Monday 27 September 2010

On the wrong track: four city centre business owners on why metro north should be mothballed

Interviews by OLIVIA KELLY



The Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club founded by Daniel O’Connell has been operating from 9 St Stephen’s Green for 170 years. The building itself dates from 1740. In 2005 the club spent €3.4 million restoring the building, including €200,000 on its rare ceilings.

“The ceilings date from 1759 and are reputedly the finest examples in Europe; we’ve been told they’re priceless. We recently had a group of 47 architects come to look at them. Yet the RPA have made no reference to them,” said Ray Mooney, the club’s general manager.

Vibrations from the construction work are probably the biggest threat to the building. The Dart underground line, which will involve tunnelling directly under the building, represents the single greatest risk, Mr Mooney said, but the combined effect of this, the Metro and Luas BXD was his biggest worry.

“We lodged objections to all three, the Metro the Dart and the Luas, but our main objection is that they haven’t looked at the combined effects of all three.”

The location of the Metro station has dictated the location of the Dart underground platform which is being located underneath the club. The Office of Public Works in its remit to protect the park prevented the works from being moved further into St Stephen’s Green, Mr Mooney said. “It seems that ducks are more important than jobs.”

The club, with its 1,400 members, employs more than 30 people. Mr Mooney said a 10 per cent loss in business could close it down.

“There will be a 22ft high hoarding outside the window. Who is going to want to be sitting in our dining room looking out at that?”



Colm Carroll has spent 30 years buildings up his business, Carroll’s Irish Gifts. He now employs 200 staff in nine shops in Dublin city centre, seven of which, he says, will be directly affected by the Metro construction.

Mr Carroll was initially supportive of Metro North, with the caveat that it would not affect businesses in the city centre. However, he said it was clear from the plans that would not be the case. “This will rip the whole city apart. All the main thoroughfares of the city are going to be dug up. No matter what spin the RPA puts on minimising the impact of the Metro North works on businesses, even a relatively small impact is too much with businesses in such a fragile state.”

While the numbers of businesses which lodged objections with Bord Pleanála in relation to the Metro project indicates the large level of concern over construction impact, Mr Carroll believes a great many businesses, which are struggling to cope with daily pressures, have not thought through the implications of the project.

For this reason he has launched the No To Metro North campaign. Mr Carroll has displayed posters in his shops from St Stephen’s Green to O’Connell Street saying the Metro will “kill Dublin city”. He is also calling on businesses in the city to lobby the Government to stop the project before it is too late.

“When the original Luas lines were being built the turnover of retailers fell by between 30 and 60 per cent; that was during the good years and over a much shorter time than what is being proposed for Metro North.”

He said in addition to the costs of the construction there would be a huge tax loss to the exchequer of a massive slowdown in business as well as increased dole payments for the workers who would inevitably lose their jobs.

In terms of his own business, Mr Carroll believes he will not survive the construction process. “There will be times when people won’t have access to our stores, won’t even be able to see our stores behind the hoardings. We need to stop the madness.”

He said tourists would not come to the city during the construction. The loss in tourist revenue would clearly have an effect on his business, but he said the potential loss of tourist revenue to the city would be €1.45 billion a year.



Wire barriers, “mountains” of earth, rubble, large machinery and almost constant noise are Origin Gallery owner Noelle Campbell-Sharpe’s memories of the construction of the Luas Green line in Harcourt Street.

As a resident as well as a business owner, she was apprehensive about the project long before construction began, but said she had no real concept of what was to come. “It all came on very suddenly. Suddenly there was just devastation in the street. We didn’t visualise before hand; and the RPA certainly didn’t visualise for us what was going to happen.”

Ms Campbell-Sharpe said she had been told that construction of the Harcourt Street section of the line would be up to eight months.

“The gap between what they said would happen and what occurred was massive. At the start they said it would be a matter of seven or eight months; it was almost two years.”

The lack of information on how long the building works would take and the ongoing changes to the completion date made it very difficult to plan exhibitions and shows.

One of the main difficulties in running her business was access. At times it was virtually impossible to get into the building.

“We certainly almost went out of business. We had to close on occasions and we were very close to closing up completely.

Harcourt Street was a no- go area.”



As a builder’s daughter, Josephine Kelliher, owner of the Rubicon Gallery, understands that you can’t legislate for every eventuality when it comes to a construction project.

“I’d have a fairly pragmatic sense of the variables that happen around building work. I don’t know if you can ask any contractor to stipulate the exact length of a build or exactly how it will run; they just don’t know before they break ground.”

Any meetings she has requested with the RPA have been granted, and they have answered her questions as far as they can. However, she says that doesn’t give any guarantee she’ll be able to remain open during the build.

“I have huge concerns about accessibility during the build. I have been given clear assurances about accessibly, but I know the road outside will not be accessible to traffic.”

Her concerns about access to the building relate not just to customers, but to getting art works into the building. It is likely that paintings will have to be carried from Dawson Street to her building, which may not be possible during construction because of dust and dirt.

“One of the most disturbing things at this point for my business is the level of uncertainty and doubt; it means you can’t make business plans.”

She said the Metro was a “hugely ambitious undertaking” which would undoubtedly benefit the city in the long term.

“The end result will no doubt be a more navigable city. But with my business hat on I’m petrified. I have my doubts we will be able to stay open during all of this.”

Irish Times

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