Earlier this month, the HSE applied to the council for permission to add 34 car parking spaces to its land at Brú Chaoimhín on Cork Street, where it hosts some services, bringing the total up to 105 spaces.
It’s needed, says a planning document, because the HSE is building a screening lab for cervical cancer on what was a car park at the nearby Coombe Hospital campus and staff there need more spaces.
It’s a proposal that hasn’t gone down well with some local councillors and residents, who argue that it’s against council policy to enable more commuter parking and that a public green space would be a better use for the land.
A spokesperson for the HSE didn’t respond to queries about the plans.
Not far from Brú Chaoimhín, at the Coombe Hospital, builders are putting up a lab where 50 car parking spaces for staff used to be, said the HSE in its planning application.
Losing the spaces to the lab will compound problems arising from Covid-19, which have led to “staff avoidance of public transport” and using car parks for pop-up buildings to allow for social distancing, says the letter.
So it needs these new spaces at Brú Chaoimhín, it says.
Outside Brú Chaoimhín on Monday, administrator Sarah Doyle says she understands why some of her colleagues would choose to drive in.
There’s no issue getting parking in Brú Chaoimhín, she’s found. “Whatever really suits them. I would prefer to drive, it’s just the traffic,” says Doyle, who commutes in from Lucan by Luas as it’s faster.
There are issues with parking at the nearby Coombe Hospital though, says student midwife Deanne Hudson, who is walking up to meet her lift home to Deansgrange.
Parking in the Coombe is so packed, that people park elsewhere – on Cork Street or in nearby housing estates, she says.
Parking in a housing estate isn’t ideal, she says. “Obviously there’s a lot of residents around here that don’t want their homes just filled up with people trying to, you know, go into work either.”
People shouldn’t be driving into the city centre as part of a regular commute, says Michael Pidgeon, the Green Party local councillor. But “that’s a tough conversation”.
The HSE says in documents from the current planning application that it does hope to reduce the need for car parking at the Coombe Hospital in line with the current mobility plan for the hospital.
An explainer that went alongside an earlier application also points to measures The Coombe has taken alongside its move to build the laboratory, to reduce the need for staff to commute by car.
It mentions “considerable engagement with Coombe staff” and “investment in cycling infrastructure”.
“Cycling to work is not an option for all staff but it is encouraged where possible,” says the document.
The HSE did not respond to queries as to whether they have assessed how staff travel to work or what public transport options are available nearby.
Hudson says that it would take her two buses in, one into town and another out again to The Coombe to get into work. “It’s only like 20 minutes in the car whereas it’s over an hour if I get the bus.”
She’s passionate about the environment, she says, but then thinks of nurses and midwives working 13 hours straight.
“You don’t want to cost them an extra, you know another hour or two, or however long it takes,” she says. “I don’t know.”
Says Pidgeon: “I think what’s happened is that in a lot of hospitals people have said, well some of us work late, therefore, everyone gets free parking.”
“I just don’t think that’s something that can be facilitated in a blanket way anymore,” he says.
For hospital staff who work unusual hours, like night shifts and emergencies, or those with disabilities, there can be allowances, he says.
But while hospitals are open 24 hours, most people work regular daytime hours, says Pidgeon.
Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty says one solution could be putting in a Dublin Bikes station. “And sort of make the route safer for cyclists and pedestrians, while promoting public transport,” he says.
“I don’t think you necessarily need the level of car parking spaces that they’re talking about putting in there at the moment,” says Moriarty.
Catherine Cleary, a local resident and founder of Pocket Forests, says that the hospital should pursue a park-and-ride system for staff, or provide incentives to cycle, walk or use public transport.
“That has to be factored in. You can’t make people’s lives more difficult,” she says.
Not everyone can afford to live in Dublin 8 near the hospital, she says. “But that’s not an excuse to build car parking on the green space in a part of the country with the least amount of green space.”
“It’s not an acceptable argument to pit residents who want desperately to have good green spaces for their physical and mental health, against people whose jobs are very difficult,” she says.
Pidgeon says the city shouldn’t be promoting driving as an alternative to difficult transport options.
It’s tough, he says. But “we are working to improve the bus services, Bus Connects is gonna be a big change but saying that you have to take, you know, transfer onto a different bus isn’t in my mind enough reason to start paving over.”
It’s current council policy to discourage commuter parking, says the current city development plan.
As Pidgeon sees it, the Brú Chaoimhín application breaches the city development plan. “So I’d hoped that the council would reject this. But I guess we’ll have to see on that front.”
The council has granted permission for a few big office car parks in the city the last few months, shows a search of the council’s planning database.
Permission was granted in September for an office redevelopment of Stokes Place on St Stephen’s Green, which includes a double basement for 70 car parking spaces.
In August, planning permission was granted for three office buildings on North Wall Quay, with 107 car parking spaces in the basement.
Cleary says there should be a policy of no more city-centre car parks to help tackle congestion and health issues from commuting. “We cannot get in our cars and drive everywhere.”
A Dublin City Council spokesperson said they would not comment on what’s in the draft of the next development plan, which is currently being drawn up.
Moriarty, the Labour councillor, said some people had responded to a HSE public consultation that it ran in March asking for the large green space in front of the building, that can be seen from Cork Street to be made public.
The HSE had immediately responded saying that it wouldn’t work, he says.
Moriarty asks what the point was, then, of the consultation. “If you’re not going to listen and take the mass submissions in their totality and then actually assess what the public is saying to you?”
Dublin 8 still lacks already green space, he says. “It shows up statistically all the time that the Liberties is among the most deficient in the whole capital city.”
“I don’t think the answer is to strip out trees and green lawn for car parking spaces,” he says.
Cleary says these past figures on the dearth of green spaces are already out of date. “Even with the extra small amount of green space we have, because the numbers of residents are going up exponentially.”
To think of taking green space, albeit it not public, and paving it for car parking in a part of the city that is eminently commutable and walkable, she says.
“It just makes a nonsense of any idea of active travel that a health authority should be promoting,” she says.
“This isn’t trying to make anybody’s life more difficult, and obviously you know, working in a hospital is difficult at the best of times,” she says.
Kieran Rose, a former council planner and local resident, says the Brú Chaoimhín lands are historic, as they were used to treat patients during the Famine.
“It should be open to the public,” he says, and local schools to study nature and history.