The announcement that 850 new homes are to be created on lands at Mungret concerns me.
There can be no doubt that new housing is badly needed in Limerick. There are reasons to celebrate the creation of the biggest residential development being seen outside Dublin. Limerick is preparing itself for expected population growth.
For almost a decade the Limerick message has been about placing the city at the heart of a thriving region. With the drawing up of the Limerick 2030 Economic and Spatial Plan, followed then by the creation of the Limerick 2030 company, Limerick spent the recession years planning for the recovery.
We have accumulated acres of vacant land with the mission to create a vibrant 21st century city. Much credit is due to the multitude of stakeholders who have come together to sell the new Limerick vision.
Here is the rub. The new Limerick vision is one about creating a vibrant city, a city where people young and old can live, work and play.
The key announcements made over recent years seem only to be focussing on the working aspect. We are creating office space. Box ticked. But where is the residential? Where is the retail? Where is the public transport investment? Where are the gyms, cinemas, playgrounds, basketball courts and public spaces? Where is the focus on design?
Most modern academics talk about putting people first when it comes to creating great cities. As we consider the steps we have made in drafting Limerick’s future we must ask if people are at the core of what is being done.
Yes, we look like we are making inroads in attracting potential new workers into the city. Yet we seem to be balancing this with the creation of another out-of-town development that brings to mind the infamous doughnut we once spoke of so often in this city.
850 new homes in Mungret. Let’s say each home has an average of 3 inhabitants. That’s 2550 people living in a new little town outside Limerick. Should we be successful in attracting FDI or SME’s to our modern new office space in the city centre many of our new Mungret residents will commute to work. They will do the Irish thing and use the car. They will travel via Dock Rd, an access point already struggling to cope with traffic.
What happens to the city centre? Will the only residential to be added to our city’s core be social housing developments? We already are well on the way to completing such developments on Edward St and beside the station.
Surely, we have learned our lesson in Limerick regarding the concentration of social housing without balancing with private sector additions?
Earlier this week we saw the very welcome announcement of the creation of 300 new jobs at Regeneron. A clear indication that doing business in Limerick not only works but inspires further investment. Northern Trust, Dell, Johnson and Johnson, Uber along with many others have all showed great commitment to our city.
There might be those who would argue that the new jobs in Regeneron will need housing provision such as those now planned for Mungret. But there seems to be a trend that only offers a living option outside of the city.
Surely there would be a fair percentage of the new, young and educated employees at Regeneron who would bite you hand off to have the opportunity to live in a vibrant, modern city environment? With little or no residential planning applications for the city centre at present it looks like these new Limerick workers will have no option but to live outside the city.
There is the chance that my concerns are premature. Perhaps there are further announcements to come regarding private residential developments in the city centre. I’m struggling to see where this will happen, however.
It could be at the Cleeves site. It could be on the site of the old gasworks (when its clean-up is complete). It could be on King’s Island. It could be on the site of the former Dunnes Stores site on Sarsfield St. It could be a re imagining of the Sarsfield House building (rather than knocking it).
I stood on roof of Anne St car park earlier this week and got a glimpse of what seems to be an entire hidden block full of old stone mills and other remnants of stone structures. I couldn’t help but think that assembling this site from Thomas St to Roches St and from Wickham to Anne St could give the potential for a really interesting residential devt in the heart of the city.
Then looked at Henry St Garda Station and wondered what it might take to relocate this station (perhaps near fire station/new courthouse). Another riverside residential possibility.
I wonder if there is anyone actively looking at the residential potential of our city with some small interventions?
The fact is this. If we do not see the creation of a substantial mixed-use scheme in the city centre, a scheme that focusses on residential, cultural and lifestyle, we run the risk of creating a legacy that will once again see thriving satellite parts of Limerick and a city centre where tumbleweed is the only bit of life it sees come 6pm.
We all want Limerick to be successful. We want to boast about the decade where key decisions were made that shaped our future. We are in the middle of that decision-making decade today. Those decisions must be scrutinised and engaged with.
Speak now or forever hold your peace.