It’s a misty December afternoon at Weaver Square on Cork Street and two skateboarders are just getting off their boards to have a smoke.
Children that haven’t yet reached school age are chasing each other over the rope bridge. A father looks forlornly on, as if jealous of their play.
“It’s usually pretty busy,” says local resident Pauline Minsky, who has lived in the area for the past six months since moving back from Manchester with her husband and young son.
“We’d be lost without this park and there’s a lot more people living with children in this area. People generally have to fight for green spaces,” says Minsky.
“There’s a battle going on for that,” she says, nodding over to an allotment behind the playground where a white banner draped over the fencing reads “Save Dublin 8 Green Spaces”.
There was just 0.7 sqm of quality public green space for each person in the Liberties, compared to an average of 49 sqm per person, a council “greening strategy” for the neighbourhood noted in 2015.
That same year, the council passed a motion from People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh rezoning a large part of a site around Marrowbone Lane, not far from Weaver Square, to “Z9”, meaning it would have to be used for recreational amenities, open spaces or “green networks”.
How Much Greenery
The 4.76 hectare site off Marrowbone Lane includes a council depot – a base from which council workers look after services such as flood-management and public lighting – an ESB substation, the Maltings Business Park and St Catherine’s Sports Centre.
Keegan wants the site to be rezoned from the mix that it is now – which includes the Z9 area for green space and amenities, but also some space for homes, jobs, and mixed-uses – to “Z14”, meant to help socially, economically and physically “rejuvenate” an area “with mixed use, of which residential, enterprise and job-creation would “predominate”.
According to Keegan’s report, a number of green and recreational spaces have been built since last count or are in the pipeline.
Those include Weaver Square, a football pitch planned behind (and to be managed by) St Catherine’s Sports Centre, work to spruce up St Audeon’s Park, a new public park at St Luke’s Church in the Coombe and a new park planned for Bridgefoot Street.
So the chief executive argues that it’s reasonable to use the Marrowbone Lane site not for another park, but for a so-called “super depot” – a base for providing council services to the southern part of the city.
This is part of a larger plan to close down, and sell off some of, the 33 small-ish depots dotted around the city, which some 1,300 city workers use as bases right now, and instead create two super depots: one in the north, and this one in the south.
In addition to hosting the consolidated depot for the southern part of the city, the rest of the site would “be given over to the provision of improved recreational facilities, social and affordable housing, commercial development”, under the chief executive’s plan.
Some councillors, residents and sporting groups say they are not too keen on this plan.
A Zoning Battle
Both MacVeigh and Fianna Fáil Councillor Michael Mullooly oppose the chief executive’s plan to use the site for this but still want it rezoned – so it could be used for both green space and housing.
“I think this is an opportunity to move most, if not all, of the depot out of there and use that for both sporting facilities, recreational facilities, and for essential housing,” Mullooly says.
He says that using this site for a depot means vehicles have to drive into and out of the inner-city, creating traffic. It would be better, he argues, to turn the depot on Davitt Road out in Goldenbridge into the super depot instead of this one.
Keegan’s proposal for the Marrowbone Lane site includes 100 houses.
Local resident Kieran Rose, a former city council planner, doesn’t believe that’s ambitious enough. “A hundred houses on 4.6 hectares is very little and it just doesn’t make planning sense.”
Furthermore, for a number of years, Dublin City Council’s development plan for the Liberties has talked about increasing “permeability” there: in other words, opening up routes that people can pass through, rather than creating big blocks – like a super depot – that they have to take the long way around, Rose says.
Pitching for Pitches
One of the major problems with the plan, says People Before Profit’s MacVeigh, is that it’s missing “the piece about green spaces”.
There is little in the plan about those, she says. The council has a greening strategy but it still hasn’t met the goals in that.
The two pitches that are proposed – one seven-a-side pitch and another four-a-side pitch would be too small too, says Tommy Daly from Sporting Liberties.
There’d be no room for competitive matches with spectators. “We want to engage young people and children in sport and we can’t do that on a postage stamp,” says Daly. “You need a full-sized field.”
The groups Sporting Liberties represents are very much for building homes in the area, Daly says. But he proposes building homes at higher density on the site, to leave room for more, larger community facilities.
Says MacVeigh: “We can have much-needed housing and we can have much needed community amenities.”
Building new homes doesn’t have to entail the closure of existing green spaces, she says, alluding to the battle to keep the Weaver Square allotments open.
Dublin City Council’s proposed changes to the Marrowbone Lane site are open to feedback until 13 December.