On a recent Monday at Martin Savage Park in Ashtown, the ground is wet and squidgy.
The park is a collection of playing pitches for GAA and soccer. It’s also home to clubhouses for two local sports clubs, St Oliver Plunkett Eoghan Ruadh GAA Club and the Phoenix FC.
But the sports clubs can’t play in winter. The ground is too marshy, so they want the council to build a shared all-weather pitch.
Dublin City Council is set to begin public consultation on a masterplan to transform the play facilities in the park by building an astroturf pitch, another floodlit pitch and adding a children’s playground.
Last week, most local councillors backed the plans but also called for more engagement with local residents, who have concerns, about traffic and the astroturf possibly contributing to increased flood risk.
“I have serious concerns about the whole proposal,” says Sean Hartigan, who lives nearby and is a member of the Martin Savage Park Development Residents’ Group.
Hartigan’s home has flooded in the past, he says, and some of his neighbours’ homes have flooded several times.
He fears that when it rains heavily, water from the astroturf pitch will drain off into the drainage system and down into his estate, he says. “That is my fear that it is going to make things worse.”
Gerry O’Connell, a chartered engineer in Dublin City Council’s flood projects division, says he will make sure that the new astroturf pitch doesn’t contribute to increased flooding risk for nearby houses.
It’s a challenge that the council is likely to face in other neighbourhoods, as it looks to build more astroturf pitches, while accounting for how climate change is making a wet city even wetter.
A council masterplan for the park shows new pedestrian paths around the park, a widening of the existing pathway to facilitate cycling, a new all-weather pitch, a hurling wall, a full-size GAA pitch, a GAA training pitch, a junior GAA pitch and a soccer pitch.
That doesn’t leave much space for anything else, but a children’s playground also features in the plans.
At a meeting of local councillors for the council’s administrative Central Area on 8 February, councillors mentioned other facilities too.
“I think it generally sounds like a really nice community facility between the community gardens, the wildflower planting and the picnic areas,” said Green Party Councillor Darcy Lonergan, at the meeting.
None of those things are labelled in the masterplan drawing, which is dated February 2022.
“I’m really in favour of this development,” says Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll, because the local sports clubs need an all weather pitch.
She would like to see more planting, more seating and better lighting, as well as improved biodiversity, she says.
Councillors have agreed that there should be community gardens included too, she says.
O’Driscoll says that all local residents should get involved in the public consultation. “We are hearing a lot from the clubs and from the people who live next to the park, but the park is for everyone.”
Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh says he would like to see more casual recreational space in the plans, where people might sit around or throw a frisbee.
Risk of Floods
The small estate of houses at Glendhu Park sits beside the strip of the park earmarked for the astroturf pitch. Some homes there have flooded in the past during heavy rainfall.
Hartigan says his home flooded once and the entire ground floor was destroyed. “It was soul-destroying.”
Some of his neighbours have had their homes destroyed repeatedly by flooding, he says.
As climate change progresses, the city is bracing for more extreme flooding events. “We are living under the spectre of that,” says Hartigan.
Outside the houses in Glendhu Park is a flood-mitigation feature called a swale. A small green area has been transformed into a wide trench that slopes downwards gradually to form a miniature valley, with drainage built in.
O’Connell, the council engineer, says the swale is the best flood-mitigation feature to prevent homes flooding in the city. “It’s the easiest way to catch a large quantity of water.”
The council intends to plant trees and wildflowers there too, he says, which will add natural soakage.
The swale can prevent flooding, even in extreme rainfall such as a once in a 100-year event, says O’Connell.
Hartigan says that while the swale is a major improvement, it has overflowed several times, and some of his neighbours’ homes have flooded even since it was installed around 10 years ago.
Local residents fear that the new astroturf pitch will worsen the problems. The purpose of an all-weather pitch is to drain water off the pitch, but the drains run down from the pitch into his estate, says Hartigan.
Council engineers have not yet met with residents to talk to them about these issues, he says.
O’Connell says that he will make sure that the astroturf pitch in Martin Savage Park doesn’t increase the risk of flooding and even in very heavy rain events, the astroturf will not exacerbate the flood risk for the homes in Glendhu Park.
“Whatever design comes along, I’ll be looking at it to make sure that nothing extra is heading that way,” he says.
They will create a rainwater-storage system underneath the pitch using gravel or crushed stone to capture water, he says. The rainwater can then be slowly released into the drainage system, or the ditch at the back of the park, in a controlled way, says O’Connell.
“We’ll be making sure that the run-off from the astroturf is the same or less than what is currently going Glendhu’s way,” he says.
There are a lot of new astroturf pitches planned for the city, he says, and engineers will have to ensure that they are designed so as not to contribute to flooding.
“We will be certainly making sure it’s not worse and hopefully it will be a bit better,” says O’Connell, the chartered engineer.
Hartigan says that while flooding is a major cause of concern, for Glendhu Park, there are other issues too.
The hurling wall would be close to some houses and noisy, he says. “That is just not fair. Imagine trying to get babies to sleep.”
(A hurling wall is a concrete wall used to practice hurling skills. Since hurling balls are hard and heavy, they could thud when they hit the wall.)
They could move the hurling wall to another part of the park where it wouldn’t be near anyone’s home, he says. “There is a fine big field there, yet everything is concentrated on one end.”
Also, Glendhu Park is basically a cul-de-sac and it can’t take the traffic disruption that currently comes with matches, says Hartigan. Residents fear that the new all-weather pitch will bring even more people down, he says.
At times, the traffic is so heavy that it blocks up the road and emergency services wouldn’t be able to access the estate if they needed to, he says.
Meenagh, the Labour councillor, says that at weekends and on match days the “roads around the park are blocked by badly parked cars and people have difficulty getting in and out of their homes”.
The sports clubs should do more to encourage people to limit car journeys, he says.
Hartigan says the clubs don’t currently manage the traffic chaos their events create so residents have no reason to believe that they will start doing so after they build the astroturf pitch.
Councillors agreed at the Central Area Committee meeting to put the plans forward for community consultation and that the council would leaflet the local area in the coming weeks to try to engage residents.
A representative of Oliver Plunkett Eoghan Ruadh GAA Club said that they would wait until after the public consultation has begun to comment on the plans.