Can Dublin Port revamp project make the capital feel like a maritime city again?
Because Dublin Port’s latest grand design is promising to make the docklands more accessible and attractive than ever before.
SO why might Dublin soon be going back to its roots as a maritime city?
Last Tuesday, port authorities launched a public consultation process on their 3FM project, the third and final stage of a masterplan for the area’s development up to 2040.
Along with eye-catching transport developments such as a new bridge across the Liffey, it involves many social amenities that could transform Dublin Port into more than just a place of business.
While some local residents are already objecting to this €400m scheme, there’s no denying the scale of its ambition.
“It will open up the waterside in new ways to Dubliners,” claims Dublin Port’s chief executive Barry O’Connell, “and help deepen understanding of the huge contribution the everyday work of the Port brings to all of our work and home lives.”
Why does Dublin Port need to expand?
Because it’s becoming a victim of its own success.
Ever since Vikings made our capital the biggest slave outpost in western Europe, sea trading has been vital to its economy.
Dublin Port weathered the twin storms of Brexit and Covid-19 remarkably well, but now this 265-hectare site is projected to reach its maximum cargo capacity of 77 million tonnes per annum within 10-15 years.
That’s why Dublin Port has devised Masterplan 2040, which is already well advanced on its first two phases developing land north of the bay.
So what does the final part of this plan involve?
3FM is focused on the Poolbeg Peninsula. For a start, it includes a new 190-metre bridge adjacent to the Tom Clarke Bridge and parallel to the East Link Toll Road.
This is part of a 2.2km Southern Port Access Road (SPAR), designed to take heavy goods traffic off local streets. The bridge will have a reservation strip for a future Luas connection to Poolbeg, serving future housing developments at the old Glass Bottle site.
With over 16km of cycle and pedestrian paths, Masterplan 2040 says Dubliners should “benefit from a safer, less congested route for active travel across the city”.
3FM also involves building a new container terminal beside the ESB Poolbeg Power Station. It will have the capacity to handle 353,000 units a year, over twice as much as all other Irish ports put together.
An extra terminal for Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) freight will be constructed at a 12.6 hectare site just north of the Sean Moore Roundabout, to cope with the extra European traffic caused by Brexit.
Another important element of 3FM is a 325-metre ship turning circle in front of Pigeon House Harbour, allowing 240-metre ferries (the largest class of vessels) to revolve safely.
But what’s in it for the local community?
This is what will interest most Dubliners. 3FM wants to create a new ‘Maritime Village’ where people can socialise, exercise and take part in water activities.
The cornerstone would be a “modern sailing and rowing campus” with a boatyard and skills training space.
For landlubbers, the blueprint includes a 2.8-hectare ‘Port Park’ with 5G floodlit sports pitches and a dog run.
A waterside public plaza, meanwhile, would give visitors the chance to sit and watch Dublin Port’s daily activities in comfort.
So what’s not to like about Dublin Port’s vision?
Plenty, according to the local Sandymount and Merrion Residents’ Association (SAMRA). In a statement last Tuesday, SAMRA complained that it’s wrong for Dublin Port to take up so much storage space around Poolbeg – especially when we have such a serious housing crisis.
The group has called for an international comparator study to find out if Dublin Port’s current use of land is as efficient as it could be.
“This creeping type of port development is not how this unique finite city central resource should be used,” says David Turner, chairman of SAMRA. “It may suit the businesses operating in the port, but it is regressive for the needs of the community. 3FM needs to return to the drawing board.”
Can everyone at least agree that Dublin’s docklands are in serious need of a lift?
Yes. Once home to a large working-class community, this area declined throughout the 20th century along with traditional industries.
Despite Celtic Tiger-era developments such as the Irish Financial Services Centre, the National College of Ireland and various residential blocks, it’s still somewhere most Dubliners pass through quickly on their way to or from the city centre.
In recent years, it’s also developed an unfortunate reputation for anti-social behaviour.
“We are seeing gangs… congregating on the Samuel Beckett Bridge, coming over the North Quays and into the George’s Dock area,” local Fine Gael councillor Ray McAdam warned on Newstalk radio last November. “People feel they’re being terrorised.”
What else is being done to try and improve the docklands?
Quite a bit. Last month, Custom House Quarter applied for planning permission to turn the ground floor of its listed 19th century building into a food hall with 30 market units, restaurant and event space.
While Dublin City Council has scrapped its plan to turn the derelict George’s Dock into a whitewater rafting facility, campaigners are pressing for a heated outdoor swimming pool at the same location.
Meanwhile, the businessman who has arguably done more than any other to breathe new life into Dublin’s docklands says he’s not finished there yet.
Harry Crosbie (who created the Point Theatre in 1988) now has plans for the abandoned dry docks near his Hanover Quay home, which include a music venue twice the size of Vicar Street where bands would play with 20 foot of water above their heads.
“Come on lads, let’s do something bold, brave, extraordinary and unique,” the Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof recently wrote in support of Crosbie.
“Just for once, let’s consider the social value over the monetary readies and just y’know… go for it.”
Finally, what’s the timetable for 3FM?
Over the next few weeks, Dublin Port plans to hold a series of public information days in Poolbeg, Ringsend and Clontarf. After that, the company will lodge a planning application with An Bord Pleanála some time this summer.
If all goes according to schedule, construction work should begin in 2026 and be completed by 2039.