Arrested development: Dublin 8′s long wait for a playing pitch and a prime site in council ownership

The Marrowbone Lane depot site in Dublin 8 and the ongoing controversy surrounding its redevelopment is a perfect microcosm of the problems that bedevil this State.

The 11-acre plot at the heart of the Liberties, a stone’s throw from the Guinness Storehouse, could have delivered a vital piece of infrastructure to one of the city’s most densely-populated and socially deprived areas but a combination of political inertia, competing sectoral interests and planning gridlock means the prime site has been largely derelict for over a decade.

On one side is a council services depot. The council says the facility is operational but locals say there are no trucks going in and out. The depot encompasses several rundown sheds and semi-vacant storage yards. At the southern end, dozens of lamp-posts removed from city streets lie strewn on the ground, rusting and overgrown with moss. Council workers use another part as a makeshift car park. It’s a scene of dilapidation, crying out for redevelopment.

Dublin City’s former chief executive Owen Keegan (as far back in 2016) had mooted the idea of turning the site into a super depot for city services as it is located a short distance from several big social housing complexes.

The plan was to consolidate depots on the site to free up other depot sites on council-owned land for social housing.

On several occasions, councillors have voted to rezone the site as green space and an objective to develop it as a recreational area is contained in the current city development plan. They claim the votes were not designed to kibosh the council’s plan but to get it to compromise on its revamped depot proposals.

The council’s plan allocates 45 per cent of the site to social housing, seen by many as a political imperative given the city’s housing crisis. But locating a bigger services depot with the likely throughput of trucks alongside housing is now viewed as problematic.

Coming in on top of both these agendas (and trumping them in many people’s eyes) is what local residents and several community groups have been campaigning for, a playing pitch, something parents and children in most other parts of the country take for granted.

The local Liberty Saints rugby club trains on a nearby patch of green, the size of two tennis courts. With no home pitch, it plays only away matches. The local GAA club, St Kevin’s, leases a pitch on the Crumlin Road in Dublin 12 while the local soccer club Usher Celtic uses a pitch on TUD’s Grangegorman campus on the north side of the city.

According to the 2022 census, the 15 electoral divisions of Dublin 8, in the southwest inner city, have a population in excess of 47,000; the population within a 1km radius of St Kevin’s club rooms on Donore Avenue, however, reaches well over 50,000. Young people, under the age of 19, make up about 8,000 of that number. Yet there is no full-sized community playing pitch. For anybody. Think of where you live. Now think of that.

The broad benefits to the economy and society from young people having access to sports facilities are well established. Yet Dublin 8 is starved of such facilities.

“Dublin 8 is like a drawer in your kitchen that everything gets thrown into, there’s addiction centres, there’s homeless shelters, there’s student accommodation, there’s hotels, there’s breweries … but when it comes to actual services for people who are born here, grow up here and spend their childhood here, there’s nothing,” says Tom Magee of Sporting Liberties, an umbrella group of local sports clubs which has been spearheading the campaign for a playing pitch.

Magee says the area has been decimated by drugs and crime. He is passionate believer in the ability of sport to transform lives. “Sporting facilities would allow the young people of the southwest inner city the freedom, fun, belonging and connections that sport provides every other community,” he says.

The council, however, insists that the depot site provides key operational services “for the successful functioning of the city” while noting the redevelopment of the site remains “some time away” and that it “cannot be considered for the playing pitch” as it is required for essential services.

Sporting Liberties wants the council to deliver a full-size multi-sports pitch to facilitate GAA, soccer and rugby.

“This one site can’t solve all the problems of the area,” says Labour councillor Darragh Moriarty. “Yes, we are in a housing crisis, but to deliver the full-size playing pitch the community needs, I’d support taking the hit on residential here as numerous other nearby sites are going to provide significant public housing over the coming years.”

Moriarty says the council “wants to deliver green space, wants the young people of the area to have access to sporting amenities … I don’t think anybody, for a second, thinks the big bad council aren’t delivering the sporting amenities because they just want to spite the children of the area, they’re doing it because they’re constrained by the availability of land”.

A solution can “only be achieved by the local community, local councillors and city council management working together”, he says.

There is renewed hope that under a new Dublin City Council chief executive, in the form of Richard Shakespeare, and a potential changing of the guard at the upcoming local elections a more constructive solution, which facilitates both sides, can be found. It seems like a modest ask.


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