Tuesday 22 January 2019

Cherrywood: bold vision for Dublin's next big thing

Can a new town close to the size of nearby Bray - and home to 30,000 - really work?

Into the future: Reporter Kim Bielenberg visits Cherrywood, the site of the proposed new town.
Into the future: Reporter Kim Bielenberg visits Cherrywood, the site of the proposed new town.
Cherrywood map
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

It promises to become the biggest new town in South Dublin since the development of Tallaght in the 1970s. This week, planning applications were submitted for the first phase of Cherrywood - a massive site that has been blighted by controversies and delays in the past.

If all goes to plan, up to 30,000 people will live at Cherrywood by early in the next decade, making it bigger than towns such as Athlone and Ennis, and almost as large as Bray.

The section of the town to be developed in the latest plan will incorporate 3,800 homes, shops, offices, restaurants, a cinema, a bowling alley, parks, a gym, four schools and playing pitches.

The developers and planners will be keen to learn from mistakes of the past, and Ireland's chequered history of new towns.

Tallaght, in its early stages, was considered one of the worst examples of urban planning. From the 1970s on, the population grew to more than 70,000 - but it was only more recently that the area was given a proper town centre, a hospital and a tram link to the city centre.

The story of the new town at Shannon near Limerick is similar, with retail facilities described as chronically inadequate before its shopping centre was revamped a decade ago.

At Adamstown, the infrastructure was put in early - with schools, and a rail link - but the ambitious project near Lucan stalled, largely as a result of the economic crash.

What emerged was nothing like the masterplan launched by Bertie Ahern in the Celtic Tiger era. There are fewer homes than originally envisaged and just a small scattering of shops.

While most Irish towns tend to develop in a piecemeal fashion, the American developers, Hines, hope to build many of the facilities at Cherrywood first, such as the roads and the parks.

The area already has four Luas stops, linking it with heavily populated areas such as nearby Sandyford, Dundrum and the city centre.

Brian Moran, managing director of the Irish arm of Hines, says: "It's very much the American model, where you put in the infrastructure first. We will be building parks, and planting 3000 trees - these will be allowed to mature for two years before the first residents move in."

Moran says that when the facilities are put in place first, the properties become more attractive to buyers.

As one of the biggest builders in the world, Hines has deep enough pockets to take a long-term view of the market. Developers here have tended to tack any facilities onto the project at the end, once they have raised money from the sale of houses.

Hines, which is based in Texas, already manages assets worth $85bn, and specialises in developing new residential districts.

Traditionally, our housing estates have tended to rely on car transport, but in the new town there will be an emphasis on making it easy to walk or cycle safely. In the housing areas there will be a speed limit of 30kph.

There are plans for four schools in the town - two primary and two secondary - and these will be within easy walking distance of the homes.

"It is a walkable district and there will be a network of Greenways for bicycles that will not be open to traffic," says Moran.

Unusually, he hopes that the town could incorporate an urban farm at the adjoining Lehaunstown Park.

"Residents will be able to see how their food goes from farm to table," he says. "Within the development there could be an area of land dedicated to growing vegetables. There would be an urban farmer who does this professionally, but the residents would also get involved. They would pay a fee per month that entitles them to vegetables."

Moran also hopes to bring in artisan food producers to the area - including a cheese-maker, a baker and perhaps a craft brewer. These could occupy an area around the old house. "This would help to create a soul for the community. It would be something authentic."

Past experience shows that not all great masterplans such as that at Cherrywood come to fruition. The area has been designated as a Strategic Development Zone since 2010, but concrete plans have been slow to emerge.

Visitors coming to Cherrywood by the Luas pass through open fields before arriving in a station that seems to be surrounded by a vast hole in the ground.

While a business park containing Dell computers and some houses were developed during the boom, the Luas stations are surrounded by empty spaces.

"During the boom, the developer was anticipating building right away, but after excavating the site, it all came to a shuddering halt. When the town centre is built, it will be on a podium at the elevated level of the Luas track - car parking, and much of the road access, will be at lower level, and this should make it easier for pedestrians to move through the streets," says Moran.

Lorcan Sirr, lecturer in housing studies at Dublin Institute of Technology, hopes Cherrywood will avoid some of the pitfalls of other new towns. He believes these types of developments work better if there is a mixture of different housing types and property use.

"In places like Tallaght, they built housing estates consisting entirely of social housing, and that was a recipe for disaster, " says Sirr.

Cherrywood will have a mix of different housing types, from houses to apartments, and will aim to appeal to buyers and renters aged from 25 to 85.

As well as single workers and families, the developers will target the area's high population of "empty nesters", who are seeking to trade down as their grown-up children finally move away.

Local Green Party councillor Ossian Smyth says one positive aspect of the development is that the developers will rent out many of the apartments to tenants for 20 years.

"This should help to ensure that quality is maintained, and we do not get apartment schemes like Priory Hall. They have a long-term interest in ensuring that the buildings are still standing after 20 years," he says.

A key to Cherrywood's success or failure will be the quality of its design.

"We hope to encourage architectural diversity, and the buildings should be on a human scale.

''We will have a number of different architects and they will be almost be competing with different styles," says Moran.

Lorcan Sirr says: "If homes are badly designed and constructed, people don't want to live there and you have a transient population. That has been a problem in the past."

Another concern is the effect on the old town of Dun Laoghaire, situated six kilometres away. It has already seen many shops close as business drains away to shopping meccas such as Dundrum Town Centre.

On the other hand, if public transport links with Dun Laoghaire were improved, a vast residential district on its doorstep could bring in business.

Local Fianna Fáil county councillor Cormac Devlin says there is a real challenge for Dun Laoghaire to find its niche.

"If Cherrywood is developed in the way it is proposed, it will be a real great addition to the area," says Devlin.

"There is a shortage of housing in the area at the moment and this is more dramatic than elsewhere, because there are few parcels of land."

South County Dublin is hemmed in by the Dublin mountains, and in the future developers will have to concentrate on redeveloping existing sites.

While he welcomes the development of Cherrywood, Devlin warns that traffic and transport in the area will have to be sorted out.

The Green Luas line, which runs from the site into the city centre, is already close to full capacity, and the trams are often packed.

The new town is also at the junction of the N11 and the M50, the two main routes through South Dublin. During rush hour, traffic on these roads is already often bumper-to-bumper.

With a new town of 30,000 people on the doorstep, planners will have to ensure that it does not become a vast traffic bottleneck.

Lorcan Sirr is confident that the planned new town at Cherrywood will be more successful than Adamstown. "It is in a more attractive location than Adamstown, even though it is further out of the city," he says.

It is notable that the vast majority of the homes in the Cherrywood scheme are apartments - and many of these are scheduled to be completed by 2019.

Moran of developers Hines says: "In Ireland there is now a greater acceptance of apartment living than there was in the past. A lot of it is down to affordability.

''Housing is more expensive now relative to wages than it was 20 or 30 years ago. So, people have to wait longer to buy houses.

"There is also a change in lifestyle. People are a lot more mobile than they were. So, they don't necessarily want to make the commitment to buying a home."

Those who are desperately seeking homes in the area will hope that the vision is realised, but prices are unlikely to be cheap.

New town in numbers

Cherrywood map

Up to 3,800 homes will be built at Cherrywood under plans by developer Hines. There will be 2,800 apartments and 1,000 houses.

The town is linked to the city centre by the Luas Green line, and there are four stops in the area. There are plans for four new schools in the town, as well as three parks. Beckett Park will be named after the playwright Samuel Beckett, who grew up in the area.

If the project proceeds on schedule, the retail and residential area in the town centre should be finished by 2019. Work is due to start in the spring and the initial building project will create 150 jobs.

The US-based Hines group bought the 400-acre sit a year ago from receivers working for the National Asset Management Agency and a number of banks. Hines manages up to $85bn worth of property worldwide. Their project at Cherrywood will cost an estimated ¤2bn to develop.

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