DublinTown’s revisionism cannot stand after it made legal threats over car-free Capel St

Comment & Analysis: DublinTown — a Business Improvement District organisation — was front and centre at making legal threats against a car-free Capel Street, proposals with cross-party support and 91% of submissions. So, its attempt at revisionism when it comes to the changes planned for College Green cannot be allowed to stand.

It is true to say that DublinTown, led by CEO Richard Guiney, had over the years softened its position about restrictions on cars in the city centre. But the desperate way it acted over Capel Street cannot be ignored.

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A council report on Capel Street had a quote from the Dublin Town submission saying that there is a “fear that the current process could have a polarising effect, resulting in objections and the pursuance of legal actions, that can be avoided, but which would make future collegiate efforts more difficult. They may also only serve to delay the positive interventions which would enhance the city experience for all.”

And the report also quoted a submission from Jervis Shopping Centre, Ilac Shopping Centre, Ilac and Parnell Carpark and Arnotts — mainly car park owners or operators — which said: “…the current process also increases the likelihood of legal based responses which could lead to court challenges, injunctions and appeals”.

It’s not a mystery as to who one of the main groups putting pressure on DublinTown at the time.

As with Business Improvement Districts in any city, it is mandatory for businesses in the DublinTown area to be a member of the group (and pay up). But it has been a long-term general complaint of smaller businesses that DublinTown pays too much attention to larger retailers and businesses such as city centre shopping centres. These businesses often have a stake in car parks.

DublinTown will say that it was looking for a “compromise” on Capel Street. But the reality of that is that it was looking to water down the scheme to have cars allowed on Capel Street for hours a day. A situation which, if it came to pass, would be worse than the limbo which South William Street is in with cars flowing out of just one car park.

Councillors at the time said that the vague legal threats made were again repeated by Dublin Town to them ahead of a meeting where councillors discussed the issue.

Just 6 businesses on Capel Street objected to the project. Outside of that, there was some fishiness at play — there were 53 identical submissions received from businesses “mainly from businesses in the Jervis Centre, fourteen from Louis Copeland staff and 24 from unknown businesses who didn’t include their business name or location”.

Meanwhile, 91% of all 1,766 submissions were supportive of the project.

There’s no doubt that there were some problems when the changes in Capel Street were implemented. There might be still some issues, the project isn’t finished and work is ongoing.

But Guiney/DublinTown were fighting for others — including those with an interest in car parks — from the start of the Capel Street plans. It’s revisionism to claim that whoever he’s speaking for become sceptical after the fact. But this is exactly what Guiney did this week when it was announced that the College Green bus gate was being expanded to 24 hours.

Guiney told the Business Post that: “The difficulties experienced when Capel Street became traffic free in 2022 led to businesses in other parts of the city becoming sceptical about the process and withdrawing support for a ban on private cars.”

But his legal threats were made in April 2022 before the car-free project on the street was implemented 24/7 with deliveries allowed at centre hours.

It’s worth saying that: 95% of the users of College Green are using sustainable transport, and, of the 5% who are not, many of them are doing so illegally. The council says that 3/10 of private motorists are using College Green when the current “car ban” is in place.

The current car restrictions are also in place between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday, as if bus and Luas passengers in the evenings and at the weekend don’t matter.

A 24/7 bus gate is needed to support the growing number of bus routes operating 24 hours and some of the longest trams in the world operating already through the area from before 6am to just before 1am.

Guiney said to the Business Post that “potential problems can be solved if proposals are discussed and concerns addressed before they are announced”. He also said that “We anticipate significant change as to how business will be conducted in Dublin City centre in the coming years as we move to net zero. This will require investment in retrofitting and in renewable energy by businesses which will be best achieved if there is trust and confidence that the process is inclusive.”

He just stopped short of mentioning wanting a Just Transition for car park owners.

The reality for College Green is that we’re talking about a very small area where cars and delivery vehicles wouldn’t be able to pass through. For any issues, there should be more than enough time to fix these between when the change was announced last week and when it’s due to be implemented at the end of the month.

The other fact is that issues are often only apparent after changes are put in place and it’s vital that the council becomes more responsive to those issues. So, I’m clearly not saying that there will not be issues, but rather than DublinTown cannot be allowed away with revisionism.

The reaction from many — including usually conservative South East Area councillors — was that the interim College Green plans don’t go far enough. DublinTown is again a bit too worried about slowing progress. Their concern really isn’t only for College Green, but because they know there’s more to come in the City Centre Pathfinder project.

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