Four years ago, councillors voted through plans to rework Temple Bar Square, which if built would have pedestrianised roads around the square and made the public space at the heart of the neighbourhood bigger.
People would have walked through a flatter space, without steps or kerbs, with space for markets and events to have been held in the centre again. Cobbled stones would have been brought back in, and vehicles would no longer be allowed through Crown Alley or the eastern portion of Essex Street.
Now though, those plans have been scrapped, says one of the the architects of the former plans, who points to internal conflicts between the parks and roads departments of Dublin City Council.
“A big part of our scheme was about effectively pedestrianising,” said Michael Pike, director of GKMP Architects, who alongside REDscape Landscape & Urbanism helped to design the first proposal for the Temple Bar Square Refurbishment in 2018.
The public space in the square is minimal if not nonexistent, he said. “Effectively the public space has been allowed to be taken over by a series of semi-covered seating areas. Effectively it’s been privatised.”
Pike’s team had wanted to make one big, walkable public surface. “A lot of it was about sort of giving, you know, restoring it as a public space and then also trying to give more space so that different kinds of things could start to happen there.”
New plans however – which are currently out for public consultation – show a different layout, and how parts will remain shared by pedestrians and cars.
Space is too tight at the moment, says Pike. “The footpaths tend to be extremely narrow. You know, it’s meant to be kind of a pedestrian priority zone. There isn’t really a need to have curbs and bollards.”
Says Pike: “The kind of effective area of public space is only about two-thirds of what it could be,” he says.
“It just seems like a retrograde step,” he says. “At a time when we should be really thinking about trying to take cars out of the city, this definitely feels like a step backwards.”
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries about why the current Temple Bar Square plan has been changed after the past public consultation and approval, and the criticism that the new plan is retrograde.
A New Plan
The previous designs were not fully completed, said a council spokesperson in response to a motion by Claire Byrne, a Green Party councillor, on the issue.
Especially the gradients and surface water drainage of the square, the lighting design, replacing the existing water main, and traffic main, they said on Monday.
“As the original design team reached the cost limit of their tender, the project was handed over to the Roads Department to complete the design and to prepare the tender documents,” they said. “ The scheme has not been cancelled.”
A new design by the Roads Department was published, and is currently out for public consultation.
As part of the new plans, the centre of the square would be entirely paved in granite. The surface would be levelled off by getting rid of steps and footpath kerbs, show planning images produced by the council’s Roads department.
At the moment, the trees are central, in a row of four from east to west. The new plans show a large “tree pit”, a tree circled by benches on the north-east corner of the square and three smaller trees on the west side.
The plans also show shaded and sunny public seating on three sides, and fairy lights crossing overhead.
If the steps – which currently lead up to a centre terrace on three sides of the square – were to be levelled off, they should be replaced with public seating, said Heather Murphy on Thursday, as she chatted with her sister perched on a windowsill of Fownes Street Upper before the road falls out onto the busy Wellington Quay.
“I don’t have a problem with it, but I’d be afraid they’d rip it out and then there’d be nothing there for people,” she says.
“I think it’s a great meetup spot, people like to have their lunch there and stuff,” says Hazel Murphy, turning on her heel to observe the groups chattering and passing through the square.
Hazel Murphy says she is wary of the square being too done up, looking too new. “I know that sounds weird, but because it is cool that it’s old, you know what I mean?”
But it could do with a spruce up, she says. “I honestly think it might be better because people are always falling over those steps anyway.”
In 2017, REDscape won a council tender and its landscape architect Patrick Mc Cabe led the project, working with GKMP Architects to draw up a design proposal for the space.
The brief was that public space was being overused by private interests so a better public space should be created, says Pike of GKMP Architects. “And obviously a kind of general upgrading and improvement of the area.”
The architects decided that the traffic carriageway, which goes down three sides of the space, was an issue, he says.
“So we were trying to pedestrianise a lot more of it so that you would effectively have a much bigger public space, and then different, different things could happen,” he says.
There would have been retractable bollards for deliveries and emergency vehicles, he says, but no public vehicle access under their proposal. “Crown Alley and a portion of Essex Street along the square, that would have been basically pedestrianised.”
They planned to install bollards at Fownes Street Lower and Crown Alley, preventing cars from circling the square.
“We think Temple Bar Square is a really significant point in the city,” said Pike.
Especially if College Greene becomes a big civic space and the connection from the southside of the city over the Ha’Penny Bridge to the northside becomes even more vital, he says. “Temple Bar Square in that context becomes a really important node.”
The architects created their application in 2018, he says, after a public consultation and a drawn-out process of meetings with residents, businesses and different groups. “And then we prepared tender drawings, and we had everything ready to go.”
Frank McDonald, chairperson of the Temple Bar Residents Association, says he can’t understand why the city has been waiting so long for the changes to happen. “It’s four years since the consultation. It’s just bizarre that significant improvements like that could be held up for so long.”
Pike says the council’s report that their designs were not fully completed is “not actually what happened”.
“All of those aspects were complete, you know, we had a fully tender set and ready to go. It’s just that the Roads department wouldn’t sign off on it,” he says.
He’s also not sure why the roads department doesn’t need a new Part 8 approval, he says.
“It is a substantially altered proposal and should therefore have to follow the normal approval process,” he says.
Pike says his firm’s clients were the council’s parks department. “Who we found very good to deal with,” he says. “They were what was pushing the project.”
The council’s roads department had been consulting on the traffic areas, he says. Eventually, though, it emerged that there was disagreement between parks and roads on what should set the agenda for the space, says Pike.
Says McDonald: “The roads department felt very miffed about this, and fought a bureaucratic turf war to gain control of the project.”
Pike says the team of GKMP and REDscape architects were dismissed in late 2019.
Dublin City Council did not respond to queries asking why the project was handed over to the roads department, and why changes have been made to the previous scheme.
The roads department had different ideas from the pedestrianised public space than his team of architects had designed, Pike says.
“Which was obviously more about traffic movement around the city than about public space. That seems, from what they put out, to be what the agenda is,” he says.
On Thursday, Anderson Silva is leaning on the wall of McDonald’s on the square, glancing at his Deliveroo app as he awaits the nod that his delivery order is ready.
When he cycles through Temple Bar, he notices the conflict between pedestrians and vehicles in the small shared space, he says. If the square was paved over with granite, that would still be an issue, he says.
“For people, for walk, for drink, for eat, it would be good. But I don’t know how it works. Because every time, there is bike, cars here. I don’t know how it would work,” says Silva.
If it was pedestrianised, it would be better, he says. “You have trucks here every day now.”
Stricter enforcement of the 6am to 11am delivery window was trialled last year, using removable bollards.
It all but eliminated traffic travelling through the area outside the delivery window, says the council’s consultation page, resulting in a much more pedestrian friendly environment. That would continue with this scheme, it says.
The Public and the Private
McDonald says in the plan made by GKMP and REDscape, there was no provision made for private outdoor seating enclosures in the square.
“Because at the moment, Temple Bar Square is almost completely occupied by outdoor enclosures and looks like a tented village,” he says.
On Thursday, chairs, tables and barriers carve up and crowd the square, put out by Quays Bar, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Badass Cafe and Café Vivaldi.
McDonald says he would much prefer public seating and a free space, he says. “It needs to be reclaimed for the area from the occupation by adjoining business premises, particularly pubs and restaurants.”
Dublin City Council did not respond to queries asking what plans there are for private outdoor seating in the new plans.
On The Cobblestones
Under the old plans, Pike says, architects had wanted to hang on to the traditional Dublin cobblestones which line many streets in Temple Bar.
The council has a large stock of historic cobblestones, he says. “We were going to reuse those which is very much in keeping with the character of the area.”
Cobblestones are indigenous to the Temple Bar area, says McDonald. They need fixing up as they were laid too far apart, he says. But they’re part of the character of the place and so he would like them retained, he says.
McDonald says he admires the repaved cobble setts on John’s Lane West. “We’d favour that treatment rather than everything just reduced to the same flat level.”
But the roads department hadn’t liked that, says Pike, and they’re opposed to the use of cobblestones. “They try and tarmac over them wherever possible.”
Says McDonald: “The roads department basically don’t like stone paving at all, because they believe that people could slip and fall on it.”
But Pike says their paving would have been safer. “We were going to cut the top off the cobbles to give a flat surface, so instead of the very bumpy, difficult surface that they have now, the intention was to make a completely flat surface.”
It’s what’s been done around Merrion Square. “We had obviously done quite a lot of consultation, and had gotten a report from an accessibility expert.”
Pike says reusing the council’s old cobblestones would have been more sustainable than the current plans to source new granite.
The current draft designs show that Temple Bar Street – between Fownes Street Lower and Temple Lane – which runs on the north end of the square, and Crown Alley would be paved with Leinster granite footpaths and cobblestones.
The square would be paved with Leinster granite, with some cobbles around the sides, designs show.
On Thursday by the square, Kevin Dunne, a manager of Quay Bar, said the cobblestones are loose in places. “I come in here, at least once a week and have to kick them back in, because they come out that much, people walking on them.”
“There’s no grouting on it,” he says, and people could trip over them when they’re loose. “I’d rather kick them in and not hear about it.”
From the north-west corner, Martin, her eyes watching feet cross the flavourless black tarmac, says she hates when the cobblestones are paved over. “Because this place is, you know, everyone comes to Dublin for Temple Bar,” she says.
“If they change that, it won’t be the same city, I think,” she says, as people flow around her.
Granite would be better, says Frank Lucas, a barman for Quay Bar. “It’ll look cleaner, it’ll open it all up, that’s what they should do.”
Says Lucas: “Sure look, are they gonna do it? They were meant to do it two, three years ago.”
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 13.48pm on 14 October to make it clear that REDscape Landscape & Urbanism was the main contractor and led the project. Apologies for the error. It was also updated to include an image of the past proposal.]