The OPW, Failte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, have commissioned a review of the ‘visitor experience’ of the Phoenix Park. The ‘Draft Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review’ sets out 29 recommendations and changes to the Park. I believe it is important for all those that value the Phoenix Park, to engage with the review and inform the OPW of observations or suggestions that may have on these proposals.
As part of the public engagement process, I have submitted a letter to the OPW outlining the issues I have with the draft review. This can be read as follows:
Ms. Cathy Mahon,
To Whom It May Concern,
The Phoenix Park lies adjacent to a large part of the Dublin West constituency which I represent in Dáil Éireann. My constituents in Ashtown, Castleknock, Blanchardstown and Navan Road regard the Park as a precious amenity and they are very vigilant about development proposals such as those contained in the current Strategic Review. I also live nearby, as indeed I have done for most of my life. I visit the Park often and accordingly I have both a huge personal and political interest in its amenities.
1. At the outset, I have to object to the extraordinarily brief time allocated for the public consultation and the limited opportunity for local committees and residents to fully view a document of such length and importance.
2. Even at this stage I urge that a series of town hall type meetings be convened with the consultants in attendance to fully explain the suggestions made in the document. The availability of the entire document online is no substitute for discussion and is not an adequate form of consultation.
3. I suggest that copies of this document be placed in libraries and community centres in the areas surrounding the park. This would give the public an opportunity to look at it in detail. Further I suggest that the authors of the study meet and consult the public, residents’ associations and others who are interested in the Park. The engineers involved in BusConnects, which was initially a computer desk-based survey, would confirm that the consultations which have been held in that instance have helped them to understand local geography and topography in a way that cannot be done from a desk in a consultant’s office.
4. A number of initiatives are already underway in the Park which have wide support. One of these is the rehabilitation of the Magazine Fort, and another is the competition announced by the OPW to design a pedestrian/cycle link to the National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge.
5. In my view, these should proceed as soon as possible as they would undoubtedly be of immense value in their own right and deserve adequate funding to enable completion.
6. I do not think that a spate of studies and reviews should be an excuse for delaying these important projects which have an intrinsic and long accepted justification irrespective of more general Park development plan.
7. I may add that I doubt if there would be much public support for any proposal to develop a large restaurant type outlet adjacent to the Fort. A modest café is one thing but a large outlet would not at all be in keeping with the commemorative environment of the Fort.
8. I have some serious misgivings at the repeated emphasis on retail facilities in the document as part of the visitor experience. Of course, there is scope to increase the capacity of the cafes at the visitor centre and elsewhere but that should not be expanded to include large scale retail and catering facilities that would seriously change the character of the Park in a manner that would undermine its primary purpose and would be entirely contrary to the maintenance of the sense of peace and tranquillity that people love about the Park.
9. I have considerable reservations about the inclusion of Fáilte Ireland as a designated stakeholder. Of course, it is right and proper that tourism interests be consulted and their suggestions examined with respect. That is quite different to having the status of stakeholder with an elevated sense of control and veto. Young tourists and international students flock to the Park at present and clearly love the experience. A change to the Park’s existing character could well undermine the very thing that attracts them.
10. I support the notion of a train stop in or adjacent to the Park on the recently reopened line from Kildare. That would offer a convenient mode of transport from the City to the Park for many visitors and families. The proximity of the train stop to the Zoo would be an added bonus and offer an alternative to the use of cars.
11. I can support the idea of Welcome Centres at different gates as long as the design is done carefully and sensitively. I might suggest that the OPW examine the use of the existing former military building on Parkgate St for this purpose as it is a very fine building. I’m sure suitable alternative office accommodation could be found nearby for the current users.
12. I would like all the Park Gates to be reinstated as soon as possible and should continue to be a feature of all entrances.
13. The proposal to have a Visitor Centre for families with children at the Knockmaroon-Mount Sackville entrance and to refurbish the existing wooden building there is a good idea. I believe its success depends on having a constant staffing presence due to the remote location. A small artisan café could achieve this purpose. Otherwise it will suffer the same fate as the existing deserted pavilion at this spot.
14. Special consideration needs to be given to the Peoples’ Gardens at the Parkgate St entrance. It is a vital component of the Park’s sense of tranquillity. I suggest the restoration of the Rockery as a key element in the Gardens.
15. The Parkgate St entrance is adjacent to the terminus of the 46A bus service which is an important link to the City Centre. The existing but unused toilet blocks there should be demolished and replaced by a modern facility. There is a popular children’s playground there and it is important that consideration be given to supervision and security for the children.
16. I suggest that both the existing playgrounds for children need to be retained and indeed there is a strong case for having additional ones, for example at Knockmaroon.
17. From a tourism point of view the Park and its surrounding areas have strong literary connections, notably to James Joyce. Many years ago, Fiona Shaw gave a memorable performance of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Magazine Fort as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. I believe such events should be encouraged and promoted in any scheme of activities in the restored Fort.
18. There is scope for using the Park to host a programme of sporting and fitness activities for adjacent schools, notably disadvantaged schools that do not possess their own sports facilities.
Joan Burton TD