Limerick 2030

There has been much talk of the Limerick 2030 plan which was launched back in June. Limerick 2030In recent months we’ve seen some movement. First there was the setting up of the Limerick Marketing Company. There is scope now to market the city in a clever and professional way, something that really hasn’t been done before. If anything, the attempts to date have been unambitious and somewhat embarrassing for a city with the rich heritage and potential that Limerick has. It’s a tad disconcerting to see that nearly six months after its founding there is precious little to show from the Limerick Marketing Company. At the time of writing the top web listing on Google relates to the press release announcing its launch back in July. That’s not to say that there isn’t much happening behind the scenes. Maybe there is, but it’s not particularly evident. That said, their efforts in wooing some of the world’s top travel writers and bloggers back in September deserve credit. More of the same please.

UL_Capital_Development_PlanThe University of Limerick just today launched its Capital Development Plan following confirmation that it is to receive a €100 million loan from the European Investment bank and one of the main pillars of this is to develop a major faculty in the city centre together with student accommodation. This is an ambition that was initially set out in the 2030 plan and it’s great to see some very definite moves being made towards making it a reality. It’s the kind of development could be the stimulus for fairly radical change in Limerick. It’s worth clicking the image to the left and having a quick read of UL’s take on where Limerick is going and its relationship with the city.

There’s much more to come from the plan and I’ll write about it here as news comes out. In my opinion, at least, it’s important that anybody who has a keen interest in Limerick and the Midwest should read it and contribute to making it become a reality in whatever way possible. It’s as good a blueprint I’ve seen for reforming our city and if those that are tasked with implementing it have the same vision as those who wrote it, then we’ll see some very positive change in Limerick in the next 15 – 20 years.

There were 30 submissions from the public when the plan was launched and hopefully we’ll get to see those at some point. For what it’s worth, I’ve pasted mine below. Comments welcome!

Spatial Plan Transformational Projects

  1. A World Class Waterfront

Given the stated ambition and time frame of the overall Limerick 2030 plan, it is remiss not to consider the demolition of the city hall / civic offices at Merchant’s Quay. Although reasonably new, the buildings are a significant visual blemish on an otherwise impressive waterfront between The Hunt Museum and King John’s Castle. While it might seem unpalatable now in 2013 to demolish a building that is barely over two decades old, the reality is that it is no longer fit for purpose as a headquarters of the combined local authority given its size and poor design and at some stage in the next decade or so there will inevitably be a debate about its removal. The Civic Offices also act as a waterfront barrier between the medieval city and the proposed retail centre at Arthur’s Quay. If we are formulating a plan in 2013 about developing a truly ‘world class waterfront’ over a period of 15 – 17 years, then the removal of this building should certainly be part of the discussion.

It is important that the proposed buildings along the waterfront, particularly in the vicinity of Arthur’s Quay, are of a very high quality design, and an appropriate scale. These should be seen as ‘prestige’ buildings of high architectural merit. Most of the newer buildings in Limerick are very poorly designed both aesthetically and functionally, and have been built in order to maximise usable floor space and minimise cost. This approach should be knocked squarely on the head as it leads to poor quality, visually unappealing developments that date very quickly. Poorly designed buildings contribute greatly to making the city an unattractive place to live, and that being the case, are indirectly at the root of many of the social and economic challenges of the city. When facilitating new developments, the city should be particularly protective of the area around the river, as this is Limerick’s strongest visual asset and it should be borne in mind by the various stakeholders that any new development could have a lifetime of 200 – 300 years, or more, so it is crucially important that the design is of high quality and sympathetic to the city.

While some visually unappealing buildings are proposed to be demolished as part of the Limerick 2030 plan (Sarsfield House, Arthur’s Quay Shopping Centre, among others), it would be timely at this point to develop a plan to improve the poor aesthetics of the buildings along the water front that are likely to remain (Harvey’s Quay, Bridgewater Apartments).

The success of the proposed ‘World Class Waterfront’ could depend on the management of traffic and the associated noise, pollution and congestion. The three lane section of the orbital route that extends from Upper Henry Street through Liddy Street and around Arthur’s Quay Park, through to Rutland Street (Hunt Museum) has acted as a barrier to the use of and enjoyment of the river amenity (including Spokane Walk and Arthur’s Quay Park) over the past few decades. It is important that this situation is adequately addressed in the plan. The ‘rethinking’ of the orbital route, as suggested in the Limerick 2030 plan (Spatial Strategy) is crucial.

  1. Limerick Cultural Centre

There is great scope for this element of the project, and all the suggested uses for the Limerick Cultural Centre contained in the plan are positive (i.e. Museum of the West of Ireland, National Diaspora Centre, City Library, etc.). Further uses could be considered and debated at this stage.

There is no Shannon River Interpretive Centre in Ireland. Given the huge importance of the river to the country from the point of view of heritage, environment, commerce, tourism, etc. this presents a great opportunity for Limerick City. Perhaps such a facility could be considered for the Limerick Cultural Centre.

Unlike most European nations, Ireland has no National Science and Technology Museum, and something like this could also be considered, especially so given Limerick and the Midwest’s industrial heritage. If not a large dedicated ‘national’ science museum such as London’s Imperial Science Museum, there is scope to develop a smaller scale version with fun and interesting interactive experiments for children and adults alike, as exists in many European cities of similar size. This would put Limerick firmly on the map, and be a strong draw for overseas tourists and also families and students from throughout Ireland. It would be very much an educational amenity as it would be a tourist one, and the close involvement of the University of Limerick and Institute of Technology would be important.

  1. Great Streets

In general, it is critical that the large volumes of vehicular traffic going through the city centre are removed if ‘great streets’ are to be realised. Where traffic cannot be removed altogether, the streets should be ‘shared surfaces’ between lower volumes of traffic and pedestrians and cyclists. The one way traffic system should be discarded as soon as possible, as it encourages high volumes of fast through traffic, and this is an impediment to the enjoyment of the city by shoppers and residents, and it ultimately stifles the development and economic well-being of the city. It is internationally acknowledged that one way systems greatly discourage cycling in cities, and given the Smarter Travel ambitions of the plan, it would be necessary to do away with them.

Currently, the streets of the city are visually unappealing, in large part due to the accumulation of poorly thought out road signage, lighting, paving, and street furniture. Even new streetscapes, such as Thomas Street / Bedford Row are cluttered with a proliferation of unnecessary and unsightly signage and street furniture. The design of further pedestrianised streets should aim to address this negative feature of the city’s streets.

  1. A New City Square/Plaza

The city centre square is at the heart of the proposed retail area and it is likely that during the day time, a very large number of people will spend time there and enjoy it. However, if it does not have some kind of evening, and late evening function, then it may become an area attractive for loitering and undesirable activity. There is a strong argument to have the ‘Higher Education Campus’ very nearby and this will encourage residential uptake in the area, which will in turn incentivise late evening business, such as cafes and restaurants, and make the area popular at night time as well as day time.

  1. A City Centre Higher Education Campus

Strong transport links with the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology should be provided. At present the bus service is not good. The alternative route for travelling between the city and the university (via the Park Canal from Charlotte Quay and river bank to Plassey) should be given consideration and support. It is a shorter distance than the ‘road’ route, it is flat, and it is also very scenic, making it a potentially very attractive transport corridor, particularly for cyclists. If the path (especially along the Park Canal between the city and Richmond RFC) was suitably upgraded, it is likely that a significantly greater number of students, staff and visitors would use it as their proscribed route for travelling between the city and university.

  1. Renewal of Georgian Quarter

The Plan makes reference to the Living Cities initiative (launched by Dept. of Finance. Feb 2013). It is worth discussing whether this will do enough to transform the Georgian Quarter into an owner-occupied residential area, and perhaps other approaches should be investigated.

Much of the housing stock is let, via private landlords, to the Health Service Executive, and this has led to the area becoming saturated with a number difficult tenants. It is an issue that needs attention.

The Limerick Royal (old Theatre Royal) proposal for an arthouse cinema and digital media centre is a good fit for this particular part of the city and would do much to lift the area around Cecil Street and Catherine Street and support for this should be given serious consideration

  1. Colbert Station Renewal

Further to the refurbishment plan for the station, there is great potential to transform Parnell Street, Davis Street and Upper Mallow Street to the point that they are attractive routes to the city centre for visitors.

Marketing Plan / Positioning

  1. The Pitch

Given the city’s long and colourful heritage spanning many centuries, it could do much more to promote itself. While it is appreciated that rugby is a huge benefit to the city, it is important to recognise that there is a lot more going on, in the area of arts, culture and of course other sports, and that, if promoted intelligently, would market the city to a far wider audience. Recent years have seen the city narrow its focus in terms of marketing, and this is something that should be reversed if Limerick is to be considered a truly European city of stature rather than simply an Irish regional city.

  1. Culture Night

Culture Night (a national event) has been held over the last number of years in September and has been a great success. It showcases, on a single night, a large range of cultural activities that exist in the city.  Throughout the year, these activities are ongoing, but very much on an infrequent and disjointed basis and unfortunately are barely noticed by tourists or residents of the city. There is scope to institute an organised, fortnightly or monthly ‘Culture Night’ with a similar range and calibre of activities and events. If well organised, and given the appropriate support this would be a huge attraction to visitors, and residents, and would go a long way to successfully branding the city internationally as a ‘city of culture’.

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What’s the story with the lights on Sarsfield Bridge?

Nearly a year ago (April 2012) the old Victorian light standards on Sarsfield Bridge were removed, supposedly for restoration. As a temporary measure some very tacky and ill-fitting lamp standards were installed. No argument there if it’s not going to be for very long and for safety reasons it’s important that the bridge is lit. Unfortunately, these temporary lights remain in position (they are not even turned on lately) and there’s no sign of the old ones. I’ll try and get a comment from the city council and will update when I do.

http://www.limerickleader.ie/community/community-news/latest-news/work-gets-underway-on-150k-sarsfield-bridge-conservation-project-1-4160344

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Irish in the American Civil War

History is filled with ‘what if’ moments, those occasions where a slightly different result or outcome may have radically altered history as we know it. One such moment occurred on 22nd September 1842, when Co. Tyrone native James Shields prepared to face a fellow Illinois politician in a duel. Shields’ opponent had selected swords as the weapon of choice, confident that his longer reach would be an advantage in the contest to come. He was indeed a man with a distinct height advantage over other men, and his long reach would be felt down through the pages of history; Shields’ opponent was none other than future United States President Abraham Lincoln.

 

The sequence of events that led to the duel began with decisions that Shields, a democrat, took as Illinois State Auditor. A financial crisis termed the ‘Panic of 1837’ had swept across the country, with banks responding by accepting…

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Wasting Public Money

Last summer it was announced with great enthusiasm by Minister of State for Public & Commuter Transport, Alan Kelly (who is from Nenagh), that nearly €1 million (€880k) would be invested in the development of a cycle lane between Limerick and Nenagh. I had a look at the plans and it didn’t take too long to figure out that this was going to be a monumental waste of good money. I wasn’t alone in holding this view. A number of critical submissions were made to the two local authorities involved during the public consultation phase and the local press even picked up on it, extensively quoting one official in the process (here).

Through the Smarter Travel fund, there was money available to develop cycle lanes in the region. So, when the new motorway between Limerick and Dublin finally opened up, and traffic volumes accordingly reduced on the old N7, it became clear to those in charge that they could get 64km of cycle lane by converting the hard shoulder of the old road. On paper that looks pretty good, and to these decision makers that’s all that really mattered. The fact that a cycle lane was neither sought nor required here and that the investment would provide virtually no benefit to the general public, nor to anyone else apart from those directly involved in the works was immaterial.

Quite simply, the decision to develop this cycle lane was an abuse of the Smarter Travel fund, and a significant waste of public money. While the buck should stop with the Minister, those who devised the plan must surely bear some of the responsibility. But I suspect that a few more white elephants will be pushed through before somebody shouts stop.

The work appears to be complete now, so why not head out the old N7 on your bike and take a good look at how your money is being spent.

How to spend €880,000 (as per the Limerick Post articled linked above)
€440,000 – removal of existing road markings
€80,000 – signage
€90,000 – survey work
€220,000 – civil work

(the balance of the spending, which amounts to €50k, wasn’t explained in the article)

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Limerick Smarter Travel Projects

Just in the last few weeks (as reported by Connected Limerick and All About The Triple blogs) it was announced that Limerick is one of three places in the country that is to receive a good chunk of funding over the next few years in order to roll out its Smarter Travel plan. The Limerick proposal has been devised in a rare joint effort between the University of Limerick and both local authorities which have jurisdiction over the Limerick urban area (Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council). €9 million euro will be spent between now and 2016 on this. That’s a good deal of money so let’s hope that it’s spent wisely.

Some recent mistakes

The recent history of investing in Smarter Travel initiatives doesn’t inspire confidence, however. Two examples immediately spring to mind. First, there is the decision by Limerick City Council last summer to spend almost €700,000 on an ill thought out scheme to direct drivers to the multi-storey car parks of the city, the result being the plethora of poorly located and ill-fitting electronic signboards all around the city. Notwithstanding the waste of resources that this represents, that money from the Smarter Travel budget was spent on an initiative that promotes car usage and which goes against the whole raison d’être of the Smarter Travel programme underscores the belief that those at the tiller don’t really know, or perhaps don’t care, what they are doing. I’ve written about this particular issue previously here.

The other example is the decision to spend about €800,000 on developing a cycle track between Limerick and Nenagh. This time it was Limerick County Council and North Tipperary County Council who were behind the plan, with Minister Alan Kelly gleefully cheering the project on as if it would revolutionise the way we go about our lives in the Midwest. But, when you look at what they are actually rolling out, you’d have to wonder at the justification for spending such a large amount of money, there being no clear benefit to anybody except the contractors engaged to carry out the work. Was any due diligence done? Was there any survey of the demand for this? When it became obvious to everybody that this wasn’t exactly a viable commuter route, we were told that it would greatly enhance tourism in the region (should the Smarter Travel budget be spent on tourism initiatives?). Of course, there’s even more holes in that argument. Every other country in Europe recognises that if you want to promote cycle tourism you must build infrastructure specifically for cyclists, and you choose the route wisely, with cyclists in mind (a radical thought). Painting the hard shoulder of an existing national route red and erecting numerous (expensive) signs to tell people that it is now a cycle-way just doesn’t cut it. Here‘s a local newspaper article from last summer which casts doubt on the plan.

How to spend €9 million?

How should the €9 million be spent? It’ll be cut in some way between administration costs and capital expenditure. But what should the breakdown be?

€5 million on administration would keep an office of 20 people going at an average salary of €50,000 per year (way too high in my opinion, but when you factor in the salaries of the senior managers you’ll probably be left with an average of something like this). That would leave €4 million euro for spending on infrastructure. Is it enough? What would you do with it? Perhaps only 10 people are required to staff the Smarter Travel office. That would leave €6.5 million for infrastructural projects. What can you do for €6.5 million that will bring about not just a benefit in terms of jobs for those who carry out the work but a long-term benefit for the city?

Various working documents associated with the project can be viewed and downloaded from the Limerick City Council website here.

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Blue Skies & Pain

Although Pink Floyd were singing about something completely different, it was their lyrics that immediately entered my head as the mountain loomed into view on Sunday morning.

Temple Hill Galtee Mountains

Temple Hill in the Galtee Mountains

Blue skies and pain. We were driving towards Angelsboro, a little village on the Limerick/Cork border at the foot of the Galtee mountains, to take part in the first race of this years Munster League, and it was truly a magnificent day for it. Even old philistines like myself and Richie felt compelled to record the stunning beauty of this part of County Limerick and stopped along the way to take a few photos.

There is a down side to running on such crisp clear spring days and it is that you can see all that is ahead of you, and when you’re talking about running up mountains that isn’t always such a good thing. Sometimes it’s better not knowing. While we have been training away for some months on the many tough hills within a half hours drive of Limerick City, neither of us had actually competed before, and up to this point had much of an inkling of what to expect. But looking up at Temple Hill on Sunday morning, it’s summit sharp against that blue sky, there was no escaping the simple fact that what lay ahead was no small amount of pure, unadulterated pain.

I’d like to tell you that I am exaggerating, but I’m not. Yet, even that morning, as I finally was forced to confront the challenge, I still couldn’t have believed just how arduous it would turn out to be. I learned that there are a thousand feelings that one gets when racing against others on an open mountain, and many of them are some mixture of pain, distress and misery. On the lower slopes your lungs heave as you try and match the early pace. Then, as you progress up the mountain it’s the legs, now depleted of oxygen, that complain as you push them harder, so that you might reel in the guy ahead who might be faltering, or simply stave off the tenacious bastard who is hanging on behind you, threatening to overtake but never doing so. Hitting the steeper, open slopes, everything else protests too, and long before you reach the top, there isn’t a part of your body that isn’t screaming. For whatever reason, you don’t stop. My theory on this is that defeat hurts more and for a lot longer than physical pain. Your mind knows it too and by flogging you to your limit it is protecting you from the abject despair that goes with giving up. Either that or at some level we are simply twisted sado-masochists. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two possibilities.

I won’t say much more about the pain, except to say that it got worse on the descent. This has something to do with ones legs not being designed to run while accelerating at the rate of gravity. It hurt a lot.

Somehow, for all the torture endured, the whole experience adds up to something genuinely exhilarating and even enjoyable. It helps when the weather gods smile on us as they did on Sunday morning. Even as I suffered on the ascent, all I had to do was look left or right and see the stunning beauty of this part of counties Limerick and Cork. For all the mistakes we’ve made in this country (too many), much of it remains a beautiful place. But it’s not just the weather. Even if we were rain-sodden, muddy messes, running blind through low clouds on desolate mountainy peaks, I know we’d enjoy it then too.

“So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain”.

On days like this, you truly can.

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Old Jesuit Church on O’Connell Street – New City Library?

I wrote about this issue back in October (see post here) and the tête-à-tête between the councillor and the city official continued in city hall recently. Here’s the Limerick Post report on the meeting of the Cultural and Sporting Committee last week.

http://www.limerickpost.ie/index.php/navigation-mainmenu-30/local-news/4183-jesuit-building-back-on-agenda-as-city-library.html

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