The €26 million redevelopment of the Anglesea Stand at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) has been granted planning permission by Dublin City Council, however some concerned local residents intend to appeal the decision, writes Niall Sargent.
A letter in an April 1881 edition of The Irish Times celebrates the 150th anniversary of the RDS, lauding its move in 1879 from Leinster House to more expansive grounds in Dublin 4.
“The opening of the fine show-yard and halls at Ball’s Bridge will mark the commencement of a new era of increased advantage to the… prosperity to the Society,” the letter reads.
The 285-year-old society is now firmly established as the heartbeat of Ballsbridge, increasing its original holdings from 15 to 40 acres and is prepared to expand again.
Planning permission to redevelop the Anglesea Stand, the oldest in the RDS Arena, to increase capacity of the home of Leinster Rugby club to 21,000 has been granted by Dublin City Council.
However, unlike reaction in 1881, the current plans are not well received by some, not least those living in the shadow of the Anglesea Stand.
“It’s total disregard for the local community,” says Dr Mona McGarry. She is one of many residents voicing their concern over the Council’s decision amid traffic and parking issues caused by the ever-expanding roll call of events held year-on-year at the RDS.
“You just wonder nowadays do the planners object to anything,” Dr McGarry, living on Anglesea Road for over 30 years, adds. “Does anyone matter to them?
“You’re just so frightened that the individuals, or collected individuals, have lost all their impact and all their say in life.”
Residents’ concerns were taken onboard by the Anglesea Road Resident’s Association, which submitted an observation to the RDS’s planning application.
The association is now “gearing up” to submit an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, according to the association’s chairperson Paddy Byrne.
“They have been commercially very successful over the last number of years and you have to take your hat off to the management,” he says. “The trouble is that increase in commercial activity is coming at a cost for us, the local residents.
“This area is at breaking point from both the traffic point of view and a parking point of view.”
While Mr Byrne is pleased that the council has included a condition that the RDS must put a management plan in place prior to starting work to deal with traffic and parking issues, he feels that the council could have influenced the RDS to resolve the issue now by rejecting the application.
Dr McGarry supports the resident association’s decision to lodge an appeal, fearing that the expansion, which will also include two multi-purpose buildings, will lead to an increase in events, already totalling 400-plus a year.
A member of the RDS for over ten years, she left the society due to what she describes as its excessive commercialisation. “They have their concern and that is to create as much business for them as possible. Hoodwink to the residents.
“You’re timing your whole day around what time is a match at and what time does it finish at, whatever game it is, whatever show it is,” the Mayo native says. “There’s actually no living here. The stress of it is astronomical.”
“It’s a nightmare for everyone,” says Kevin McMahon, another resident of the road.
“There’s black days when they have ludicrous things like marathon registration… and on the same day they’ll quite possibly have another event there and the place just comes to a standstill.”
McMahon was quick to add, however, that the issue rests solely with the management of access to the road, with events proving popular with many residents.
The restaurateur welcomes the atmosphere created around match nights, although he often finds himself blocked in during events, forcing him to walk to work.
“The RDS haven’t, as far as I’m concerned, handled their end of the bargain to date. There’s no reason to believe they’ll handle more people coming in to a match night.”
Carmel Chambers, a retiree and resident for over 40 years, says that parking issues have just become worse and worse. Today, she cannot even guarantee that she will see her grandchildren at the weekend.
“On a Friday evening after school, if you want to have your family around and the grandchildren, if there’s a match, there’s nowhere for them to park.”
Although the RDS’s planning application outlines plans for 189 underground car parking spaces, the transport statement, submitted together with the application, points out that a large number of cars are likely to park at on-street locations in the surrounding area.
“I don’t think they [RDS] ever think of the residents of Anglesea Road when they are planning anything,” Ms Chambers adds.
Even taxi drivers are keen to avoid the area during events according to Noel Burke, over 20 years in the business. He says that traffic on Anglesea Road can be “absolutely chronic”, especially during the Dublin Horse show and is hesitant to wait for a fare as those arriving by car will “park in your back”.
“If you stayed quiet enough for long enough with your boot open, they’d park in it.”
Businesses on Merrion Road, however, stress that the rugby and other events are vital to their livelihood, with the RDS estimating that fans at Pro-12 matches bring in €1.9 million per match to the local economy.
While understanding residents’ concerns, John Treacy, the manager of Crowe’s Pub, the self-described oldest and most famous rugby pub in Dublin, says that the RDS is “very much a lifeline for the area”.
“It accounts for close to 40 or 50 per cent of our turnover,” he says. “If Leinster rugby was to pull out of the Ballsbridge area as their home playing ground it would be devastating for the area really. There’s a lot of businesses here depending on the RDS for their ‘Brucie Bonus’.”
Although not directly benefiting from the rugby, Adrienne McCrory, owner of Hemingway’s Cafe, is in favour of the approved expansion. “They have a huge amount of conferences and exhibitions which bring a huge amount of people to the area which is very beneficial to us.
“I know a lot of the businesses around here, and I can understand why they would want it to be expanded because it does generate a huge amount of business.”
Mr Byrne hopes that the RDS will start listening to the concerns of the residents, although concedes that an appeal to An Bord Pleanála is the more realistic option. “If the RDS have any cop on, they might actually even go, ‘well actually, you know, maybe we should address this whole traffic issue now.’ They have it in their power to do it, they just need to focus their minds.
“Unfortunately now it will end up in An Bord Pleanála and I don’t like because it costs everybody money at the end of the day, but unfortunately it wasn’t our decision,” he says.
An RDS statement says that the society is “delighted” to receive notification of the council’s decision to grant planning permission.
“It is a considerable step along the planning process and one that brings the new Stand closer to realisation. The new facility will create a top class experience for visitors and positively impact on the Dublin Horse Show, Leinster Rugby and any other events held in the RDS Main Arena.”
Demolition work is scheduled to begin in late 2017, with a construction period of twelve to fifteen months.
A version of this article appeared in The Irish Times in October 2016.