After Dublin City Council scrapped its unpopular idea for a whitewater rafting facility in the disused George’s Dock in the north inner-city, it went back to the drawing board.
Urban Agency, an architecture firm, had come up with four proposals for the site: a park, a whitewater rafting facility, an Olympic-sized pool, and a lido and “rescue village” for use by emergency services.
The preferred option is the lido, said Andrew Griffin, co-founder of Urban Agency, while presenting these ideas to the council’s Central Area Committee on Tuesday. That “provides a much needed local amenity that has been called for, in terms of lido”, he said.
Emergency services have little access to somewhere to practise flooding drills, said Greg O’Dwyer, the assistant chief fire officer, so a rescue village has been incorporated into the plans.
At the monthly council meeting in February, councillors had agreed a motion from independent councillor John Lyons to “democratise” the decision-making on what to do with the site on George’s Dock.
Officials suggested that the Docklands Oversight and Consultative Forum could be the body to consult with – and councillors agreed to that.
On Tuesday, Joe Costello, a Labour councillor and forum member, said he was annoyed that this hadn’t happened and a vision seemed to have been dropped in from on high.
“I’m extremely annoyed that they put the cart before the horse,” he says. “I still think they’ve missed an opportunity to have a better vision.”
There should be more consultation and engagement with locals through the forum, Costello says. The first set of proposals for whitewater rafting hadn’t come from councillors or the community but from the executive, he said. “They should have learned their lesson then.”
Pools, Ice Skating, and Rescue
At the meeting, Griffin said that the lido option would involve setting aside 60 percent of the site for a multi-use area and lido. The remainder would be for the rescue village, he said.
Urban Agency was inspired by public swimming areas in Finland and Denmark, said Griffin.
The multi-use area would be seasonal, he said, with pools for children and diving in the summer. In the winter, the pools would be covered and there could be an ice rink, concerts, sports events and a Christmas market, he said. The lido would have saunas and changing rooms, and be open year round.
“The rescue village would be only for training for emergency services, not for public use. But it would be very active,” he said. It would include a water course and a mock village.
Cat O’Driscoll, a Social Democrats councillor, says there’s a lack of space for water-safety training for the fire brigade. “It’s good to think that this is getting serious consideration within the proposals.”
Said Darcy Lonergan, a Green Party councillor: “Is it a good idea to put the training centre in the middle of the city centre for the actual training? Would that be better located outside the city centre?”
O’Dwyer, the assistant chief fire officer, said the emergency services struggle to find places to run courses to teach flooding drills.
Rivers in the Dublin area are low, he says “So if we haven’t had very heavy rainfall for a number of days preceding the course, we literally have a trickle of water, and we have to cancel courses, we can’t run them.”
Fire officers have also gotten sick from the water, he said, with some contracting leptospirosis, Weil’s disease, and various stomach issues. “Risk assessments have been carried out to say that we can’t carry out our water training in some of the sites we used to.”
The area in Wicklow they use is limited, he said. In George’s Dock, Urban Agency have designed a mock village to simulate urban flooding, which can’t be recreated in a river, he said.
A recurring question in early debates around the whitewater rafting project was around whether locals would be able to afford to use it.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, said she was concerned about the cost of entry to the proposed lido. “If this is going to be viable, it has to be accessible and has to be something that people can feel is usable.”
There aren’t enough amenities for young people who live in the area, she says. “There’s an awful lot of arguably quite antisocial behaviour happening with young people around that area.”
“It will be great to see something happening at that site that would provide activities and amenities that young people would engage in, in a positive way,” she says, like free-entry skate parks or diving areas.
Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, says the north inner-city is desperately in need of facilities. “Making it available economically, available for local involvement, that really has to be considered here, very much so.”
Derek Kelly, director of council services, said the council wants to make the cost around the same as using one of its public swimming pools. (A single adult entry to Swan Leisure Centre in Rathmines costs €6.50)
The council hasn’t done any detailed financial analysis, he says. “But that’s the basis that we believe we would get in to use the swimming pool.”
People from wider areas of the city would probably use the lido, he says.
“I think everybody knows there is issues in that area with kids jumping into the Liffey and causing problems and we would hope that would have more structured and safe environment we could maybe better manage,” he said.
O’Driscoll, the Social Democrats councillor, asked if there could be a more immediate use, while they thrash out ideas.
“Like markets or an event space, because I think it’s gonna take a long time for us to get to get the other proposal up and running, and it’s a dead space,” she said.
Ciarán Perry, an independent councillor, said the area looks derelict. “Whatever the eventual agreement is, can we look at doing something with that area?”
Kelly said it could be costly for an operator to use the site temporarily. “It is a big dock, with a big drop, and you need to get access ramps in if you’re going to run any event there.”
They would also have to pay for private security, because it is so open. “Generally in the past, when we did Oktoberfest and all these sorts of things, they would have had private security firms working there 24 hours a day, which is again a huge cost to any operator.”
However, he will ask the council’s events team if there would be a way of doing something like an ice rink at wintertime, he said.
As with an early presentation on the whitewater rafting in January 2019, councillors at the meeting ask how the ideas now being put forward had come about.
Christy Burke, an independent councillor, said he has serious reservations because of the lack of engagement, and queries who had made up the preferred option. “It certainly wasn’t the local communities, or any of the clubs associated with the local community, or indeed public representatives.”
Nial Ring, an independent councillor, also asked where the preferred option had come from.
Kelly, the council manager, said the council first did a site analysis to help them come up with options to bring to councillors, to start a discussion.
“To see what, based on international best practice, you could fit into the space from a lido perspective, because that was what the public and the members were telling us the city needed,” he said.
Urban Agency told the council that the space would be appropriate for a lido, he said. “We believe that that is the appropriate space.”
An Olympic-sized pool was ruled out because it would be considered elitist, he said. “It would never be used. It will be a waste of money in my view.”
Kelly said he anticipates the project costing the same as the whitewater rafting facility – around €25 million. “It’s not going to be cheap, by any stretch.”