The proposal for development at Dún Laoghaire baths must be set aside, writes Ciarán Cuffe
There has been a groundswell of opposition to the plans for the waterfront site of the Dún Laoghaire baths. The coastline is a precious amenity, particularly in urban areas, and a single building can hugely alter the appearance of this coastline.
Thousands recently took to the streets to protect their seafront from inappropriate development. They were demonstrating their concern at the county council’s plan to infill several acres of the seafront and construct a large building on the site.
They have good reason to be protective of their town. The coastline between Dún Laoghaire’s East Pier and Sandycove is particularly attractive, comprising the People’s Park, Sandycove Harbour and the Forty Foot swimming place, as well as a recently renovated promenade. Their worry is that to make the scheme stack up financially it has become far too large, and involves the sell-off of part of the site.
Many cannot understand how, in a time of unprecedented economic prosperity, the baths remain closed. People wonder why funding cannot be provided by the council to reopen the pool.
Development levies contribute over €10,000 to the coffers of the council for every new home built in the county, and the Dundrum Shopping Centre provides tens of millions of euro in commercial rates.
Until the late 1970s the Dún Laoghaire baths were open to the public to avail of an open-air pool and a toddlers’ pool fed by tidal sea water. Subsequently the pool was covered in and heated, but then closed some 15 years ago.
There was an aborted design competition for the baths site in 2003. Later that year the Green Party initiated a postcard campaign calling on the county manager to restore and upgrade the baths.
The county manager never formally responded to the campaign. The county seeks to implement the 2002 local coastal plan, which states “there is a potential for a two- to three-storey development over two basement levels”.
However, two months ago the council unveiled a scheme for an enormous development on the site. It involves infilling almost seven acres of Scotsman’s Bay and the construction of a massive building.
It proposes a 25m pool and a public park, but also contains 65,000 sq ft of restaurants and cafes, 330 car-parking spaces and 180 apartments. The council deferred a decision about the siteto its July meeting.
Residents were staggered to learn that the complex would be six to eight storeys high, with a 10-storey tower at the southern end. While there are many positive aspects to the development, what has united young and old against the proposal is its scale.
Council management has spared no effort in persuading a sceptical council to support the proposal. They organised a study trip to Bilbao in northern Spain to view the Guggenheim Museum on the Nervión river, and another tour is being mooted to visit Chicago’s waterfront.
There is also concern about the partial privatisation of the site. It is not right that private apartments would be built on the waterfront to pay for a public amenity that had been available to previous generations in poorer times.
Recent development in the wider Dún Laoghaire area has been less than satisfactory. Residents feel powerless as second-rate new developments overlook and overshadow their homes. There are exceptions. The extension to the County Hall is a notable addition to the town.
Something has to happen to the Dún Laoghaire baths. Undoubtedly the site should be developed, but on a modest scale. The opportunity to provide a building that respects the scale and grain of Dún Laoghaire should not be squandered.
The current proposal should be put to one side. The council should draw up various options for the site at next Monday’s meeting. Proper planning is crucial, and there is only one opportunity to get it right.
- Ciarán Cuffe is an architect and Green Party TD for Dún Laoghaire