Observations of the Ballintemple Area Residents’ Association
(Link to document with formatting maintained)
Date: 8th June 2012
RE: Public consultation on proposed master plan for Marina Park
To date we have met with Cork City Council and your representatives on two occasions. At an informal presentation (approx. 1 hour) in Blackrock Community Centre on 17th May 2012 and at the public presentation in the foyer of City Hall on 29th May 2012. At the first presentation an initial offering (the bid-winning presentation) was tabled and discussed and at the second consultation a revision of this was presented (initial proposals to the east of the Atlantic Pond curtailed to match the existing uses – more or less). While the consultations are described as being non-statutory they do have statutory basis under section 127 of the Local Government Act of 2001.
A word of warning
One of our main concerns with our interactions with City Hall to date in relation to this and the re-zoning of part of the parkland for the intended purpose of selling it to the GAA (interlinked issues from our perspective) is the complete lack of transparency in the decision making process. For this consultation to be effective and to gain the support of all the users an open decision making process should be in place. In terms of suggestions, proposals, uses and ownership this should allow for you to actively consider all suggestions. What does this mean? Well, what it doesn’t mean is the City Hall listening, nodding and then ignoring our suggestions. A one or two word response to proposals such as no change or not relevant suggests an arrogance on behalf of the City Council. It assumes that the public, the citizens don’t know their own mind and couldn’t be trusted to make any decisions of value. The up-shot of this is that the final proposal from the City Council is of dubious quality and doesn’t have the support of the wider community. This leads to counter-intuitive decisions that lead to eventual conflict. (i.e. why sell off zoned parkland – a rare and valuable asset – to the GAA at a greatly reduced price for another pitch – something in great supply?) This is our experience in relation to the re-zoning. Something we would encourage you to avoid. How would you avoid this? Well, by presenting all decisions in a clear and transparent way. For example:
Present the costing of ideas.
Weight ideas and suggestions based on a hierarchy of usage (i.e. user frequency has a stake holding value so you don’t value rare users needs in the same way as you value those of the everyday or frequent user). This prevents perverse outcomes.
Develop rational behind ideas and don’t hide behind ‘policy’ as some sort of fig-leaf for ignoring the best ideas.
Demonstrate your methodology. How did you gather your information? Bottom up (user surveys) or top down (City Hall knows best)
At the outset it should be made clear that our observations are presented in terms of ensuring that the best possible use of the existing lands is achieved to ensure that current and future residents and other users will enjoy the highest level of amenity from the proposed sub-regional park. At an Engineers Ireland public meeting and presentation in January 2009 about the Cork Docklands Mr. Coughlan, Senior Engineer, Cork City Council highlighted that the Marina Park would be a 33Ha park with key inputs from the public and other stakeholders in its design.
Our observations are made without prejudice. That is to say that if they are ignored or disregarded without any form of discussion or costing (as has been the case in previous consultations with Cork City Council) or if new information arises then we retain the right to alter or amend our observations.
Our observations are based on the two current conceptual presentations by OKRA and on the current and envisaged future uses for the open space.
It is not at all clear that the proposals presented to date take any account of the current uses of the area enclosed by the study area. There has been no evidence that a baseline survey of either the human uses or those of the flora and fauna has been undertaken. Our observations as residents living in adjacent proximity to the current open spaces show us that some of the following groups make up the daily users:
Local residents including
parent & toddlers
young children cycling
people playing football, hurling, other sports
Teenagers hanging out.
Senior citizens (active aging)
Enable Ireland residents
Other users with physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities.
Local Schools (Beaumont, Crab Lane, Ashton, The Ursulines etc) for exercise, nature walks & information/heritage.
Amenity views (the Blackrock Road ridge & the Montenotte ridge)
Local workers (lunch breaks, etc)
Visiting (normally by car) for
Feeding the ducks
Walking & recreation
The amenity walk: (Rochestown/Passage – City & City – Mahon Point)
The Marina/Monahan Road/Centre Park Road: (to city centre & beyond)
Dog Walkers & exercisers in general
Rowing (there are several clubs that use the marina for training).
Recreational jogging/keep fit
BHAA scheduled races (5k, 4 mile, etc)
Cork City Marathon
Olympic athletes training (Rob Heffernan & Olive Loughnane)
Model boat enthusiasts
Bird watching (twitching)
Visitors to Pairc Uí Chaoimh
Training & teams
Other facility users (school sports, etc)
Urban Orienteering & geocaching
Heritage users (national monument at Dundanion Castle)
There are some other uses that are less socially desirable such as street drinking, graffiti, prostitution and gay cruising which should not be encouraged as they intimidate and detract from normal use of the area. The City Council, the Gardaí and the GAA have done nothing to address these anti-social issues.
There are other baseline uses that need to be catalogued as well. The most obvious of these are existing flora & fauna and utilities (trunk sewers, watermains, gas lines, high voltage underground power lines and fibre optic cables).
One of our underlying views would be that an expanded catchment of users (the sub-regional aspect) from the proposed docklands re-generation and the users that would be ‘created’ (i.e. users who wouldn’t have visited previously but are now drawn to the area) by the quality of the amenity will have similar needs to the current users. Not all of the current users needs are met by the existing area (for example, there is no children’s playground). If you consider that other human uses are required in the future then a full argument should be made for these activities in terms of demand, frequency, cost and so on. This will prevent the situation where we have to navigate around under used and un-used spaces that were installed for the wrong reasons. For example – by creating facilities for infrequent activities like GAA matches to the detriment of daily users.
The second set of drawings presented on 29th May 2012 appears to show most of the lands to the east of the Atlantic Pond & Atlantic Pond pumping station un-altered from their current use – i.e. open space stays open space and wetland stays wetland. The lands around the Atlantic Pond and around the showgrounds appear to be used for either flood and stormwater management, GAA related activities or public park purposes.
2.1 Activity Space: From the proposed conceptual sketches presented at the two meetings it appears that the proposed uses have been categorised into layers. So there is a heritage layer, an exhibition or event layer, a water layer, an active use layer and so on. One of our initial concerns was that the active use layer (how people would use the proposed design of the park in terms of sport and recreation) was predominantly isolated to the lands zoned for the GAA. This seemed to assume that all activity was passive and related to spectating at organised pay-to-enter events. This could be more appropriately called entertainment.
It did highlight to us that the assumed needs of current & future users in terms of unorganised activity space (individual/family/group meetings for socialising and exercise) had been ignored.
The health and social benefits from this sort of open space are too numerous to mention here but they form the foundation of the need for the urban park in the 19th Century (Birkenhead, England, 1847). As the population ages and the work/life balance becomes more precarious the needs are as relevant now as they were then.
In the revisions presented on 29th May 2012 this had been addressed somewhat with the GAA car parking space at the western end of the show grounds now showing more activity space and the un-maintained green area bounded by the railway walk, Dundanion castle and the marina to the east now being shown for activity space (same as current use). Some of the space shows dedicated spaces for specific activities such as skateboarding. Can you demonstrate that these activities justify a specific space (demand, cost, social benefit etc)?
We have made much of our need for flat open space. Much of the existing green lawn and parkland areas within the Atlantic pond/Marina are either severed by paths or are steeply sloped so they cannot be fully exploited for amenity. As such, there is a hierarchy of quality in terms of these spaces and the current green spaces do not make up a coherent and usable space. We would like to see clearly defined communal activity spaces.
There is, within the definition of unorganised activity space, plenty of scope for activities and spaces that will cater for children’s playgrounds, adult outdoor gyms, outdoor chess, yoga & stretching, multiple surfaces, art installations, etc.
The current conceptual designs show much of the open spaces as heavily planted with either woodland or specimen trees. While we have no real objection to this in principle we would ask that this urban woodland is confined as much as possible to marginal lands (steeply sloping lands, verges, etc). This approach has the twin benefits of defining the open spaces, access and avenues and of stabilising sloping ground. The current proposal shows much of the western end of the showgrounds – all flat and suitable for open spaces- heavily planted with trees. This is not the best use of the lands from our perspective.
2.2 Event Space: The event space in the current drawings appears from our brief examination to consist of informal exhibition spaces that overlap with the open spaces and the GAA grounds (including the proposed all-weather pitch).
While it is outside of the study area the land immediately to the northwest of the showgrounds (called the NAMA lands/the Howard Holdings Land/the old Ford compound) is a current event space. It caters for the annual fun fair (Easter) and for the ‘Live at the Marquee’ event (June & July). It has previously hosted Cork on Ice (November – January until 2010). Given the state of the property market in Ireland these events are likely to continue on this site for the medium term (for at least the next 10 years). We think this should be considered in terms of the layout of the proposed plan. To ignore it is to ignore reality.
The existing GAA grounds (Pairc Uí Chaoimh) hosts events with attendance ranging from a few thousand to up to 45,000. The effect that this has on the area in terms of badly designed event management is well documented. Not least among these problems is the use of private cars to access the area. This leads to congestion and causes problems with emergency vehicle access because of poor parking. The use of private transport to access Pairc Uí Chaoimh doesn’t make sense. We would not be in favour of encouraging access by private car and would not support the use of parkland for temporary parking for GAA hosted events. Sustainable alternatives such as pedestrian pathways, cycleways and bus routes to the Marina should be incorporated. These are low cost, can be funded by development charges levied on the GAA, do not sacrifice parkland for infrequent parking and can be used throughout the year by other Marina park users.
The other event spaces do not have enough detail associated with them to be able to comment on the proposals. Our view would be that events and activities that enhance the community and the area in general would be welcomed. For example, it may be possible to re-locate the Sunday food market currently held in the car park at Blackrock Village.
2.3 The proposed second GAA pitch: All of the drawings presented to us to-date show this proposed second all-weather pitch in the most inappropriate location possible. It is blindingly obvious that the current location is about as damaging as it can be to the integrity of the over all Marina Park.
We think that this is the most wasteful use of expensive and scarce public parkland. The proposed pitch is located on the area of land that is of most benefit to current and future park users in terms of ease of access, proximity, park integrity, usefulness of space (i.e. it is open, flat, close to existing and future housing and businesses) The excuse that has been rolled out to us to date is that the City Council have agreed to sell the land so there’s nothing that can be done about it. This is a weak defence and has the potential to compound a bad decision with a bad design of the parkland around the pitch.
The lack of compromise in terms of the location of this pitch sets everyone on a collision course for conflict. We think that this is regrettable and could be avoided.
We think that the conceptual design of the Marina Park should explore other alternatives for locating this pitch so that the best possible solution can be arrived at. This may be ‘outside the brief’ but that is hardly a reason to ignore it. The consideration of alternatives would at the very least spark a debate about the best use of lands and how all groups can be accommodated (GAA, residents – current and new, visitors, City Council, businesses etc).
2.4 Water park: from the first two sets of conceptual drawings presented by OKRA it is obvious that much of the area of the park is given over to the handling and management of water. The prudent management of flood waters is a welcome development. Cork faces regular flooding risks from south easterly tidal surges and more recently from river flooding. The OPW have highlighted this area as being at risk from 10 year floods in the future (i.e. floods that occur on average once every 10 years). While this is a welcome development we are cautious as to why this is being given such priority.
The proposed Marina Park should not be used as a floodable area for private developers. Stormwater from the Docklands development and the proposed GAA developments should be managed on-site by the developers through a combination of SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) such as porous surfaces and storm attenuation systems such as floodable areas, storm holding tanks and retention systems. Currently Cork City Council makes it a condition of planning that new multi-storey buildings manage car parking on-site (see car parks under most new building including Cork City Hall). This should apply to rain water management and flood water from new developments such as the re-development of the Pairc Uí Chaoimh and the docklands in general.
If the stormwater facilities at the Marina Park cater for frequent events such as 0.5 or 1 year flood events it will render much of the area un-usable for long periods of time. This will have the effect of closing the park during floods in a similar fashion to the Lee fields to the west of the city. Also, the removal of existing open spaces that are accessed frequently to accommodate frequent flooding is not something we would consider acceptable. The up-grading of existing water courses (widening/deepening/installing storage weirs) to allow for storm storage will reduce the impact on open spaces and have the added benefit of up-grading the habitat quality of the existing neglected water courses.
The main water body at present is the Atlantic Pond (excluding the river Lee). The current habitat and users should be consulted before alterations are made (for example, the nesting Egret and Heron populations, the water depth acceptable for aquatic birds (swans, ducks, Egrets, etc), the existing submerged access to the island on the Atlantic Pond.
We would like to see more information in relation to this issue as we have major concerns that flood water storage for private and other developments will take from the public park. We fear that the City Council have purchased lands with public money with the predominant intent of enabling private development by offering them an area to dump their rain and flood water.
2.5 Environment & Heritage: Within the proposed Marina Park and immediately downstream of the park are several habitats and monuments that must be protected.
National Monument CO074-049 Dundanion Castle
National Monument CO074-120 Blackrock Railway Station.
Cork Harbour Special Protection Area SPA 004030
Douglas River Estuary Natural Heritage Area NHA 001046.
We have seen nothing in the existing proposal that suggests that the impact of the park development and of flood water management has been considered in terms of these issues. This should be addressed by The City Council.
Timelines & certainty of delivery
One of our concerns is that the proposed park design will never reach fruition. This may be because of a lack of money or some statutory impediment. This risk is that this will lead to a half-effort at construction or a 10 – 20 year delivery of the plan. The result for us is that we will have a building site in the place of the existing mature parklands we currently enjoy.
A realistic programme with phasing proposals and certainty of delivery should form part of the proposals.