Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Baths Saga - Interim review

My provocative assessment of the situation regarding redevelopment of the Baths site (Irish Times Aug 17th) has prompted, to date, 4 published responses - most of them robust and all of them disagreeing with my position. Two of those responses came from the protestor side of the debate, the other two came respectively from the executive and political wings of the local county council.
I’ve documented below some key quotes from each letter, in the order in which they were published.

DYLAN TIGHE (Aug 24th) “I can guarantee Mr Molloy that 99% of those present were regular and enthusiastic patrons of the baths. …….The fact is that we all used the baths, both winter and summer, and call for it to be reopened once again”

BOB WADDELL, Sandycove & Glasthule Baths Action Group (Aug 26th)
“Let us not forget that the massive protests by many thousands of our citizens were against the handing over of what is a public amenity site to private developers for an eight-storey luxury apartment complex.”

OWEN P KEEGAN, County Manager, DLRCoCo (Aug 25th) “we will shortly be engaging consultants to prepare proposals for a major environmental/amenity improvement scheme covering the area between the East Pier and Sandycove. The overall objective will be to create a world class amenity for our own residents and visitors to enjoy.”

“I do not wish to underestimate the likely difficulties in financing whatever project emerges or to discourage funding from outside agencies. However, it remains my view that the true measure of the value of a project to the council is the extent to which the council is prepared to invest its own money to ensure its completion!”

Cllr JOHN BAILEY (Aug 30th) “The suggestion that the project be funded exclusively from council and port revenue is impractical.”
“There is wide acceptance that these grounds should be kept in public ownership and anyone who doubts that special funding from central Government is needed for the project should study the Indecon Review of local government financing.”

For the protest representatives, Dylan Tighe guarantees that the 99% of the protestors (numbered at 3,000+ by chief organiser Richard Boyd Barret on his website) were regular and enthusiastic users of the baths, while Bob Waddell seems to differ discretely, pointedly reminding us that the protest was against the use of the site for an 8-storey apartment development.

For the council, the County Manager doesn’t wish “to discourage funding from outside agencies” but clearly envisages the council having to fund most if not all of any development. This is dismissed by Cllr Bailey as “impractical” and he insists that special funding from Central Government will be needed.

The positions outlined above clearly demonstrate that what exists between the parties above could not be described as a shared consensus view. The protagonists may well have achieved a cease-fire but they certainly don’t have a treaty.

In addition, the proposed employment of consultants is a classic ploy for dealing with hot political potatoes. It allows the problem to be long-fingered and passes the monkey to a supposedly neutral 3rd party. That status can then be used as cover when some of the current participants dislike whatever recommendations eventually emerge.

It is also clear that there is no guarantee of finance for whatever option or options are recommended. This alone will tend to hamstring the consultants, who presumably will want to produce feasible proposals, yet have no indicative budget to work with.

And if there’s enough resistance, the consultants report can be more easily shelved than something developed by the council itself.
You could wallpaper Leinster House with the pages of unimplemented recommendations from the many consultants reports commissioned by Government over the past decade.

And even then - do you "harbour" any doubts about the County Council's ability to develop and manage an agreed solution? Consider the following:

The County Manager also says that “The overall objective will be to create a world class amenity for our own residents and visitors to enjoy.”
Dun Laoghaire already enjoys such an amenity - the harbour. In particular, the East Pier is enjoyed by walkers of all shapes sizes and ages throughout the year. People come from a wide catchment area to “walk the pier”, some strolling, some power-walking. Some are pushing buggies, others pushing wheel-chairs. Dogs, wives and husbands are all walked on the pier.
There is a public toilet located on the East Pier and its maintenance is the responsibility of DLRCoCo..

This toilet has been locked up for several months now. Yet there is no notice to
  • apologise for the inconvenience caused
  • advise patrons of the reasons for closure
  • indicate a date for reopening
  • provide directions to alternative facilities.

Is this an example of how the council believes you manage a “world class amenity”?

Finally, with regard to the baths site, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Frankly, I’d prefer to be eating humble pie in a couple of years time, rather than saying “I told you so!”.

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