Is Castlelands plan in the spirit of Our Balbriggan Strategy?

15th April, 2019

The advent of the Our Balbriggan strategy has certainly seen a new optimism in the town and the planned €22m investment is something that can make a real difference if used well. The Council have convincingly said that they are going to treat Balbriggan differently now and there has been recognition of the past poor planning, sprawling development, lack of proper infrastructure and neglect of the town centre. The real litmus test for the strategy and the stated change of approach is the way Fingal are going to manage the next housing development in the town. This is Castlelands. Back in August last year in my initial submission on the Castlelands plan I made the below set of points including the request that the Castlelands plan would be central to the Our Balbriggan strategy and not parallel to it and in a manner akin to the previous way of doing housing development in Balbriggan.

From what little detail I can see so far of the plans there is a lot that looks like the old way of doing business but to be fair some welcome characteristics too – most notably the swimming pool. However this is still a very large, high density, multi-storey development on the edge of the town on a green field site.  A lot has to be thrashed out in terms of the specifics of what this development will finally look like but I would urge the residents of Balbriggan to have their say in the upcoming consultation process and ask themselves the question – is this just the same old story of housing development in Balbriggan or is it a new way of doing things? My answer is that it’s not too late to ensure this is a new way of doing things but indications are that it will require quite a force of public opinion to influence these plans  for the better.

“From what little detail I can see so far of the plans there is a lot that looks like the old way of doing business.”

I can’t help feel a little disappointed aswell that the Castlelands plan was not spoken about more by the Council during the Our Balbriggan strategy. It almost feels as if we were being softened up with the €22m strategy to ease the surprise of the scale of the plans for Castlelands. The Our Balbriggan strategy for me was really giving Balbriggan what it deserved decades ago. It shouldn’t be about softening us up to facilitate further large scale high density sprawl.

It’s a bit disappointing too that the information provided to Councillors last week was not immediately posted on the Our Balbriggan website for all to see in a new spirit and transparency and trust that I like to believe has been developing.

I had concerns last year that the Council would aim to squeeze as many units as possible into the site and asked them to prioritise quality of life over density. Sadly this does not look like its going to be the case. I am for apartment based living but not in the usual way that we have done apartments in Ireland. We should have apartments in Castlelands of ample size that a family would be happy to grow up in and spend their life in, not the shoes boxes that are so prolific in urban environments across the country.

I think we all need to look very closely at the plans to be published in May to see if this is the direction we want Balbriggan to go in. I reserve judgement until I see more detailed plans which I ask all residents to read.

I made the following short set of initial suggestions to the consultation last year on the Castlelands Masterplans:

In the process of formulating a Masterplan for Castlelands I strongly urge the Council to:

  • Ensure that this will be an exceptional development, with high spec housing (including A energy rating) and unparalleled amenities and infrastructure
  • Prioritise quality of life for residents over number of units that can be squeezed into the assigned area
  • A mix of housing should be provided including supported housing for older people. The masterplan should be conducted with the Fingal Age Friendly strategy in mind
  • Ensure that he development of Castlelands is central to the new high-level socio-economic plan for Balbriggan and happens as part of the high level plan not just in parallel to it
  • Dramatically increase the size and number of green areas in the current map. At the moment what is visible is one single limited green area surrounded by potentially very dense levels of housing
  • Inclusion of a community centre, all weather pitches and assigned locations for several grass playing pitches for GAA, soccer and rugby
  • Cycle lanes and walkways to be given priority over vehicles in the development especially re connections to local schools
  • Ensure the new development has easy access to Ardgillan Demense via a footbridge and cycletrack over the rail line and the R127. This bridge and connection with Ardgillan would also connect with the Ladys Stairs and thus would facilitate direct beach access for Castlelands.