On the eastern side of George’s Dock, one of Emma Crean’s daughters chases a white feather as it flutters in the air, and out of reach – through the railings and onto the ledge above the giant gravel pit on the centre of the square.
It would be good if the dock were an amenity again, says Crean. She has heard of Dublin City Council’s proposals to fill this in with fresh water, and turn it into a whitewater rafting and kayaking spot.
It could work, but upkeep is key, says Crean, who lives nearby in one of the blocks near the inner docks.
She hasn’t been impressed so far with council’s maintenance of the streets and squares both here around International Financial Services Centre and the other side of the quays, and wonders whether spending money on more bins, or street-sweeping – the basics – might be better.
But “it all depends on how its managed and maintained,” she said.
The proposal is for a whitewater rafting course, a water-rescue training facility, and a kayaking and water-polo pool, too.
“We’re still working through some of the details,” said Derek Kelly, a council administrative officer, at a meeting of the council’s Central Area Committee on Tuesday morning.
The project should cost around €12 million. “That could go up, it could go down”, but not by much, he said.
The inner dock would be a sort of tank for freshwater, with pumps that would push the water around the bigger dock which is the other side of a small bridge.
Meanwhile, the nearby Docklands Office – which some councillors at the meeting said was ugly – would be refurbished to give it a warehousey look, and fit part of it out as a visitor centre.
They’re aiming to ask Dubliners what they think of the plans, and start what is known as the “Part VIII” planning process, in February, he said.
“Whose baby is this?” asked Lord Mayor Nial Ring, who is an independent councillor, at the Central Area Committee on Tuesday.
Ring had concerns about the running costs, about where the idea had come from. “I can’t honestly support it at this stage. […] I think it could be a white elephant and I don’t know enough about it,” he said.
Said Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe: “This project seems largely to have come out of the air.”
Independent Councillor Christy Burke asked why it couldn’t be built on the Liffey, rather than setting up what seemed like an expensive freshwater pumping system.
“The Liffey is quite tidal,” said Kelly. That means the water goes up and down and isn’t controlled enough for this project.
With pumps, staff can adjust the course for different abilities and different types of rafters, Kelly said. He said it would be managed by the council rather than a private operator.
Kelly said the impetus came from the need to find a new use for George’s Dock – and stems from the council’s plans to use waterways more.
The council looked at moving the Jeanie Johnston – the costly replica famine ship on the Liffey – to George’s Dock, but estimated that would cost €3 million and be disruptive, too.
They looked at floating gardens, but the parks service thought that would be too costly to maintain, Kelly told councillors.
Head of Planning Richard Shakespeare, Head of Parks Les Moore, and Chief Executive Owen Keegan all thought about whitewater rafting and whether that would be good for the city, said Kelly. “They have been done in other docks in the UK and around the world.”
The council hired the architecture firm Urban Agency, and engineering consultants Patrick Parsons and Peter Brett Associates to help draw up plans and a business case, he said.
Cuffe and other councillors said they were frustrated that the plans seemed to have progressed so far, with little input from councillors, and no other options being presented to them.
Who Would It Be For?
The biggest water sport in the north inner-city is the open canal and sea swimming that happens when the warm weather hits, and kids dive from building tops into the canals and rivers, Cuffe said. “I would like to see more engagement with them, and their needs.”
“Is it being done purely to attract tourists?” asked Burke, the independent councillor.
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam said councillors often criticise in-the-box thinking and lack of vision from officials. But here was some vision. “I welcome that,” he said.
He asked, though, if they risked building a facility that catered to too niche a market.
Kelly said it was for all kinds of people, including both tourists and local community groups, and that they’d talked to Kayaking Ireland, the Dublin Fire Brigade about using it for training, and the North Wall Community Training Centre about possible jobs for local people.
“It’s for everybody,” said Kelly.
Fáilte Ireland had said it would be the “jewel in the crown” of the its visitor-experience development plan for the Docklands, too, he said. (The tourism body is trying to spread tourists out across the city, and is focused on increasing tourism numbers in the Docklands.)
It’s good to think about what the city will look like in 10 or 20 years time, beyond shops, said Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon. “I’m really looking forward to hearing a lot more about this proposal.”
Right now, the concrete platform at George’s Dock isn’t much to look at, said Crean on Tuesday. “It’s just ugly looking.”
Javier Trionfetti, who works nearby, was perched on a boulder in a patch of sunlight, by the inner dock, scrolling on his phone.
He hadn’t heard plans for the centre, he says, but it might be something he would try out. He looks up. “It depends on the weather.”