In September 2017, after considerable public consultation and research, Dublin City Council published an action plan for Cherry Orchard.
It was cast as “an opportunity to reinvigorate the physical, social and economic renewal” of the west Dublin neighbourhood.
While other plans may concern themselves with housing and hard infrastructure, the focus of this plan, Making Cherry Orchard Better, was the social supports that the neighbourhood needs, said Dave O’Donovan, a council manager for Cherry Orchard.
That action plan is due to finish up at the end of this year, said O’Donovan, in his office in the Cherry Orchard Community Centre on Friday.
“We are not proud enough to say that we didn’t make any mistakes or the stuff that was in the plan, we couldn’t get it finished,” he said. (Covid played its part, he says.)
O’Donovan is now preparing the next action plan, which he expects will be similar to the last, he says.
But even as he does, there needs to be a broader change in how the state operates in Cherry Orchard, he says, stressing time and again in particular the need for more social supports and community facilities before even more housing is built in the neighbourhood.
“Keep doing the same thing, is clearly not working,” said O’Donovan.
“I think it’s reaching a tipping point, that me and like-minded colleagues have been banging the drum for so long saying, we need to try something different, rather than keep doing the same,” he says.
The Last Plan
Cherry Orchard hasn’t lacked plans. A community regeneration plan published in 2006 lapsed in 2009, with progress stymied by the global recession.
There’s been the Making Cherry Orchard Better plan published in September 2017. And, in October 2019, councillors agreed what’s known as a local area plan for Cherry Orchard and Park West.
O’Donovan says he is conscious that locals might be jaded if they hear of another renewed plan.
There are various factors why they didn’t get everything done under the last plan, he says. “Covid was one and staffing across agencies was another, funding was a small part of it.”
But still he is expecting when they launch a new version that people will say they do nothing for the area, he says. “But that’s just not true.”
“Someone who says that we didn’t do anything for the area, it means, would probably mean, you did not do anything from my particular personal circumstances,” he says.
But O’Donovan says there is lots that needs to be done differently in Cherry Orchard.
“Everybody is saying, I would agree with them, that we need more housing nationally across the country,” he says
“But there is no point in putting more housing into Cherry Orchard right now, when you don’t have the social supports that are there,” says O’Donovan.
Hazel De Nortuín, the People Before Profit councillor, says the same. Locals are at their last wits end with more housing being built without amenities being put in, she says. “It would divide the area hugely. You don’t want to see that.”
“We just have to keep challenging it,” she says. “I don’t think they’re going to get away with it.”
The local area plan for Cherry Orchard and Parkwest, agreed by councillors in October 2019, highlights the potential for as many as 3,000 homes in eight plots in the area, and more on infill sites.
O’Donovan points, as an example of the need for supports not being taken seriously, to the waiting list for St Ultans Primary School, the only school in the neighbourhood.
If 500 more homes are built, that could mean 500 more school-age children who will need to go to school close by, he says. “All we will do is compound these issues.”
“I know people in Cherry Orchard who can’t afford a car, or can’t afford bus fare and their child has to go to school inside the area,” says O’Donovan.
The solution is to extend St Ultans to cater for the growing population, he says. “But that’s a very hard sell to the likes of the Department of Education.”
Meanwhile, Cherry Orchard still has just one local retail outlet for a population of 10,000 people or more, he says.
Compare that with, say, Enniscorthy in Wexford, which is a similar size, he says. “I know for a fact that Enniscorthy has a super Lidl.”
O’Donovan says that Cherry Orchard may not have a village centre, but it has the makings of one. Missing is a shop, a post office, a pub, he says. “Your focal points for social activity.”
It isn’t just in Cherry Orchard that you can see the impact of push to build homes without future-proofing and putting in facilities first, he says.
The state just focuses on housing, he says. “We tick that box and then we scratch your head in 10 years time going, why is it still chaos?”
“Because the right decision wasn’t made. At the time the right decision for areas like this is put in the social supports first,” he says.
A New, Funded, Approach
O’Donovan says that the current plan cost just under €4 million.
Once the new plan is finalised sometime in early next year, the area will still need funding from the Department of Rural and Community Development and the council, he says.
“We see what happens,” he says, “There is no guarantee that anybody will say, ‘You know what, Dave and company, you had five years of this, it just didn’t work. If that’s the collective decision, I have to put up with that.”
“But my counter argument be, one of the reasons it didn’t work is because we were forced to do things the same way. Because there wasn’t, there wasn’t an appetite from many people up on high, who could make changes happen,” he says.
It comes back to saying, yes we need houses, he says. “But we need the supports for all these people coming in first.”
Dáithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor, said, “The city council have been doing their best with limited funding to try and improve Cherry Orchard.”
But it needs more, he says, and a long-term statutory strategy, he says. “Supported at the highest level of government, in truly integrated fashion.”
It’s not enough to inject cash into the city council, he says. “We’ve to undo the damage done by 30, 35, maybe 40 years of neglect by consecutive governments.”
In 2021, the council applied for but didn’t get €30 million in funding for the first phase of Cherry Orchard’s local area plan from the government’s Urban Regeneration and Development Funding, a funding stream for the regeneration of urban areas.
Instead, Dublin City Council got €121 million for the north inner-city and €53 million for the south inner-city under the fund.
O’Donovan said he has his theory as to why it missed out.
“I would imagine, north and south to the Liffey inside in inner city Dublin is probably sexier than the furthest point from the GPO in the catchment area,” he says. “Let’s call a spade a spade. The IFSC, Dublin Docklands is all in there.”
It’s likely that Cherry Orchard couldn’t compete with the investment opportunities available in those areas, he says
It was disappointing, says O’Donovan, “But you roll up your sleeves and you go again.”
It isn’t all about money, though, he says. “Because you can throw €100 million at Cherry Orchard and unless the, unless the procedures and the work on the ground is effective relating to this area, then next year, you’ll have to throw another €100 million.”
He points to changes that could be made around the piecemeal services in the area that have been layered on over the years, or how the council could leverage all the land it owns out there differently.
De Nortúin, the People Before Profit councillor, says it took national pressure for the government to set up the North East Inner City Programme Implementation Board, following the 2017 Mulvey Report which examined the socio-economic problems in that part of the city.
Doolan says the same thing is needed for Cherry Orchard, as well as a person spearheading the plan who would have the standing to phone the Taoiseach, ministers, secretary generals and heads of agencies, to demand action.
“Because at the moment it’s all on goodwill, and that’s just simply not good enough for Cherry Orchard,” he says.
De Nortúin says there isn’t political will from national government for the area, she says. “They’ve gotten away with it for decades, so why would they suddenly care?”
“It’s only when it became a national outcry. That seems to be the only way to get to where you need to be to deliver these things,” she says.
O’Donovan says it seems to be working in the North East Inner City. So they could replicate that model, if there was a push to set up a statutory plan and structure like that, he says.
At the moment, though, groups in Cherry Orchard have had to come up with their own ways of addressing problems, he says, and the council tries to work in a more community-led way, rather than top-down. “Still getting to the end result, and much cheaper as well.”
“But you very rarely find a policy in any government guidebook that says, that’s the way to do it,” he says. “It will always be dictated from the top down.”
Pushing for New Ideas
Janice Kane, a community support worker for Cherry Orchard Equine Centre, said that Cherry Orchard really needs more shops and childcare facilities. “There’s only two shops in the whole area.”
It would also be good to have space or social entrepreneurships set up, with support given to them to get up off the ground, and where they could offer apprenticeships to people locally, to create employment, she says.
O’Donovan says, in the upcoming area action plan – as exists in the current one – he plans to include a proposal for business incubation units like this.
They could have knock-on impacts, he says. “So all of a sudden now you have this little industry in Cherry Orchard that has never been tried before, is currently not there and it could absolutely flourish.”
De Nortúin said she previously identified unused public buildings for businesses like community creches and shops, as it can be hard to set up a business in a new building.
“I’d love to see them get retail space in Parkwest that’s never been filled,” she says, and if new buildings were built, the council should take responsibility for building them.
O’Donovan says he’s not sure he’s seen another example of somewhere else building social enterprise units in an area like Cherry Orchard, he says, unless it’s the CHQ building on the quays.
De Nortuín says that there were a lot more resident groups in Cherry Orchard years ago, and the council should try to figure out what happened to them.
“Whether these groups were demoralised by lack of services, delivery, that has caused residents associations to dismantle, that’s something we need to look into,” she says.
Local services do what the government should be doing in Cherry Orchard, says De Nortuín.
O’Donovan says it’s time for the state to roll the dice out in Cherry Orchard.
He imagines a scenario in 20 years time of somebody new coming in,and trying something different, he says. “After a whole load of colleagues like myself banging the drum saying you need to try, you need to try.”
“If it eventually happened in 20 years, I would be shouting from the rooftops, fantastic,” he says, “but I would be bitterly disappointed that it took us 20 more years to realise, try something different.”