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James’ Children Hospital the Plans, the Politics

Rainbow Garden Childrens Hospital

Rainbow Garden Childrens Hospital

James’ Children Hospital the Plans, the Politics – In this expose, Dave Carr outlines the plans for the new hospital and how the locals are reacting

For a long time now, the planned – for new children’s hospital had appeared to slip to the back of people’s minds .Sure there’d been a flurry of interest after the Mater bid had come unstuck and later when St James’s became the next new favourite site. But pretty soon that interest fell away to join that not- to- worry list of all those other things that are years away yet.

Now, it appears the future is at hand. In recent days the bass thump sound of a pile driver could be heard emanating from the South Circular end of James’s hospital. Workers have been spotted surveying around the Streets of Rialto and on the Old Kimainham Road at the foot of the steps up to Cameron Square. Of itself this may amount to little more than prep work and, after all planning permission has not even been submitted, let alone granted. But locally the early morning sound of a digging work seems to have woken people up and focused attention on what could be, if it gets the thumbs up, the single most important building project in this state. People are talking, opinions are forming and lines are been drawn.

If its green lighted the hospital will no doubt have a profound effect on the local area. In the long run what’s on the cards is not just a hospital but the start of a true medical campus and together with the new Mercer’s “Institute for Successful Aging” building (which is presently rising from behind the hoardings along James walk) the start of a regeneration of James’ proper.

So let’s a take time out on the politics of which site is best for the nation’s children and zoom in instead on what it all means for the local area. What’s on the cards?  Who’s for it? Who’s against?  Why are they for or against it?

Overview of the planned Development

Overview of the planned Development

Click the above image to zoom in 

The usual ‘here’s how it should look when it’s finished’ images show a handsome although arguably imposing modern seven storey oval building complete with what’s been referred to  as a ‘therapeutic rooftop garden’ and its own courtyard. To avoid a structure of this size towering over the surrounding area the architects have opted to tier the build back from the South Circular entrance leaving  the more modest buildings to the fore and working back to the main structure.

It’s the question of just how imposing the main building will be that hangs over the minds of many residents. In truth, it’s difficult to tell. We’re only just starting to see more detailed planning and concept views and until recently the only imagery provided seemed to suggest the project is set to tower over the edge of Mount Brown. However a newly released overhead plan shows the main structure to be further back from the estate. How much further back? The planners claim it’s never going to be closer than 50 metres to the surrounding area, many residents remain unconvinced.

That same image points to what lies ahead for the entire Saint James’s area.  The new hospital stands shiny and tall and has the effect of making the rest of the campus appear shabby and piecemeal. In the long run this is all likely to change. The new MISA building is rising higher day by day and already, the planned – for “meadow field” may not be a green space for long, as permission is been sought to relocate the Coombe there and turn it into a future maternity hospital. Gradually, over the coming years, St James’s is set to change.

How are people on the ground responding to all this? Ask a local how they feel about the development and their answer will more than likely tell you where they live. Down the Old Kilmainam Road and around the corner up to Brookfield Road and the South Circular and reaction tends to run from reserved to hostile. Keep moving around the borders of the hospital and ask the same question in Rialto, Maryland and in and around the James’s Street entrance and the response will more than likely be positive. In one area the talk is of traffic and disruption and possible construction damage and the other of jobs, of opportunities and of local pride.

It’s the question of traffic, the comings and goings of what looks increasingly like a new small town that may give the surrounding residents pause. On Old Kilmainham Road down the hill from St James’s between the power station and the steps to Cameron Square a new entrance into the hospital and underground car park is planned. This involves levelling part of the hill, digging a basement, (although not tunnelling) and on completion arguably adding even more traffic to what is already a busy Street.

Many residents are less than pleased and recently invited ‘The New Children’s Hospital Alliance’ to address a meeting. The alliance objects to the chosen site and views it as a political decision. Speaking to this reporter former children’s cancer specialist Fin Breatnach sighted concerns about traffic congestion and a lack of space to expand and said “Trinity Collage have won the prize, unfortunately the desire to put the children’s hospital at St James’s hospital has very little to do with the needs of sick children”.

Divisions are emerging. Many at the meeting came from Ceannt Fort and near the Brookfield entrance to James. Some living near the entrance to the proposed entrance to the underground car park and on Brookfield Road had fears for the structure of their houses, but in the main the big concern was for traffic and all that comes with it. The question remains if the roads are busy now, how much busier are they set to get? It’s a question that they felt has not been met. Speakers spoke of been fobbed off and shafted.

Responding to this, the Children’s Hospital Design Director Phelim Devine says “We want to be neighbours and we want to be good neighbours”. We’re talking at the planning offices at St James’s and he’s clearly anxious to address local concerns.  He’s confident the project will not add to congestion and says the best traffic mobility experts have been employed to that effect. “Traffic won’t be anymore or be any less than it is right now“. This runs counter to local thinking which assumes new development will act as a honey pot, drawing traffic into what is an already busy area. Countering this he points out that the project is not just creating a new car park but building over an old one and is one of three developments. Satellite centres are planned for both Tallaght and Connolly which means that not every sick child will descend on James.

Later talking at Rialto’s F2 centre mobility manager Barry Mac Kenny goes into more detail. He promises a “robust mobility plan”. As it stands traffic around James’s is at capacity and the road through the hospital has become something of a rat run. He says the plan is to eliminate and redirect this through- traffic away from the hospital. Away where is maybe not so clear, but he does promise to work through any issues such as parking with residents. He’s adamant that “Dublin 8 won’t have an opportunity like this again”.

For some it’s an opportunity they could well do without. Some are flat out unconvinced by all this. Ceannt Fort resident John Lyons is asking questions and does not feel he or his neighbours are getting answers. He talks of “smoke and mirrors” and says “we’re being manipulated” and points to what he feels is a big gap between the original Dolphin proposal and what local residents now face.

The list of those residents’ objections is long and stretches from above their heads (the twin tower energy centre is to be rebuilt and it’s set to be bigger and deeper) to below their very feet (the sewage system is at capacity) and of course covers the ground, mostly in the form of more cars. He asks me have I seen how busy the Old Kilmainam Road is already and says “and they say there’s going to be no increase in traffic?” He’s sceptical of how this is to be achieved not least because he claims there is to be no room on site for contractor’s for parking. Most residents say that they don’t object to the hospital in principle but would rather something closer to an earlier proposal that spreads the development between three locations, St James’s, the Coombe and the Old John Player Wills factory on the South Circular Road

Rialto Pedestrian Entrance

Rialto Pedestrian Entrance

Arguably the most profound change is likely to come to the Rialto area to the south of James. Presently James Walk (which runs the length of the Luas track from Rialto Bridge as far as the turn off to Basin Lane) is shut off from the hospital by walls, hedges and hoardings. This has had the effect of cutting the area off not only from the hospital but from James Street and has created something of an ‘us and them ‘relationship between the between Rialto and St James’s.

The planned hospital is set to change all that. The word that keeps coming from the planners is ‘permeable’ which in essence means opening James’ up to Rialto. Next year brings the first breach in the wall, a pedestrian opening at the MISA building. If the hospital is green lighted then a second pedestrian entrance will follow opposite the Rialto Luas stop, leading directly on to the concourse running through the Oval of the main building and carrying on right through to the Old Kilmainam Road on the other side.

While some questioned the proposed helicopter pad, by and large the Rialto locals I spoke to expressed confidence in the development. The area still has shop space lying empty since the Fatima regeneration and people want those spaces filled.

In Rialto the talk is of Jobs. Talking to community co-ordinator Joe O’Donoghue at the F2 building in Rialto, he’s spelling out what the hospital can do for the local area. In the past, big developments bypassed residents and usually meant cranes appearing behind high hoardings with the odd construction Job thrown like a bone to keep the locals happy. Joe is emphatic that this time a deal has been struck that maximises community benefit and “this is not a Mickey Mouse contract.” That contract includes training elements with local schools and pathways to employment. Again and again the conversation keeps coming back to jobs “real and sustainable jobs are the only way to break poverty. The hospital offers employment opportunities during construction and when construction is completed.” Indeed, such an arrangement has been made to insure that the new development does employ substantially from the local area. Something that an area, which suffers from such deprivation could sorely use.

This whole project could tilt one way or another before we get a yes or a no from An Bord Pleanala early next year. In the mean time we can expect the mother of all propaganda wars. What’s really striking is how two viewpoints from people separated by little more than a few hundred feet can sit that far apart. The whole issue has laid bare fault lines that run under the surface of everyday life. One side has something to defend, the other something to gain; all are in for a bumpy ride.

One Response

  1. Tom Grey says:

    Well done David on a nice balanced article.

    Its easy to see how people are worried but I have to agree with Joe O’Donoghue, this is a fantastic opportunity for the area and has the potential to greatly improve this part of the city. Yes it will increase traffic, but we are a short walk to the city centre (approx 2.5 kms from Grafton st), and very well served by public transport, so the private car focused mindset needs to change. In the context of the greater Dublin area, St. James is essentially in the city centre, and this is a major piece of public and community infrastructure, so I believe a change in perspective is required.

    This area has suffered much neglect and a major prestigious institution such as this, that will be around for a long time, will bring a level of regeneration and pride that can only be good for the area.

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