Saturday 17 March 2018

Put people first in Docklands

This week, Dublin City Council published its proposals for a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) in Dublin Docklands, which outlines the manner in which the lands should be developed. The move is intended to facilitate the council's takeover of the planning process for part of the docklands from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

The lands in question extend north and south of the River Liffey at a strategic location: North Lotts immediately adjoins the IFSC and Grand Canal Dock is in close proximity to the city's central business district and retail core area.

While excluding the Irish Glass Bottle site, the proposed SDZ comprises 66 ha of the overall 520 ha docklands area, with sites of approximately 22 ha (roughly equivalent in scale to the entire Custom House Docks/IFSC area) available for development.

It is proposed that 2,600 residential units and 305,000 sqm of commercial floorspace will be delivered within the SDZ lands.

Given the size and location of the SDZ, it has the potential to be a major employment hub and economic driver. It encompasses a number of cultural assets, such as the O2 and the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

There are specific challenges to attracting retail to the area and the scheme does not foresee it becoming a retail destination in its own right. DCC's draft scheme acknowledges that despite new bridges and a Luas extension, linkages to the city's core needs improvement.

The Irish Planning Institute (IPI) considers that the creation of sustainable and vibrant communities must be at the heart of any planning scheme.

The scheme should strive to strengthen the vibrancy, resilience and sustainability of our capital city as the place where people want to live, work, shop and enjoy recreation.

If we have learned anything from the Celtic Tiger, it is that the developer-led approach failed to deliver integrated communities. It is therefore imperative that planning goes back to first principles and ensures that development is in the interest of the 'common good'.

One should look at international best practice, where community planning has proved invaluable in creating healthy, vibrant and resilient cities.

Vancouver is one example of a city where the focus has been on building liveable, sustainable and inclusive communities.

It is perhaps for this reason that the city is considered to be one of the best places in the world to live. Community agencies and residents are consulted regularly to establish what their social issues are and how they can be addressed.

The city builds healthy communities through, inter alia, neighbourhood planning projects; creating an accessible city; supporting diversity and multi-culturalism; being age-friendly; and public-realm improvement schemes.

If we are to learn from international best practice, the IPI considers that the creation of strong and resilient communities must be at the heart of the planning scheme for the proposed SDZ.

The current population of the SDZ represents approximately a quarter of the wider docklands population.

Whilst the planning scheme focuses on building heights and densities for the area, we should ask where is the evidence of community engagement or influences on the scheme?

Is the focus on creating vibrant communities?

Does the scheme provide for sustainable land-use and transportation patterns?

Is the built environment, as envisaged in the scheme, what the current population within the Docklands want or will existing communities be displaced?

SDZs have been described as a 'fast-track' planning mechanism, but to ensure its success, the scheme must be holistic, driven by the community and include social infrastructure.

Dublin City Council's draft scheme, published this week, is open to submissions until May 10.

Joanna Kelly is president of the Irish Planning Institute

Irish Independent

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