On a recent Friday in Ballymun, two people sit on a bench on the east side of the square outside the Axis arts centre. A woman pushes a buggy along a tarmac path through the square.

On the north side of the square, outside the Travelodge, the grass is missing. A few trees, with no leaves, shiver in the wind.

The square is cold, grey and windswept, says Robert Murphy, owner of Nan’s SuperValu and chairperson of Ballymun Tidy Towns. He was looking forward to its total transformation, a process he expected to be underway by now.

He participated in a public consultation in 2021, he says, after Dublin City Council announced plans for a new plaza in Ballymun, adding lots of trees, greenery and decoration as well as seating and an amphitheatre.

The new plans looked ideal, says Murphy, to give the area the boost it needs. “They were addressing it being windswept. There is colour, there’s vibrancy, and light and good urban architecture in the new plan.”

He thought the council was going to break ground on the plaza towards the end of 2022, he says. (In 2021 Eddie O’Gara, landscape architect with Dublin City Council, said he hoped the works could begin there in 2022.)

But that didn’t happen, and last week a council spokesperson gave a different timeline.

“It is one of many projects and it is programmed to commence after the Kildonan Park project, Finglas (also the N Area) is completed.”

Says Murphy: “I’m completely disappointed but I’m not surprised. We’re left waiting on everything.”

Pride of Place

Councillors approved the plan for the Kildonan Park revamp last summer.

It includes developing a major sports centre, including an all-weather sports pitch, a skate park, communal gardens, a basketball court and a children’s playground.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to questions sent on 26 January asking why the two projects cannot progress simultaneously or whether the Kildonan Park plans have gone out to tender.

The council’s Capital Programme 2023 to 2025 has allocated €50,000 in 2023, €100,000 in 2024 and €1 million in 2025 to “Ballymun Park”, indicating that the new plan might be for construction in 2025.

But that is a delay of three years, says Murphy. The plans for the plaza are really important for the area, he says.

“It fits into what we are trying to do with TidyTowns,” he says. “The more infrastructure, and the more upgrades we see, it will empower people and show people pride of place.”

The council has done well with upgrading Sillogue Avenue, he says. Changes there have meant realigning the road at Sillogue Avenue and connecting it to Owensilla Terrace as well as extending Gateway Crescent to Sillogue Road and upgrading roads and footpaths in Sillogue Gardens.

The local area plan for Ballymun – which is the council’s vision for improving the area’s infrastructure – “is an excellent document” but most elements of that plan have yet to be implemented, he says. He can’t understand why progress is so slow.

“This should be a priority,” says Murphy. “I’ve been hearing about the plaza for years.”

There is land for 2,000 new homes in Ballymun, but no construction is underway on housing either, he said. There won’t be any new homes built until at least 2025, he says.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, it is heartbreaking for the community,” he says. “We are just left waiting, waiting and waiting.”

Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan says she is delighted that the plans for the plaza are progressing, even if they are moving slowly.

Everything about public procurement is slow, she says. “The process is just so laborious.”

There is a budget for public-realm works in the city and it’s important that Ballymun is getting some of that.

“This is a significant project and a significant amount of money,” she says. “I’m delighted it’s going ahead.”

Shopping Centre Site

Lots of initiatives are progressing in the Ballymun area, says Callaghan. “We have lots more to do in Ballymun but we also have to celebrate what has been done.”

The council has built a new maintenance depot, she says. That is a new centre of operations for Dublin City Council workers on the north side of the city.

The council is also involved in cleaning buildings in Ballymun and biodiversity work too, says Callaghan.

Across the main road from the Ballymun plaza, an old building that used to be a shopping centre, has now been demolished. “We’ve had things like carnivals in the summer so it is used as a recreational area for the community,” she says.

The council is looking into possibilities for a mixed-use development there, says Callaghan. The new development needs to be economically viable so the council is exploring ideas and potentially a mix of housing, retail and office space might work, she says.

If the council could secure a public-sector client for the offices that would help to make the overall redevelopment sustainable, says Callaghan.

Local residents have heard promises for the shopping centre site for years, though. In the Ballymun Masterplan for the regeneration of the suburb, created in 1997, the shopping centre site was to be the heart of the shopping district of Ballymun.

In November 2008, Treasury Holdings unveiled plans for a huge complex called Spring Cross, with hundreds of thousands of square feet of shops, leisure space, and offices, an 11-screen cinema, a bowling alley, and more than 300 apartments.

Then came the financial crash.

In December 2014, the council bought the shopping centre land. There was another false start in 2015, after councillors agreed to sell the site for a new smaller shopping centre, but that deal too fell apart.

Murphy says it is really important that that the shopping-centre site is developed quickly too, to contribute to the financial regeneration of the area as well as its appearance.

“All the time, energy and money needs to be put into a masterplan for that site,” he says. “We need a local economy supported by additional housing.”

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *