James's Street Regeneration
Initial Meeting of Consultative Forum 15 January 2008
This was the first meeting of the Consultative Forum which was intended to contribute to the development of a planning framework and act as ongoing feedback to the Council on local perceptions of progress in the regeneration. The meeting, which was again facilitated by John Thompson Partners was very well attended.
The atmosphere was generally supportive of the consultant's methodology and performance to date, but the audience clearly had still some difficult questions to ask, satisfactory answers to which were not always forthcoming.
The Consultants kicked off with a brief recap on the previous presentation, but this time more in the form of a draft report. The consultants indicated that, in response to concerns arising from the earlier consultations, the area to be covered by the regeneration had been extended on the north side to the quays and in the south west to take in Maryland.
There was also a presentation of the initial stages of a streetscape plan for Thomas St. which the Council had commissioned.
Among the comments/questions from the audience were the following:
- despite previous requests there had been no indication given of the current extent and status of planning applications in the affected area, even though these could seriously affect the scope of the current exercise. There was no indication of (i) what was likely to happen, and (ii) whether it would conflict with the emerging wishes of the local population. In fact it looked like a rash of planning applications had been submitted in recent times; these were likely trying to get in ahead of the formulation of the planning framework in order to avoid being constrained by its requirements. There were calls from the audience for a moratorium on planning decisions until the proposed planning framework had been adopted by the Forum and the Council . This would ensure that individual decisions had regard to the overall plan for the area and would not pre-empt large areas of development.
- will there be funding for this regeneration? Where will it come from? Will it be relying exclusively on private developers? What funding would be provided by the Corporation? Where would Central Government and European funding fit in. Who would be calling the shots here?
- The City Council had now seen what was coming out of the consultations (in the form of a draft report). What was their reaction, if any? The consultants answered that the Council's request to them to proceed with drawing up a planning framework based on the outcome of the consultations constituted a positive response at this stage.
- this gave rise to people wondering what would be the status of of the planning framework when it finally emerged. Would it be legally binding on all concerned or would it simply be an indicative guideline that the planners could ignore if they so thought fit?
- there was a call for a clear statement of how the decision making process would work in this matter. Who would be making what decisions and in response to what pressures. And just as important, what was the timescale for these decisions? To what extent would they be made in advance of, and without regard to, the emerging planning framework?
- it was proposed that the Forum, at a future meeting, would operate through subgroups, each dealing with a specific heading. The Council had suggested adoption of headings which would correspond with its own administrative planning structure. This would make it easier to integrate any output into the planning process. However, when the audience wanted reassurance that important areas such as employment, health and education would be given sufficient prominence, the Council did not seem at all clear where these would fit into its suggested headings and opted for inclusion in a general social catch-all category.
- the likely route of the LUAS was also brought up but no indication was given of where things stand at the moment.
- there was a lot of discussion on the street plan for Thomas St. Some people found it difficult to understand how this could be done in isolation from the general regenration and there was a fear that this was evidence of the Council doing its own thing in spite of the consultation process. The consultants (Thompson) said they had ensured that the plan would take in the intersections with such important streets as Meath St. and Francis St. and the company engaged for the Thomas St. project said that they were open to suggestions, were actively walking the streets and had, that very day, engaged with the street traders. A member of the audience pointed out that the weekend would be a much better time to catch the street traders.
There was a feeling at this meeting that the process was running out of steam or losing its way. The operation was now coming bang up against the hard questions and there was a feeling that the Council was not fully engaged, that the developers were burrowing away behind the scenes and dealing directl with the Council, that the existing planning structures and legal framework were such that individual elements would end up being decided on while the consultative process chugged along its merry way and emerged finally to see the regeneration/development already in place and cast in concrete, so to speak.
It was worrying that the consultants kept finding themselves in a position of defending the Council, while the Council itself did not seem very enthusiastic on its own behalf.
I got the impression that the timescale for the consultations combined with the reported rush of planning applications (which have a statutory decision deadline) and the nebulous response of the Council to local concerns did not bode well for an outcome which met local aspirations.
I hope I am proven wrong. Feicimid.
The next meeting of the Forum was set for 26 February 2008.
POSTSCRIPT 28 March 2008
I don't really have the time to be writing up these meetings and I was encouraged to hear that people would henceforth be kept up to date via the internet. However, it doesn't seem to be working out quite as intended.
You were supposed to be able to keep in touch with developments here though I notice that the site has not been updated even to take account of the first Forum meeting. In fact it looks like it has been abandoned.
Meanwhile the new site devoted to this project is now on line. Enjoy!
POSTSCRIPT 27 August 2010
In checking out my links today (27/8/2010) I find that the site, www.theliberties.ie, has been suspended. I don't know how long this has been the case but it certainly confirms that the regeneration has been banjaxed by the current financial, economic and social crisis besetting the country.
Map of the Area
Originally bounded on the north by James's/Thomas St., south by Cork St.,
west by the hospital and east by Francis St. (illustrated below) the area is now to be extended going northwards to the quays and taking in Maryland in the sout west.