Dublin City Council has worked with Google on new plans for Barrow Street in the Docklands, where many of the buildings are owned by the tech giant.
The new scheme to redo the street, which runs between Grand Canal Street Upper and Ringsend Road, may cost around €8 million, said Derek Dixon, a council engineer, at a meeting of the council’s South East Area Committee on Monday.
The bill would be split between Google and the council, Dixon said.
Having private companies chip in to cover the costs of redesigning public streets is a model that could be rolled out further, Dixon told councillors.
While the benefits of the Barrow Street plan – its emphasis on sustainable drainage and greening, in particular – drew praise from councillors, some also sounded notes of caution.
Not least, a fear that pursuing this way of doing up public spaces could lead to some parts of the city being favoured over others, and some needs, too.
What’s the Plan?
In 2012, the council got planning permission to redo part of Barrow Street, says Dixon. Google was to pay for that too, said his presentation.
But the street has changed a lot in the decade since, he says. “With all of the industrial areas now being either office, residential or retail.”
So, they’ve drawn up new plans from the whole street.
The new scheme would bring traffic signals for a one-way stretch under the railway bridge, wider footpaths, formal pedestrian crossings, bike parking, trees and sustainable drainage, says Dixon.
The current footpaths are not wide enough for how busy they are, said Dixon. In the new plans, they would be bigger: up to 5m wide in some spots, and not narrower than 3m.
There are currently 20 spaces for permit parking on Barrow Street, he said. The plans include 27 public pay and display parking bays, with three accessible parking bays, two electric-vehicle charging points, loading bays, taxi bays, Sheffield-style bike stands, and DublinBikes stands.
The plan also includes putting in 20 trees, Dixon said. “We are actually engaging in an innovative method of over-planting over the existing combined sewer.”
A lot of the presentation looked at the greening planned for the street, and how the planting would be designed so that, aside from torrential downpours, surface water would be soaked up by this sustainable urban drainage.
Who Is Leading?
Claire Byrne, a Green Party councillor, welcomed the focus on greening and sustainable urban drainage, bike parking and seating. “I think the design looks great.”
Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, said he was concerned about Google’s level of involvement in the planning of the street.
“I’ve been concerned about the erosion of the neighbourhood over the past number of years since Google arrived,” Flynn said. “The area is beginning to look more and more like a Google complex and a compound.”
Notwithstanding the pluses of the designs, Flynn said, he would ask, who is it for? “Who is leading this project?” he asked. “Has this happened at the request of Google?”
Landscape architects Gustafson Porter + Bowman were commissioned by Google to redesign the street and work with the council and Irish Water on the planting and drainage system, Dixon had said in his presentation.
Dixon said, though, that it was a Dublin City Council project. “Funding will be provided by Google but not the entire funding. And that is in negotiation at the moment with Google as to how much the overall job will cost.”
“Dublin City Council were able to use the design consultancies that Google were able to pay for to bring on board, but I can assure you, it was only done to the standards and the wants of Dublin City Council,” he said.
Google did not respond to queries sent Tuesday afternoon on what kind of input it had on the designs, how its decision to fund the project came about, and how it responds to concerns around influence over a public street.
Who Leads a Project?
If the Barrow Street scheme is successful, said Dixon, it could be a future model for third parties who want to contribute to the enhancement of an area, outside of small improvements that may be part of a planning permission.
“This could go further, whereby Dublin City Council would then take out a Part 8 [which is when the council itself applies for planning permission] and enhance a greater area on foot of a contribution from a developer or a company,” he said.
In Portobello Square, where the council struck a deal with developer MKN Property to fence off much of the public space while it builds a hotel nearby, there has also been talk of an agreement – albeit nothing in writing – for the developer to contribute cash towards the redesign of the square.
In that case, debate has centred around whether the square needs a redesign, and whose needs and wants would be considered most in any future plans.
A council spokesperson said that the council would run the plaza redesign and consultation. “Local residents and businesses can have their say as part of the consultation, including the hotel developer.”
Who Gets Improvements?
At Monday’s meeting of the South East Area Committee, Tara Deacy, a Social Democrats councillor, said she wondered how it came about that Barrow Street had gotten this project.
Residents in other neighbourhoods, like Kimmage, which is awaiting a local area plan – a council-endorsed vision for a neighbourhood – would love to see similar designs and funding, she said.
“Some of that infrastructure that’s there looks really really cool and I’m sure a lot of us would like that out in Kimmage,” she said.
“I’m wondering, is it part of the local area plan, or what’s the, kind of, historical basis for it? Maybe it could be repeatable in other parts of the area,” she said.
Deacy said that Kimmage in particular has a lot of Strategic Housing Developments. “So I’m just wondering if there’s a space for us to actually have a conversation around this piece.”
“This is a particular project, on a particular road, because of particular circumstances,” said Dermot Lacey, a Labour councillor. “Google are not gonna spend the money on Barrow Street, in Kimmage, I mean that’s just the reality.”
Said Flynn: “But it is Google being favoured here, as opposed to anybody else. That’s the issue that I’m raising.”
Lacey said he shared some of those concerns. “But let’s see what happens from the public consultation.”
The scheme will go out to public consultation on 23 March, said Dixon, for people to give their views. Submissions will be accepted until 6 May, he said.