Plans for €12.5 Million Five Storey Car Park by Water Tower Scrapped

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UCD’s long held plans for a large five storey car park beside the water tower have were dropped over funding issues. The commuting facility was planned to provide 583 car parking spaces, as well as 617 bicycle spaces, and shower and locker facilities. UCD was initially granted planning permission back in 2010, and anticipated the facility would cost €12.5 million. However, bids from building contract tenders received in late 2013 and were ‘found to be in excess of the available budget’, according to documents from UCD Governing Authority.

One third of the initially estimated €12.5 million cost was to be covered by funds raised by the €247 ‘student levy’ students have been paying in UCD since 2007, which paid for the €50 million new Student Centre. The introduction of paid parking permits on campus was brought in on the condition it was to help fund the commuting superstructure, and was expected to cover a significant portion of the remaining construction costs. Last year UCD brought in €365,820 between car park permit charges and hourly meter fees, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of information act. The university has no plans to abolish parking permit charges despite the shelving of the five storey car park plans.

  • Paid Parking, which was introduced to help finance the multistorey commuting facility, will remain.
  • Records from the UCD Capital Development Group show the project has not been considered since 2014.

In February 2016 UCD reapplied for planning permission for the project, as the initial five-year period granted by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown county council was due to expire in March 2016. Planning documents prepared for UCD by McGill planning consultants outline the university appealed to the council that economic circumstances had delayed the project. The documents state ‘there was an overall decrease in exchequer funding for all higher education institutions by 32 per cent over the last six years’. The introduction of paid on-campus parking was also ‘significantly delayed over the past number of years’ the documents state. However, FOI’d records from the UCD capital development group show the project has not been considered as viable by the university since 2014. 

The introduction of paid on-campus parking was also ‘significantly delayed over the past number of years’ the documents UCD submitted to the local county council state. University staff trade unions opposed the introduction of paid parking on campus, and took cases against UCD with the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. However, planning documents submitted to the local county council outline the union disputes are ‘now resolved’. The application to extend permission in 2016 claimed that paid parking revenue ‘will generate the necessary funds to commence the commuting facility within the next two years’. The five storey car park plans however have since been abandoned by the university administration, in favour of other projects such as the private university club for staff and guests by O’Reilly Hall, more on-campus accommodation blocks, and a three storey extension onto the Quinn School of Business. In a university meeting this year the current UCD vice-President for capital development Michael Monaghan detailed the college’s priorities for building developments. One source outlined that Monaghan stated the five storey car park plans by the water tower were ‘not happening’ anymore.

In February 2013 the then vice-President for capital development Eamonn Ceannt sent a letter to SIPTU trade union staff in UCD. The university administration official stated that ‘the Governing Authority has decided that with the developments of the new [commuting] facilities, the current parking arrangements will cease. Paid parking for staff and students is both introduced to Belfield and Blackrock campuses to fund these developments from next September’.

The development of the five storey car park would have brought the number of car parking spaces on campus to 3,735. The university had planned to develop the five storey facility on the site of the current gravel car park between the Sports Centre and the water tower, at the Clonskeagh entrance to campus. The development would have seen the demolition of the four tennis courts currently beside the Sports Centre.

The development of the five storey car park would have brought the number of car parking spaces on campus to 3,735.

The tennis courts were planned to be moved to the area behind the Student Centre, where at the time the college had planning permission to lay out a 140 space gravel car park. The car park behind the Student Centre went ahead however, when the multi-storey car park plans stalled. The National Transport Authority have capped the total number of permitted car parking spaces in UCD at 3,600, and the university would have to decommission a large number of other car parking spaces as well as the gravel car park on the site of the previously planned commuting facility in order to remain under the NTA cap. The NTA objected to UCD’s initial planning application for the commuting facility. The NTA advised that ‘instigating a strong and resourced mobility management programme, based on proven and targeted initiatives to promote walking, cycling and public transport, combined with strong car parking demand management [paid parking] would produce a significant modal shift from car commuting to other modes’.

Despite the unfeasibility of the plans due to the underestimated total cost of the project and the capping of the net number of parking spaces allowed on the campus, UCD still reapplied for planning permission in 2016. Internal university documents submitted to the local council stated the renewed plans were ‘subject to securing funding’. Applications for such large projects are difficult to receive planning permission from the local council for. The university therefore extended the permission rather than permanently losing the option of developing the long held ambitions for the large car park. In their submission they claimed they expected work to start in January 2017, and be completed by late 2019.

Internal university documents submitted to the local council in 2016 stated the renewed plans were ‘subject to securing funding’.

In 2008 UCD’s financial committee (FRAMC) approved funding for the commuting facility. A report for the UCD Governing Authority from the 13th of December 2011 stated ‘the business plan for the commuting facilities is under review to reflect the reduction in campus parking capacity directed by the National Transportation Authority and the overall reduction in parking demand due to recessionary impacts’. Following the first round of bids from building and designer contractors the university found that the €12.5 million cost of the construction was an underestimation. After receiving the tenders which were in excess of UCD’s budget, the university ‘reviewed the project’ and put in place ‘plans to re-tender an amended project in order to deliver the project within budget’, according to documents from Governing Authority meetings from October 2013.

However, following the changeover of UCD Presidents from Hugh Brady to Andrew Deeks in 2013 the project was deprioritised. Under President Andrew Deeks UCD’s travel plans have emphasised commuting to college and reducing the number of car journeys to campus. A Freedom of Information request put in to UCD found there was no discussion of the funding of the multistorey car park in the UCD capital projects committee group meetings from 2014 to present. One source who sits on the UCD Governing Authority said there is a tendency for the university to focus on drawing up grandiose plans and project ideas, but much less follow through on actually developing the facilities.

A Freedom of Information request put in to UCD found there was no discussion of the funding of the multistorey car park in the UCD capital projects committee group meetings from 2014 to present.

 

A spokesperson from the university could not be reached to comment on the future of the five storey car park project. It is unclear if the approximately €4 million in funding allocated to the project from student’s ‘student levy’ charges has been reallocated. Or if it is reserved in the case of a tranche of funding becoming available before planning permission runs out again on the project in 2021. It is also unclear where revenue from paid parking permits introduced last year, brought in to be ring-fenced for the now shelved development, are being allocated.

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Jack Power  Editor

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