Commentators ranting against a plan to give space over to city life, walking, cycling and public transport in Dublin are shamelessly twisting the reasons behind job losses to suit their own flawed arguments.
One recent such commentary is by Sinead Ryan in the Herald. She claims: “Clerys was just the latest of our old department stores to have fallen foul of the internet or giant suburban shopping centres, with their free parking and myriad shops and restaurants.”
This is one of maybe two things — highly disingenuous or highly ignorant of the facts.
Clerys fell victim to the boom and bust — the vultures then picked up quite a feast for themselves. And when I say the boom and bust, I’m not referring to the retail sector. It was property which was Clerys downfall, and a focus on vulture fund which flipped Clerys or the property developers who bought it is just part of the story.
Clerys became a property player. Like many people across the country and its rivals across the street (Arnotts), it had little business getting as involved in property as much as it did. Too many people across Ireland saw themselves as property developers. Both Clerys and Arnotts went a bit mad buying up property around their stores. Both outlined grand schemes, I think Arnotts went a little further in developing theirs.
One thing is clear, however. If we’re referring to Clerys, the internet did not kill the department store. Nor did the “giant suburban shopping centre”. It was our country’s obsession with property and it was vultures who went in and picked up the bits.
Writing in the Herald, Ryan labels Boyers as one in a line of department stores to close for a mix of reasons — but she says nothing about Boyers being unable to attract new customers or to offer anything not already on offer in the city centre and elsewhere.
Arnotts, by the way, is already back in operating profit. It’s the property play which is holding the company back, for now. But even with its property debt, with the City Centre Transport Study published, and with Luas Cross City about to impede on access to the store’s car park, Arnotts was recently sold to the owners of Brown Thomas.
There’s at least some good reasoning behind Brown Thomas buying Arnotts — the city centre shopping trade is still overall a strong business.
The Herald’s Sinead Ryan, however, sees it from a different perspective. She claims: “…we’ve been witnessing the demise of Dublin city centre – or ‘town’, as it’s known to Dubs – as a traditional shopping area for years. The generation of Dubliners whose Saturday afternoons wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Henry Street, O’Connell Street or Grafton Street.”
This is all at least partly linked back to our collective property madness (that’s not to say everybody was caught up in the mania). But there’s a generation of Dubliners who moved out of the city for cheap property and many of them had a strange idea that everything would be the same.
The city does not as she claims have a ‘get-in-get-out’ atmosphere, that’s a mindset, mostly held by some of those who live too far away.
Ryan asks: “Why battle for parking in the city centre, searching for coins, when you can sail into one of Blanchardstown Shopping Centre’s 7,000 parking places for nothing?” Because Blanchardstown is a mess. Anybody who has been there in a car at any half busy time will contest the idea you can sail anywhere around it. It can be a job to drive from the M50 to Blanch and another job to find parking. At the weekend, the parking queue for Blanchardstown Shopping Centre can start at the M50 – 2km away. That’s like the queue to get into the St Stephen’s Green Shopping centre car parks starting at Waterloo Road.
But Ryan isn’t finished there. She asks: “Why pay €3 an hour in Dawson Street car park when Liffey Valley has 3,500 slots for free for the whole day?” The answer is easy: Because almost nobody wants to spend the whole day in Liffey Valley and there are cheaper options than parking near Dawson Street.
She finally moves into the point of her article — linking unrelated store closures to plans to have less cars in the city centre core.
Ryan claims that a “recent Red C poll (undertaken by the car park lobby) found that 60pc of shoppers claimed they would no longer drive into town if the driving restrictions came into force” — this however is totally untrue. The survey did not ask about the planned restrictions and the survey did not cover all shoppers by car, only “planned shoppers”.
The main problem with the survey was that it was based on a flawed question — “How likely, if at all, would you have been to visit the city centre today if you had not been able to drive into or park in town?” — which presumes none of the drivers could drive in after the planned changes. The reality is that the city’s plans include maintaining access to on-street and multi-story car parks.
Like many of those against the city’s plans, Ryan has a flawed and twisted view of what the City Centre Transport Study is about. So she asks: “But public transport instead of cars? Despite our shiny Luas and our better-then-they-used-to-be buses, many people still can’t move around without a car to get to where they need to be.”
The fact is 80% of people spending money in the city centre are already not using cars to do so, but those who use cars will still have access to car parks. Central to the transport study is allowing car access to car parks.
Ryan caps it off by stating: “Those of us who pay a fortune to run a car want to be able to use it when we need to. Perhaps the entire city needs an overhaul, with the transport needs of all its citizens firmly in mind. Until that happens we can expect see more casualties like Boyers.”
Want and need are mixed up there — for example, many motorists think that paying for motor tax (a fund which mostly went into paying for Irish Water last year) entitles them to drive anywhere. There is a sense of entitlement which makes people think they should be allowed to drive down O’Connell Street or College Green — a corridor which is vital to keep public transport moving — but there is little or no real need for most people to drive down these streets.
Let’s not forget: Motoring taxes are there to discourage people from causing congestion and overusing imported fuels. They aren’t an ‘admission fee’ that entitles one to use of the facilities
Perhaps the entire city needs an overhaul, with the transport needs of all its citizens firmly in mind? Yes, indeed, and that’s happening. After all nearly 80% of city centre consumers don’t arrive by car and car ownership and use is low among the current and growing population around the city centre.
Dublin city is growing in population and employment terms and that means that valuable street space can’t be left with private cars, on average with less than two people inside. It’s needed for more space efficient modes of transport and for city life. Boyers and Clerys are sad stories — a loss of jobs and city centre institutions — but their downfall has nothing to do with transport.