UCD Students’ Strategic Vision, a student-led initiative that is preparing a vision for the future development of the UCD campus from a students perspective held a wide-ranging panel talk last week to discuss the ongoing development on and around campus. Guests on the panel included chairperson Joe Corr the President of the Irish Planning Institute, Louise McGauran a senior planner with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Barry Murphy the President of UCD Students’ Union and Tom Phillips the managing director at Tom Phillips & Associates. The panel discussed a variety of topics ranging from environmental concerns that could affect UCD to the future development of transport links to and from the UCD Belfield campus.
Each member of the panel was first asked to outline their vision for the future development of the UCD campus. McGauran said that as she was involved in the approval of applications for development in UCD she would be speaking mostly in an academic manner. She spoke of how UCD was at an advantage being able to learn from how other universities had developed, particularly the differences between the old inward facing European universities and the open plan American style campus. McGauran said that the new trend in universities was to integrate into the surrounding community, noting that a failure to do so can lead to a situation like that along the Trinity College section of Pearse street, where half of the street is in effect abandoned.
Barry Murphy spoke of the need to address the pressing demographic issues affecting the campus, such as the lack of library space and accommodation. Murphy noted that most of the campus was designed and built for a much smaller student population. He also pointed out that even though campus was in the centre of a public transport triangle, it was still remarkably difficult to get to from certain areas of Dublin. He finally noted the need to maintain the green spaces on campus to ensure that all of Belfield is not just offices and teaching spaces, while also remaining mindful of the fact that the university was first and foremost for the students, and it needed to remain that way.
Tom Philips the managing director and Tom Philip & Associates started by saying when he attended UCD there were only 10,000 students, and now that number had nearly tripled. Philips went on to say that UCD was in effect one of Ireland’s largest towns, and needed to be treated as such. Continuing on from Murphy’s point about accessibility, he said that over 50% of people who came to campus did so via the N11 entrance, which led to the obvious problems of congestion and strain on transport links. Noting that UCD was one of Dublin’s single biggest employers and a major economic resource, he proposed that the new Metrolink should as opposed to running along the Luas tracks be used to link UCD to the city centre and the airport, not only making it more accessible but allowing it to become a premier conference and events location.
Philips did admit this proposal was more expensive but argued that it was a worthwhile investment given that UCD was larger than many towns in Ireland, and a massive economic engine not just for Dublin, but the state.
This led into a discussion about how vital UCD was to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area, with McGauran saying that UCD was the biggest provider of employment, traffic and economic activity in the area, which obviously came with a variety of pressures and challenges. She said UCD was typically a large part of any county plan due to its size and importance in the area, but it also presented exciting opportunities for the area as it was not constrained by the normal rules and norms around housing and commercial spaces.
Chair Joe Corr then moved onto how the development of UCD had fostered a community on and around campus, asking Barry Murphy how good UCD was at building a sense of community. Murphy said that the scale of UCD obviously presented a challenge, particularly due to the design of the residences buildings, which favoured self-contained bedrooms with en suites and catering facilities that meant students were not particularly encouraged to interact socially in the kitchens. This he said can lead to isolation on the part of students, especially at weekends when the campus came what he termed ‘a ghost town’.
Linking into this was the fact that campus was used extensively at weekends by the surrounding communities, but that they were not interacting in any meaningful way with the campus other than to use its facilities. While the use of campus facilities by the surrounding communities was seen as a plus in term of integration, both Philips and Murphy agreed that they should seem more interaction with the people on campus, not just the facilities.
On the question of student accommodation, all panellists agreed that the problems in developing sufficient accommodation that was affordable were a challenge due to the nature of funding. Most student accommodation was funded through bank loans which Philips noted needed to see a certain return (typically a 15% margin) before they would fund it. This meant that the proposals that Murphy put forward for cheaper accommodation options were typically difficult to enact unless alternative funding sources became available. All the panellists did agree that they did need to get away from the discourse that cheaper accommodation was somehow of a lower quality, noting that many of the units being built were actually serving a dual purpose of student accommodation during the term, and a hotel during summer months.
McGauran also said that while student accommodation provision had an important role to play in addressing the housing crisis, one new bed in residences did not mean that a student was out of the private rental market, as it could be taken up by a previous commuter or a new international student.
On the issue of sustainability and environmental issues on campus, Murphy noted that there were no segregated recycling bins on campus despite the size of it. It was also noted that the recycling facilities in residences were severely lacking given the size of the student body living there. There was also an ongoing effort on campus to reduce one-off waste such as coffee cups and plastics, and this had thus far had a good impact on the waste produced by campus.
Another major issue discussed was the parking availability on campus, with many students who had no choice but to drive unable to find space on campus. Murphy noted that about 70% of staff and 30% of students drove to campus, so good transport links were not the problem, but rather the choices people made about how they came to campus.
UCD Students’ Strategic Vision will be continuing their work in semester two and invite UCD students to have their say in the Future of the UCD Campus and contribute their views and ideas to the UCD Students’ Strategic Vision! They can do so by completing an online survey and be in with the chance of winning a €100 One for all voucher. The survey can be found at http://www.ucdvision.ie/survey
By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor