tourism, Arts and Sport can fund sporting facilities, said the spokesperson for the Department of Housing.
The council hasn’t responded to a question as to whether it has ever applied for capital grants to build a pitch in the Liberties.