There has been much public discourse and debate about the City Council’s plans for George’s Dock and specifically, the idea of installing a white-water rafting facility.
This month’s meeting of the Dublin Central Area Committee was presented with a report from the Docklands Unit of the Council detailing new proposals for the redevelopment of George’s Dock. The most welcome aspect of the report was the confirmation of a recommendation “that the Council does not proceed with the George’s Dock element of the project.” Instead, officials are recommending the construction of the two new Quayside buildings. These new buildings will be used for new City Council Docklands offices as well as a Water Activities Centre so that they can used as part of an “expanded programme of water-based activities based on the River Liffey”.
The existing outline planning permission granted by City Councillors in 2019 will be used to enable these works to be advanced. The indicative costings, at present, are in the region of €9m but things are still at a very early stage. Further consideration of how the Outer Basin at George’s Dock can be used is being examined at present and a further report will be provided to Dublin Central Councillors early in 2022.
I have detailed the report below for your information and review. I’d welcome any thoughts or feedback you may have on the information contained therein.
To the Chair and the Members of the Central Area Committee
Re-development of George’s Dock
At its meeting in December 2019, following a robust debate, the Elected Members approved, by a significant majority, a Part VIII planning application for a major redevelopment of George’s Dock.
The proposed redevelopment consisted of a white-water rafting course, a swift water rescue training facility with an urban street scene for use by the emergency services and a kayaking/canoe polo/swimming pool within the derelict outer basin at George’s Dock. The Council also approved the demolition of the existing City Council Dockland offices on Custom House Quay and the construction of two new Quayside buildings – one to service the George’s Dock development and a second to replace the Docklands offices.
Since the approval of the Part VIII there has been a considerable amount of negative commentary related to this project. This has created a narrative around the project that appears impossible to reverse and that has undermined the planned funding of the project. While the merits of the project, as set out in the Business Case and Cost Effectiveness Analysis, are still as strong today as they were in 2019 we have been unable to convince the various State funding bodies, to support the project and provide part funding to supplement the Council’s own funding contribution.
Notwithstanding the support of the City Council, it has become clear that there is significant hostility towards the elements of the project that would boost the tourism offer in Dublin and provide a world class sporting facility.
In light of the funding difficulties, I am recommending that the Council does not proceed with the George’s Dock element of the project.
The existing Docklands Office building is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. A recent independent condition survey has identified serious issues with the building. As a result it is now necessary for the Council’s Docklands Unit to vacate the building and move to rented office accommodation nearby. The survey suggests a need for significant renovation works to be undertaken to the building at an estimated cost of circa €4m if it is to be brought back into use. (Site access difficulties and the need to incorporate flood defence works partly explain the high cost.) Given the very poor architectural quality of the building and the prominence of the site, refurbishment is not considered an appropriate or viable option.
I am recommending that the City Council proceed with the construction of the two new Quayside buildings. The cost of two buildings, as approved in the Part VIII, is estimated at €9m.
One of the new buildings will serve as replacement for the City Council Docklands offices. The second building, will be used by the Council’s Sports and Recreation Services Department as a Water Activities Centre to enable them to provide an expanded programme of water based activities based on the River Liffey working in close cooperation with the City Council’s Municipal Rowing Centre at Islandbridge.
This will achieve a major objective of the Docklands Water Animation Strategy. More detailed information on the programme to be provided at the facility is attached.
The outer basin at Georges Dock is still in need of an imaginative solution and it is clear that a water based activity is the most suitable use for the Dock. There is also a need to provide a Swift Water Training facility to support the training needs of Dublin Fire Brigade and other emergency services.
The Docklands Office will bring a revised proposal for the redevelopment of the Dock to the Elected Members in early 2022 with the intention of submitting a new Part VIII planning application by Q3 2022.
Overview of the proposed Docklands Water Sports Centre at Custom House Quay
The following is a brief overview of what the new Docklands Water Sports Centre at Custom House Quay will look like from an operational perspective. The new Centre will help the City Council to animate a significant element of the River Liffey at a location that is
- Within walking distance of Dublin city centre (less than a kilometre from O’Connell Bridge),
- Easily accessible with excellent transport links, (LUAS, Dart, Intercity Bus and Rail)
- In close proximity to a community with significant links to the water bodies of the Docklands.
It will do this by providing a range of water sport activities targeted at the local community. It will also assist the Council in providing a range of programmes targeted at groups with particular needs. In addition, the proposed Centre has the potential to support the wider visitor and tourism offer in Dublin city centre. The facility will be operated by the Sports Section of Dublin City Council with appropriate use of part time qualified staff and the use of external contractors for certain services (e.g. security, cleaning etc.)
The key activities that will be catered for at the Centre are as follows:
- SUP- Stand-Up Paddle Boarding: SUP is an outdoor water sports activity where a rider stands up on a large board and uses a paddle to move through the water and is one of the fastest-growing board sports in the world. SUP is a subclass of paddle boarding, a broader concept that also includes the use of arms while kneeling, lying, or standing on a narrow and long paddleboard to move around in the water. A SUP ranges between 12 and 20 feet in length and it is about 20 inches wide. Instructor participant ratios are 1:8 in sheltered or tidal areas.
- ASUP- Adaptive Stand-Up Paddle Boarding: An ASUP allows a person will reduced mobility to experience all that a person using a SUP can do by adapting the paddleboard and introducing an allterrain surf chair, a custom ramp which allows the wheelchair user to roll onto the board unaided, and a mechanism to lock it securely in place. Outriggers on either side lend stability as the rider skims across the water’s surface. Advanced paddlers can remove these outriggers once they have mastered the balance. ASUP’s will have an instructor present on the board with participants.
- WAL – Wheelchair Accessible Launch: The Centre will have at its disposal a Whaley Boat 500. This is a durable and highly balanced vessel in the style of a rib, but made of polyurethane. It has a drop-leaf bow, with a wheel chair ramp built in, for ready and easy access with ample space for carers/family members, or other members of the public, as well as space for ancillary safety equipment. This boat is also highly versatile, and will be suitable for doing excursions with much younger children whom the more strenuous water sports on offer from the Centre would not be suitable.
- Rowing: The rowing being offered at the Centre will be inland Olympic style. The boats being used will be touring vessels, that while being very buoyant and balanced, particularly for younger users, are also still light and manoeuvrable, and allow for the one instructor to take four participants per boat, a 1:4 instructor participant ratio. The boats set up also allows the instructor to adapt the outing easily, dependent on the needs and ability of the users, as well as adapt to the weather.
- Kayaking: Sit on kayaking will be offered from the Centre. These kayaks are easily accessible to novice users, and do not require special participant training and technique for capsizing and recovery. There are various instructor/participant ratios to be aware of when providing kayaking programming for groups, having regard to boat type, group age, ability and qualification. For the basis of the Water-Sport Centre initial offerings however, the instructor/participant ratio for minors will be 1:6. As the Centre is offering parallel activities, ensuring safe supervision on the water is the main concern. Adult participant ratios may be greater, depending on ability and conditions, however they will always be capped at the ratios prescribed by safe governance for the sport in Ireland.
- Activities between Islandbridge and the Docklands: Dublin City Council is carrying out a substantial development project to upgrade the access over the Islandbridge Weir. This will be of significant benefit to boat users on the lower Liffey, especially to Rowing Clubs situated in Islandbridge, who only have access a short stretch of the river Liffey. It will also be a huge boom to Dublin City Council water sport provision, due to the Dublin Municipal Rowing Centre being located in Islandbridge, and having a long established community and school programming that will now not only be able to easily access the lower Liffey, but can work in tandem with another City Council facility on the river.
- Rowing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding will all be viable activities to carry out from Islandbridge to the Docklands, and vice versa, utilising one centre as a launch site and the other as terminus. Generally the Municipal Rowing Centre would be ideal launch point as the flow of the river will offer assistance, however correct utilisation of tidal movements would also make it viable to travel upstream from the Docklands to Islandbridge. The Centres will be able to work in concert to provide safety launch and Instructor cover. The City Council will then be in the advantageous position to offer upper and lower river user facilities, which can offer a more attractive excursion on the river for those groups for whom it is appropriate.
A typical 90-minute session at Docklands Water-Sports Centre will consist of the following:
- Upon Arrival to the Docklands Water-Sports Centre, groups will be welcomed and briefed by their instructor. There will be a Health and Safety briefing on the safe use of the building and grounds, before a brief on the specifics of the activity and its health and Safety aspects. During these periods participants will be encouraged to ask questions, and discuss concerns, to which it is often common, for participating in water-sports. Groups will then be directed to changing facilities to prepare for the activity. (Time Approx. 10-15minutes).
- Participants will then be equipped with the safety apparatus specific to their activity, while instructors carry out relevant checks and offer explanation for the correct use and roll of all safety apparatus. (Time Approx. 10-15minutes).
- Participants will then proceed to their given activity where they will receive initial instruction on the activity on the slip way, before departing the Centre to open water, where they will continue to be instructed during the course of their activity (45minutes).
- Participants will return to the Water Sports Centre, to safely dock and secure their equipment before returning to changing the facilities and finish their session with a debrief/ Q+A with staff (10-15 minutes).
The charging structure to be applied will be consistent with the charges applied in other City Council Sports Centres.
Fine Gael Councillor - North Inner City
Chair, Urban Form & Planning Strategic Policy Committee