Last Friday afternoon, Samantha O’Flanagan was sitting outside the 13-year-old temporary tower that provides Baldoyle residents access to Clongriffin Station.
There’s no station or platform on the eastern, Baldoyle side of the tracks. Instead, there’s a rectangular steel tower with an elevator and stairs inside.
These lead up to the station’s entrance, which is located on a bridge above the tracks and platforms. But the elevator to reach this bridge had been out of order for 61 days now, O’Flanagan says.
And that’s not the only problem with this temporary tower.
The sun was out, which was fortunate, O’Flanagan said as she climbed up the tower’s four flights of stairs. Because only two of the eight lightbulbs inside were working. “How is this a difficult thing to fix?”
She produces her phone to show a video of what it is like at night. For approximately 10 seconds of the clip, the person holding the camera plunges into darkness as they ascend the stairs, entering the section where the lights are broken.
The outside of the steel tower that leads up to the station is dull and grey and rusting, with faded graffiti tags.
Its walls are made of panels with small circular holes through which the sunlight enters. Quite a few of these panels are bent out of shape.
The floor has a similar pattern. But whereas the holes in the wall are on a flat surface, those on the steps are convex, like a coarse cheese grater – easy to trip over.
For Baldoyle residents, especially those with mobility issues, the lift was the only convenient access point to the station, says Rebecca Bloomfield, who, due to a hip injury, currently uses a walking stick. “I have friends in Malahide, and I can’t access the Dart or the bus services, even with a stick, because of those awful steps.”
Bloomfield has to use the car a lot more now, she says. “I’m lucky. I’m going for surgery. There are people with disabilities, and I’m not sure how they’re coping.”
Inside the tower, draped across part of the wall is a banner. In block capitals, it reads: “Baldoyle needs safe, universal access.”
The structure isn’t fit for purpose, said Matthew McAleese, the council’s director of planning and strategic infrastructure, at a meeting of the Howth-Malahide Area Committee last Wednesday.
While the station is owned by Irish Rail, the structure is on private lands, owned by the developer Richmond Homes. The developer is repairing the lift, with a view to re-open it in the coming weeks, says a spokesperson for the National Transport Authority (NTA).
O’Flanagan says the real solution is putting in a permanent ramp to replace the steel tower and its broken lift. But there are no current plans to do this, an NTA spokesperson said.
The NTA spokesperson said it is arranging for a consultant to prepare a feasibility and options report on what access solutions can be provided at the station, with a view that this commences at the end of the month. A permanent ramp “will be considered as part of the feasibility and options study for improved access”, they said.
It is enormously frustrating that a government body will now pay for a private consultant to tell locals what they already know about this station, says Social Democrats Councillor Joan Hopkins. “Successive governments have handed over vital aspects of public transport infrastructure to private developers who are interested in profit, and not providing public services.”
Richmond Homes didn’t respond to queries sent on Friday, asking if there was a timeline for immediate maintenance works and the provision of a permanent ramp, or if it would allow a public body to take charge of the existing temporary structure.
Clongriffin Dart Station opened in 2010.
In August 2005, Helsingor Limited had been granted permission for the station, and a temporary pedestrian and vehicle access point.
The steel tower with its lift and stairs is on the eastern side of the railway in Baldoyle, at the end of a narrow path that connects up with bigger streets of Myrtle Close and Myrtle Avenue.
But while the tower was listed as temporary in the planning application, as the years went on, it effectively became permanent, O’Flanagan says. “Thirteen years on, and we still have it, and we’ve been told it’s another five to seven years that we’ll get it replaced.”
Helsingor Ltd went into receivership and in May 2017, joint receivers Simon Coyle and Tom O’Brien of Mazars applied to the council for planning permission for a big development with 379 apartments, 171 houses, and a new village centre at The Coast in Baldoyle.
The 125-acre site of this “Project Shoreline” is right beside the station too, and the temporary access sits on a small bit of these lands. The application included plans to demolish the temporary lift and staircase.
Coyle and O’Brien were granted permission by An Bord Pleanála in November 2017.
In June 2019, they put the site up for sale. Developers Richmond Homes bought it that October for between €36 million and €38 million.
They ramped-up plans, applying now for 135 houses and 747 apartments. The application still committed to knocking the temporary structure at the station.
An Bord Pleanála granted permission in September 2021.
The existing planning application requires Richmond Homes to provide a design for ramp access, which the council will need to approve, said Green Party Councillor David Healy on Friday.
“Certainly as of three months ago, they haven’t come back with any design,” he said.
Richmond Homes did not respond when asked to comment on when a ramp would be built.
A tale of two entries
Social Democrats Councillor Joan Hopkins launched a petition in July 2023 calling for permanent safe universal access to the station from Baldoyle.
To date, it has collected almost 2,800 signatures. It asks that either Irish Rail or Córas Iompair Éireann take charge of the structure to ensure that it be made accessible.
The petition says new lifts are needed, as well as better lighting and CCTV. Also, a permanent structure should be built within three years, and not pushed back until “Project Shoreline” is done, which could take 10 years, it says.
The conditions within the structure have gone from bad to worse over the years, because there isn’t any security at the station, O’Flanagan says, frowning as she looks at the doors to the broken lift. “We’ve found drug paraphernalia, used needles.”
When the lift worked, they found urine, faeces and used sanitary products in it, she says. “It was absolutely vile. You could not go in it.”
O’Flanagan continues up the stairs, exiting the steel tower at its top where she steps onto the quiet road that leads from the station’s entrance down west to the Clongriffin side.
She looks out at Clongriffin. New ramps lead up to the station from a plaza. Along this zig-zagging access point, young trees are growing and cylindrical lamp posts have been erected.
Behind her is the Baldoyle side, the temporary structure and the Project Shoreline site – in the early stages of construction – and some vegetation. “Those are weeds,” she says.
Bespoke parts and consultations
On 25 October, representatives from the council, Richmond Homes, the NTA and Irish Rail met to talk about access to the station.
A spokesperson for the NTA said the group agreed that a feasibility and options report would be prepared by consultants to look at design options and access solutions for Clongriffin station.
The consultants will look at pedestrian access to bus services and improved connectivity between the growing housing estates on both sides of the station, they said. “It is expected that consultants will be in place to undertake the study before the end of November 2023.”
Once the report is complete, the council will be able to set a timeline for moving forward on solutions, said McAleese, the council’s director of planning and strategic infrastructure at the area committee meeting on 1 November.
By the time the meeting was convened, the lift had been out of order for 59 days straight, said Hopkins, the Social Democrats councillor. “And there was no lift four times in the previous two months.”
Richmond Homes have stopped communicating to the community on what their immediate plans are for repairs, she said. “There’s space for eight lightbulbs. There’s only two working. That’s the level we’re at. They haven’t even replaced the lightbulbs.”
At the committee meeting, McAleese said that one problem with the structure is its age, which slows down repairs when the lift is damaged or vandalised.
“These are not off-the-shelf pieces that can be ordered. They have to be actually bespoke made, which is prolonging the time between the lift going down and being reopened,” he said.
It is not fit for purpose, McAleese said. “There’s no lighting. There’s no CCTV. The lift is outdated.”
Hopkins said it would be better to spend any money on repairs or security rather than consultants. “Really, we know what the options are,” she said.
Healy, the Green Party councillor, said there is an unmaintained stairwell, a broken lift and broken lightbulbs. “We think that’s a topic which we need to get consultants to advise us on?” he asked.
An enforcement issue?
Healy told the committee that he thinks the access is an essential element of the permission and construction of the railway station, he said. “That’s the railway station permission [from 2005], and in taking on the land, Richmond Homes took on the legal responsibilities of the planning applications, which had been commenced and built on the land.”
McAleese, the council’s director of planning and strategic infrastructure, said the structure there has been built in accordance with the planning permission and conditions. “In terms of maintaining that piece of infrastructure, the developer has been maintaining that over a period of time.”
But the temporary structure was considered as an interim solution, until a permanent ramp is put in place, he said. “At the time when it was permitted, over the passage of time, that piece of infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose.”
McAleese said he wasn’t convinced an enforcement route was the way forward . “I don’t think it would result in a good outcome for the community, and I don’t think it would result in a timely outcome for the community.”
Putting in a ramp is the long-term solution and that has planning permission but is probably five to seven years away, McAleese said. “What we are looking at here is what solutions can we deliver quickly, which includes looking at the lift.”
Fine Gael Councillor Aoibhinn Tormey asked if Irish Rail had discussed the possibility of carrying out a compulsory purchase order on the land at the October meeting.
The issue of land ownership had not been explored, McAleese said.
The NTA spokesperson said on Tuesday morning that there have been some initial discussions on ownership and who is best placed to maintain the infrastructure.
“However it was agreed the output of the feasibility and options selection report is available prior to progressing further discussions on ownership and maintenance,” they said.
Councillors on the committee agreed a motion that the council’s chief executive get independent legal advice about the planning department’s decision not to pursue enforcement action against Richmond Homes for the lack of universal access to the station.