After queries about costs, who’ll be able to use it, and future viability, Dublin city councillors voted on Monday at City Hall to press ahead with plans for a white-water rafting facility at George’s Dock.
The plan is for a white-water course with an area for flat-water training, a slalom course, a kayak or raft conveyor, a water-treatment plant, a control centre, and a swift-water-rescue training centre based around a floodable street, for use by emergency services.
Plans also include two new quayside buildings, one to go with the facility and another to be used as a new office for council workers in the Docklands.
In January, Derek Kelly, the council’s Docklands area manager, had put the estimated cost of the facility at €12 million. That’s risen now to €22 million, he said.
The earlier estimate had left out the design-team fees, VAT, the two new buildings, and contingency fees, Kelly said at the council’s December monthly meeting on Monday. It also didn’t include the water treatment plant or flood-defence measures.
Of the €22 million, roughly €4.9 million is expected to come from development levies, €4 million from the council’s capital reserve, and €13 million from grants, according to Kelly’s presentation.
Earlier in the meeting, Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan said that there was a real communication deficit from the council.
“That a week after the whole of Dublin was told that we’re going to reduce local services, that there isn’t enough money for discretionary funds, that we’re going to build a big white-water rafting facility in the middle of the city centre,” he said.
He queries whether the funding could be diverted elsewhere. “To my mind, capital reserve is either used for the purposes of borrowings, or it’s used in some sort of rainy day capacity.”
Geoghegan asked if money could be used to top by the discretionary area funds – which support local projects within constituencies – and were cut in the latest budget.
Keegan said that funding for the capital programme can only be used for capital projects. “We can not apply development levies for revenue projects,” he said.
Later, Kathy Quinn, the council’s head of finance, said the “capital reserve” money was savings that Culture, Recreation and Economic Services had made over a number of years to support the project. “That’s what that is.”
One of the big selling points to councillors at Monday’s meeting was how the facility could be used by Dublin Fire Brigade to train in a safe, clean environment to rescue people from water.
The fire brigade rescues roughly 100 people a year from water, said Greg O’Dwyer, assistant chief fire officer of Dublin Fire Brigade. “Which far exceeds what we do from fires themself.”
“There would be no other facility like this in Ireland, or Northern Ireland as well,” he said. So other fire and emergency services would be delighted to use it too, he said.
Other councillors asked who would own and operate the facility. “Will the project remain under [council] control and that it won’t be handed over to a private consortium in the years ahead?” said independent Councillor Christy Burke.
Kelly, the area manager, said that the intention from day one has been for the council to own and operate it. “We have no intention of putting it out to the private market,” he said.
It would be staffed through the sports and leisure section of the council, he said. Perhaps they’d get in some expert kayakers or canoers on contract in the early days to help train people from the area who can then be raft guides on the course, he said.
Several councillors asked what other options had been on the table, and how much community consultation had been done.
Green Party Councillor Caroline Conroy asked about exclusivity and what the plan was to deal with that. “It’ll become booked out I imagine with groups.”
Kelly said that the plan is for the rafting side of things – say stag dos and tourists at commercial rates – to subsidise community use. “So it’s either zero or marginal costs to allow local people to use it,” he said.
They’ll put aside days and times for the local community too, he said. “We’ll set aside slots, there’s no problem there.”
How community access will work – whether it’ll be through a club affiliated with the course, for example – is still being worked out, he said.
Some councillors said they were worried the project could face similar problems of access to the Clontarf baths, which has been closed to public swimming.
Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne, meanwhile, pointed to the meagre opening hours of the Crumlin swimming pool in his area, which was down, council managers say, to a lack of resources. What resources would be needed to keep this new facility open he asked?
The council drew up a business plan, based on 36,000 visitors a year, looking at viability and it would only need subsidising in the first year, said Kelly. “The plan indicates that we will run a surplus by year two.”
If construction costs run higher than the €22 million that’s estimated at the moment, after it goes out to tender, they’ll have to make decisions then, said Kelly. “I’m happy that the figure as things stand is robust.”
Councillors voted 37 in favour, 19 against with 3 abstentions.