City West? Too far west

There’s no doubt that the failure to build a national conference centre in Dublin’s is one of the top ten scandals of the last ten years.

Right at the time that Dublin became the hippest place to visit, we had nowhere to put large gatherings. We probably missed out on dozens of occasions like the World Dentist’s Convention and the like.

How much did this failure cost Dublin? 100 million euro. 200 million? 500? Take your pick.

In the absence of the State getting it’s act together many smaller venues have sprung up. Croke Park has a nice little earner going. Lots of hotels have tacked on auditoriums of varying sizes. But the biggest private push for a large convention centre has been Jim Mansfield’s City West.

There is already a smaller convention centre on the site. However, the half-complete new and bigger convention centre was stopped in its tracks when it emerged that it didn’t have planning permission.

City-West applied for retention and now it has been turned down. The half-built centre will have to be unbuilt.

In fairness to Jim Mansfield it does seem a bit dog-in-the-manger to stop his centre when the State has talked big and produced nothing. On the other hand, maybe Jim should apply for planning permission before bringing in the brickies. The Green Party believes that the refusal to grant permission is a blow against unauthorised planning.

However, the actual decision had nothing to do with that. An Bord Pleanala more or less said that the proper place for a national convention centre was in Dublin City Centre. And, you know, they are absolutely right. 

Most of Dublin’s present problems comes from sprawl, from allowing the city to expand in a low-rise fashion in all directions. It means that every aspect of life becomes dependent on the use of a car, with all the problems that brings.

An Bord Pleanala said that a convention centre should fit in with other cultural and commercial amenities. Particularly, it emphasised that public transport is vital.

Maybe we are at last waking up to the nightmare of sprawl. The key point is that development should be democratically-led and not developer-led. 

But there’s not much consistency here. The new IKEA store site in Ballymun has no discernable public transport facilities. And this even though the other shopping malls located at the big M50 roundabouts have done more than anything else to encourage car use in Dublin, with resulting gridlock in all directions.

There’s a very good case to be made that not a single green field within 50 miles of Dublin should be built on for the next 20 years. We have enough developed space to accommodate 2 million people in Dublin if planned properly.

Meanwhile, the Government should go to Jim Mansfield and give him a site for a convention centre in town. There’s nobody in Ireland who could build it faster. There’s a lot to be said for a guy who says he’s going to do something and then does it.

It’s a pity he’s not in charge of affordable housing.