Digital hub or dead duck? What to do with Dun Laoghaire harbour

by Gary Ibbotson
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More than five years since its closure and two years since being taken over by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown-County Council, the ferry terminal building in Dun Laoghaire Harbour remains closed.

Shut in 2015, owners Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company initially sought to introduce a digital hub in the space. However, after three years of failing to find a tenant, the company was wound up.

Ownership of the harbour and ferry terminal was then transferred to the county council.

Cllr Melisa Halpin, People Before Profit, says the remit for what the council could do with the space has been very limiting.

“In our opinion, the decision to have a call for proposals for this site, after the council took it over, within the narrow confines of previous plans by the discredited Harbour Company to put an innovation and technology hub in there, was a serious mistake,” she told Dublin Gazette.

In May 2019, the council rejected plans from kids entertainment giant Hasbro to develop a $5bn production studio within the old Stena Line terminal.

It is understood that the council’s estate agents told Hasbro that it had not shown adequate proof of funding details required. Further planning permission would also have had to be sought for the studio if the plans were to be considered.

At the time, Richard Boyd Barrett, TD for Dun Laoghaire said he was angry the proposal was rejected without public representatives being consulted.

“We want the public and their elected representatives to be able to assess the community benefit of any and all proposals for Dún Laoghaire harbour.

“There’s no way any one proposal should be ruled out of hand,” he said. “All proposals should be assessed in an open, transparent and democratic way.”

Cllr Halpin says that once the ownership of the terminal was transferred to the council, it was “a perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board and have a broad and open call for proposals.

“That would have been an opportunity for Hasbro to put in its application and possibly many other applications would have also emerged.”

Halpin says she was told by the council that it was “sticking with the old Harbour Company plan, saying it was important to move fast and get rent in the building.”

However, two years on the building is still empty and are waiting for a “comprehensive plan for the future of the harbour.”

Earlier this year, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council granted planning permission for the installation of a co-working technology hub within the terminal – this has since been appealed to An Bord Pleanala although it is not clear when a decision is due.

The proposal is being put forward by Lapetus Investments Ltd, trading as Quarterdeck Innovation and says its vision is, “to create a technology hub whereby small and medium-size businesses can collaborate in a community-based environment that promotes and fosters entrepreneurship, through a spirit of innovation and creativity”.

The company says if approved, the scheme will provide over 650 jobs over the first five years and will have a local spend of €5m annually.

Hilary Haydon, an accountant and former president of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber of Commerce, is leading the project for Quaterdeck Innovation.

Neither Haydon or Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council responded for comment by the time of publication.

It was reported in February of this year that DLR council was seeking expressions of interest from occupiers for the former ferry terminal building at St Michael’s Pier.

The council has accrued harbour-related debt of around €33m and estimated annual maintenance costs of €800,000, and is anxious to see the harbour put to use.

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