ARCHISEEK, IRELAND'S architectural discussion website, has added its voice to calls on Dublin City Council to halt the erection of free-standing advertising panels on footpaths in the city pending a review and investigation.
Under a deal agreed by city council management without the prior knowledge of councillors, French-owned advertising company JC Decaux was permitted to erect 120 of these panels in return for a bicycle rental scheme on the Paris Vélib model.
Opponents of what Green Party TD Ciarán Cuffe termed a "dodgy deal" include the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, An Taisce and the Dublin City Business Association - mainly because of the obstruction of footpaths by the metal-framed panels.
The arrangement required JC Decaux to supply four rental bikes per on-street panel, amounting to a total of 480, compared to 12 per panel under the Vélib scheme in Paris, where the city council also receives an annual rental of more than €2,000 per unit.
The deal first became public in December 2006 after a contributor to the Archiseek website initiated a discussion under the heading "And you thought Dublin's Streets were cluttered already". Not even then Lord Mayor Vincent Jackson (Ind) was aware of it.
JC Decaux subsequently lodged 120 separate planning applications for the advertising structures with no environmental impact statement (EIS). For anyone to appeal all to An Bord Pleanála, the total cost of the fees involved would have been €26,400.
"Of the original scheme, fortunately only half managed to get through - thanks in many instances to appeals by conscientious Dublin citizens", Archiseek said. "Any so-called 'metropole' unit that was appealed to the board was shot down 100 per cent.
"Since then, it has become apparent that the scheme is an unmitigated disaster and epitomises what-not-to-do when engaging in urban planning . . . Already some of the units have been withdrawn, having been blatantly unsafe and manifestly hazardous.
"Outrageously, this scheme has simply been dumped on poorer and working class areas", Archiseek said. "No billboards for a southside dual-carriageway such as Donnybrook, yet plenty for North King Street and Dorset Street and also Malahide Road in Coolock".
According to Archiseek's Paul Clerkin, who described its statement as unprecedented, "these units were only removed following complaints from the public, and we believe others are a hazard to public safety - Parnell Street being one very obvious example".
He said it was "a gross irony and disgrace that the first clients have been the Department of Environment lecturing the public about not despoiling their environment" - the billboards being the central vehicle of a €200,000 campaign.
Dublin City Council said it "completely refutes" Archiseek's allegations, saying its officials had "implemented an open and transparent process to procure a suitable advertising agency which would provide amenities for the city in a partnership approach".
After being awarded the contract in December 2006, JC Decaux applied for planning permission to erect 120 advertising panels, of which 72 were granted; under the terms of the contract, the level of amenities depended on the number of permissions.
"It was agreed that 450 bicycles would be made available at 50 stations located in the city centre", the council said. These locations are now being identified and the city bike scheme will be launched during Mobility Week at the end of September.
It said there would be a "six-month lead-in phase" from procurement of the bicycles to installation of the stands, with the scheme being implemented "between spring and summer 2009". So far, however, no charges have been fixed for renting the bikes.
"Dublin City Council has exclusive use of all JC Decaux advertising panels at no cost, for public information campaigns until August 31st", the statement said.
"From September 1st, the city council will acquire 38 of these panels, also at no cost."
It added that JC Decaux had "indemnified the city council with regard to public liability claims arising from accidents pertaining to the advertising panels". It had also removed 50 large advertising billboards throughout the city as part of the deal.
The Irish Times