The Dún Laoghaire Masterplan sets out a 20 year vision for the harbour. Photo Gillian Mills

John Hearne
Despite opposition from a variety of quarters, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company (DLHC) Ltd has formally adopted its masterplan with minimal changes arising from its latest public consultation phase.

The plan sets out how the harbour will realise its potential as a major marine, leisure and tourism destination over the next twenty years. It incorporates a range of highly ambitious objectives – from extensive retail and residential development – to the construction of an International Diaspora museum, and plans to bring cruise ships to the port.

Overall plans are encapsulated in the harbour company’s vision statement: 

‘Dύn Laoghaire Harbour will be recognised as an exciting marine, leisure and tourism destination of international calibre; one which elegantly integrates the local town with an historic 200 year old harbour, and which offers a striking blend of modern amenities mixed with a traditional marine ambience in a Dublin Bay setting, making it one of the most beautiful man-made harbours in the world.

The Dún Laoghaire Masterplan sets out a 20 year vision for the harbour. Photo Gillian Mills

The Dún Laoghaire Masterplan sets out a 20-year vision for the harbour. Photo Gillian Mills

Twenty-year vision
The masterplan, which was formally adopted on October 4, sets out a twenty-year vision for the harbour. Ahead of the formal adoption of the plan, the company ran a phased public consultation process, which in the first instance sought ideas to inform the first draft. The second phase invited submissions following the publication of that draft.

These submissions came from a wide array of sources: private citizens; politicians; boat clubs; commercial entities and harbour users. The harbour company then produced a report summarising these submissions and set out how the masterplan was impacted by them.  This report identifies sixteen areas on which stakeholders sought changes.

According to the report, a number of submissions highlight opposing views on certain issues.

‘One of the objectives of this report is to strike an appropriate balance between these opposing views, but also to consider how the interests of the proper planning and sustainable development can be ensured in the Harbour area.’

In nine of those sixteen areas, the DHLC rejected all possibility of change, while in the remaining seven, changes were minimal, frequently involving no more than the deletion or addition of a word or phrase.

In general, the report says there was strong support in favour of the overall concepts underpinning the masterplan and its objectives. It also notes broad acceptance that the draft masterplan significantly improved public access to the waterfront and enhanced the public realm.
Strong support was also registered for the Irish International Diaspora Centre, the provision of which is an objective of the local authority development plan.

Cruise ships concern
Several of plan’s objectives have however raised significant concerns among stakeholders. There was a mixed response to the cruise ships initiative. While it was acknowledged that cruise ships might bring economic benefit, concerns centre on the economic viability of such a move, as well as the adverse visual impact and the adverse impact on marine leisure activities.

A cruise ship is a substantial physical proposition. It can stand up to seventeen storeys high, accommodating up to 5,000 passengers and 2,300 crew.  It’s also worth noting that Dublin port welcomed 85 liners in 2010. One has to wonder the strategic advantage to the State of competition for this business from a port fifteen miles to the south.

In refusing to change its plans, the DHLC says that the cruise ship facility will only be promoted if there is a robust economic and business case for it. This is a caveat frequently deployed by the harbour company, which adds that determining the economic rationale for a project lies beyond its remit. Nor does the port company consider how any of its proposals might be funded.

Economic justification?
Although the company says there was broad support for the construction of a hotel on St. Michael’s Pier, given the current state of the hotel industry, it’s hard to imagine how such a proposal could be in any way feasible in the short to medium term.

It should be said however that this is a long-term plan, subject to review every five years. It’s conceivable that economic conditions could change sufficiently over the life of the plan to make the hotel a realistic proposition.

In the same vein, the harbour company has refused to alter its plans for a residential development on St. Michael’s pier, despite objections on scale and the privatisation of a public space.

Again, given the fact there are forty-nine ghost estates in South Dublin, with nearly 9,500 empty or unfinished units, the economic case for further residential construction is non-existent. Again, it’s possible that this may change over the life of the plan.

The report says the proposed International Diaspora Centre has been well received generally. It is envisaged that the centre will offer genealogical information; run Irish history exhibitions and be a ‘multi-cultural hub.’

‘It will not rely solely on the passengers from cruise liners, but will also cater for Irish visitors, overseas tourists, school groups and newly arrived immigrant communities. The architectural design will set a benchmark for living culture centres.’

Once again, despite the fact that feasibility or funding are not considered, the masterplan has set a highly ambitious target of one million visitors per annum for the centre.  

A target of 1m visitors per annum is a realistic target, given that the Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Zoo attract in excess of 700,000 visitors per annum.

In the absence of any elaboration, it’s difficult to see how the success of an attraction as long-established and substantial as the zoo can have anything to say about a proposed museum in Dun Laoghaire.  

There have also been queries in relation to process, with submissions asking whether or not an analysis of submissions will be publicly made available. The harbour company has responded coyly, saying it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

It does point out however that the public consultation process has been extensive.

There have been in excess of 75 meetings with stakeholders since December 2010, including user groups, interested parties, statutory authorities and Dύn Laoghaire County Council.’

A copy of the masterplan and associated environmental report are available for public inspection at the offices of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, Harbour Lodge, Crofton Road, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin and on the website of the authority, www.dlharbour.ie.