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Dun Laoghaire's Opportunity – Harbour CEO Responds to Afloat's WM Nixon

23rd May 2014
Dun Laoghaire harbour aerial
Dun Laoghaire at its best in high summer. Photo: Peter Barrow
Dun Laoghaire's Opportunity – Harbour CEO Responds to Afloat's WM Nixon

#dlharbour – Gerry Dunne, Chief Executive of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company responds to WM Nixon's article Has Dún Laoghaire Lost the Plot? 

Mr. Nixon and the Harbour Company share one thing in common – a passion for Dún Laoghaire Harbour. It is a unique amenity for the people of Dún Laoghaire, for the City and County of Dublin and for the nation. Since its construction almost 200 years ago, it has served and continues to serve an evolving community of interests. First came the ferry boats and freighters, followed by the railway. Then came the sailors and the yacht clubs. Various businesses have come and gone. And at all times, the people have come.

Sustainable development

We in the Harbour Company have a vision for the sustainable development of Dún Laoghaire Harbour in conjunction with the revitalisation of the town. We have been working assiduously towards this objective. Minister Varadkar's Port Strategy of March 2013 puts it lucidly when it states that the long term future of the Harbour will be in terms of marine leisure, maritime tourism, cultural amenity and urban redevelopment.

It is against this backdrop that I address two points raised by W.M. Nixon regarding Masterplan proposals:

- the urban beach

- the new cruise berth.

Mr. Nixon's concerns regarding the urban beach are twofold – disruption during the construction phase and effect on access when constructed. On these issues, expert advice available to the Harbour Company indicates that there is likely to be very little disruption during construction. As for access, since this project was first proposed in the Masterplan, the design of the urban beach has been expressly modified in order to ensure there will be no access issues for members of the National Yacht Club and, most importantly, the RNLI.

Beating heart

The sailing community is, and will always remain, a key stakeholder in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. Sailing is the beating heart of Dún Laoghaire Harbour. As Mr Nixon knows, the Harbour Company works closely with the yacht clubs to attract major international sailing events to the harbour. It would frustrate our objectives if any of the proposed Masterplan developments were to make the harbour a less attractive location for sailing and sailors. In fact, a working group has been convened with the sailing community and the Harbour Company with the overall strategic objective of attracting major international sailing events and associated festivals to Dún Laoghaire.

This season (2014), swing moorings in the west Bight were eliminated and the swing moorings in the East Bight were reduced by 40% . This initiative was referenced in the Harbour Masterplan and implemented with the co-operation of the yacht clubs, with the objective of creating a substantial quantum of waterspace in the safe environment of the harbour for youth training and in-harbour sailing.

When preparing this article, I took time to read the newspaper reports from the 1990s about the then proposed marina and the many objections that were raised to its construction. One of the points raised in the the objections to the marina was the encroachment on in-harbour sailing and training and possible safety issues. Mention of the marina is instructive as it illustrates that a development that might originally have been viewed sceptically by some can turn out to be something that becomes much-loved and emblematic of the harbour.

The cruise business is a growing market sector in the tourism industry. Ireland has recently begun to capitalise on this market and has succeeded in attracting a growing number of visits by cruise liners. Dún Laoghaire has been important to attracting these cruise calls, and in 2015, over 100,000 passengers/crew will visit the town as part of their cruise tour. Interestingly, the number of cruise calls to Ireland represents a relatively small share of this potential market, and there is a clear opportunity to grow this business very significantly for the benefit of the Irish economy. The harbour offers stunning views of Dublin Bay, Killiney Hill, the town itself and, in the distance, the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.

Many commentators agree that this location offers a far more attractive destination for cruise passengers than the industrial environment of Dublin Port.

Mr. Nixon questioned the economic benefit to the town of the leisure cruise business. Importantly, businesses in the town are enthusiastic supporters of this initiative, through the Dún Laoghaire Cruise Stakeholder Group. A detailed report, conducted by independent economic consultants in 2011, estimated that a new cruise facility would bring significant benefit to the area, with over 30% of the economic value of the cruise visits impacting directly on Dún Laoghaire.

The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Masterplan was adopted in October 2011 following an extensive consultation process with the public and key stakeholders. The Masterplan sets out a long-term vision for Dún Laoghaire Harbour. It seeks to realise the potential of the Harbour as a major marine, leisure, cultural and tourism destination, as well as securing its long-term economic viability. It does this in line with the Government's ports policy.It is in the implementation of this policy that Dún Laoghaire Harbour can be developed and reach its full potential as a leisure port facility. We have a wonderful asset, an unparalleled asset, an asset with a unique history. It is the opinion of many that it truly is one of the most beautiful man-made harbour in the world. It offers a striking blend of modern amenities, mixed with a traditional marine ambience.

One can be nostalgic for the time when the town with its harbour "was known as Kingstown and had its origins in the heights of gentility and middle class refinement". However, while seeking to preserve the unique character of the harbour that has made it such an attractive place to visit or in which to sail, Dún Laoghaire Harbour must adapt to survive. Sailing may be the beating heart of the harbour, but a heart does not beat by itself. There must be due regard for the needs of all harbour users including the general public. A core objective of the Masterplan is to increase public access to the waterfront.

Economic realities

There is a significant annual cost to the maintenance and development of a wonderful asset such as Dún Laoghaire Harbour. The stakeholders and the general public expect to see a harbour full of vitality, in pristine condition, with first class facilities and properly maintained. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company works constantly to seek to meet these aspirations. What might not be well known is that the yacht clubs make only a very nominal contribution to the cost of continuous maintenance and repair work for this almost-200 year old man-made facility. As the Government has made it clear that it will provide no funds for maintenance or development of the harbour, the Company must rely on commercial opportunities to provide the resources necessary to ensure that the harbour meets the expectations of all users. Without commercial income, such as income from cruise calls, we would simply not be in a position to maintain the high standards which all harbour users have come to expect.

Cultural significance

Apart from the development of the proposed cruise facility and the urban beach, the Harbour Masterplan has identified other exciting plans, including the delivery of an International Diaspora Centre. The plans for this Centre take account of the historical significance of the harbour over almost two centuries in the movement of millions of migrants between Britain and Ireland. The proposed Centre will offer visitors from at home and abroad a world-class visitor experience and will have the potential to put Dún Laoghaire on the global map as a top visitor destination.

The Directors and staff of the Harbour Company take our role as custodians of the harbour very seriously. Our first responsibility is to make sure that the harbour is well run and economically viable. Our commitment must be to all those who use the harbour – sailors, yacht club members, anglers, ferry passengers, cruise passengers, tourists, local residents, occasional visitors, regular walkers and, not least, the general public.

The coming months and years represent a hugely exciting opportunity for the Harbour, and for the town of Dún Laoghaire. In embracing this opportunity, the Harbour Company will always remain cognisant of the history, heritage and potential of this wonderful place.

Published in Dublin Bay
Afloat.ie Team

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