By Rose Barrett
Signs recently erected along Dublin’s iconic Bull Island walk confirm Dublin City Council’s (DCC) commitment to deliver the Bull Island Discovery Centre.
For conservationist and author, Anto Kerins, DCC’s planned submission to An Bord Pleanála is a step in the wrong direction.
‘This large building project is very unwise. It is significantly out of proportion to the relatively tiny and fragile Bull Island Nature Reserve, one of the most important city wildlife spaces in the world.
“Despite the worldwide collapse in wildlife and biodiversity, DCC wants it to be a ‘gateway’ to the Nature Reserve. This reserve already suffers significant unmanaged human and traffic encroachment and is located precariously within a city already packed with buildings and traffic,” Mr Kerins told the Gazette.
Mr Kerrins stated the Swedish and UK Visitor Centres used in DCC’s proposal support nature areas more than 70 times the size of the Bull Island Nature Reserve. The Danish visitor centre used in DCC’s proposal covers the Wadden Sea National Park which, at over 1,400 sq km, is more than 100 times the size of the Bull Island Nature Reserve a mere 14 sq km.
However, Leslie Moore, Head of Parks, Biodiversity and Landscape Services with DCC, refuted Mr Kerins’ claims.
“Dublin Bay UNESCO Biosphere covers an area of more than 300km2, stretching from Baldoyle Bay and Ireland’s Eye to Dalkey Island, including the city, port and coastal suburbs.”
In 2015, DCC commissioned a feasibility study to explore the potential benefits of a new Discovery Centre to replace the existing education centre. The building did not afford universal access to persons using wheelchairs nor persons with buggies. It simply is not fit for purpose, claims DCC, also considering its fossil fuel heating system and septic tanks on the environment. Neither does it have the capacity to cater for schools, research or educational programming.
In 2019, a design team led by Howley Hayes Grade 1 Conservation Architects was appointed and plans for the new project were presented for comprehensive public consultation and feedback. The building is now single story, the height reduced and its footprint reduced by 30%.
Mr Kerins worried the centre would be a”tourist commodity, a commercial enterprise impacting the area’s fragile ecosystem”.
DCC responded: “While it is planned that the centre will be self-funding, it is not a centre for tourism with modest visitor numbers (45,000 estimated paid visitors in year 1 of operation) and the majority of these being those already visiting the Island. Admission fees will be in line with those at OPW state run facilities, with special concessions for the local community.”
DCC will present up-to-date plans to a wide range of stakeholders ahead of a formal submission to an Bord Pleanála in the summer. “The plans will include detailed analysis of any potential impacts both during construction and operation of the facility, and will outline mitigation measures to reduce or avoid any impacts.”
Mr Kerins noted that Dublin Corporation previously prevented St Anne’s Golf Club from increasing its roof height and required it to build a low-profile roof.
“Now DCC wants a huge building with an enormous 20m high viewing deck on this tiny -island, already with two full sized golf clubs. Locating it here will be of no benefit to a single bird, plant or animal. The increased encroachment will impact their habitat and weaken their life chances. Please build it in a more suitable location.’