Plans to build Ireland’s first national science centre have been hit by a further setback, as a fresh dispute has erupted over the project’s progress.
Construction of the €37m National Children’s Science Centre (NCSC) was due to begin last year, but was put on hold due to the pandemic and “other unforeseen circumstances”.
The NCSC board said works would instead begin at the end of this year, but it has now emerged that a row between the NCSC and the Office of Public Works (OPW) has gone to arbitration.
Planning permission for the purpose-built museum – aimed primarily at children aged between five and 14 – was received for the project from An Bord Pleanála in September 2016.
The OPW got the go-ahead to build the centre – also known as the Exploration Station – at the north wing of the National Concert Hall at Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin.
The museum would comprise 200 purpose-built exhibits including a planetarium, which will have a 15-metre dome and seating for 200 people. It is expected the planetarium alone would cost €2m to build and the centre would attract up to 150,000 visitors each year.
A petition objecting to the centre being built at that location has so far attracted more than 46,000 signatures due to concerns it would cause disruption to the nearby Iveagh Gardens.
Part of the gardens are to be used to accommodate the four-storey centre.
Actress Pom Boyd, who started the petition, described the project as a “white elephant” and argued it would be harmful to wildlife.
The planning approval stated: “On balance, the new building and plaza would make a positive contribution to the public realm and the works would not affect the integrity of the Iveagh Gardens, which is a protected structure.”
When the Irish Independent contacted the OPW for comment on the status of the project, a spokesperson said: “An arbitration process has commenced for the proposed new National Children’s Science Centre and it would be inappropriate to comment pending the outcome of this process.”
An original deal to deliver the centre was agreed in 2003, but the financial crash meant it did not go ahead.
A subsequent agreement, reached in 2013, stated the project would be completed in 2016.
In a presentation to Dublin City Council in 2015, members of the NCSC board said Ireland “is the only member state of the European Union to not have a major science centre”.
There are plans for special programmes to be put in place for schoolchildren over the summer, as well as placements for students in transition year.
Despite having funding, government backing and planning permission, the project has continuously been delayed.
The funding is two-pronged. All costs related to the state-owned north wing of the Concert Hall and its refurbishment were due to be handled by the Office of Public Works.
The rest is expected to be funded privately, through donations and patronage.
The Irish Independent contacted the NCSC board for comment.