I propose to take Questions Nos. 78 and 90 together.
The Phoenix Park is a historic landscape of international importance and one of the largest designed landscapes in any European city. The Park extends to 1752 acres and represents a unique natural and cultural landscape that is both a historic park and a city park and which provides a setting for a range of activities and amenities. The location, size and use of The Phoenix Park can be compared to similar large urban parks in other cities, including Regent’s Park in London, the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and Central Park in New York.
The Park is a complex place comprising many components that serve a variety of functions. It is often referred to as Dublin’s ‘Green Lung’ as it offers citizens and visitors an extraordinary opportunity to engage with nature and the outdoors right in the heart of our capital city.
The Office of Public Works, together with its strategic partners Fáilte Ireland and the then Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, commissioned an independent strategic review of the visitor experience in the Phoenix Park in 2018. Following extensive public consultation in late 2019, a number of key visitor priorities were finalised including the conservation of the Magazine Fort, the upgrade of the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre along with sustainable transport and mobility recommendations for implementation. In all over seventeen significant visitor experience actions were identified.
Investment for the enhancement of the Phoenix Park as a heritage destination under the National Development Plan will facilitate the implementation of the agreed priorities identified in the Phoenix Park Visitor Experience Strategic Review. To this end, the planning application for the restoration and improvement of visitor facilities at the Magazine Fort was lodged with Dublin City Council on the 5th of November this year. This will include provision of new toilet facilities at that location. Upgrades to the toilet facilities at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre are currently being undertaken and these will be re-open to the public in late December 2021.
With regard to the toilet facilities located on Infirmary Road, that the Deputy is referring to, these have not been in use for over 15 years and when in use, Dublin City Council employed a caretaker who opened/ closed and maintained the toilets. Unfortunately, the toilets were subject to considerable anti-social behaviour and arson. This led to the decision by DCC to close them to the public. The premises is currently in poor condition. The restoration of the closed public toilets on Infirmary Road was not identified as a priority in the visitor experience review or through the detailed public consultation that followed. Therefore, they have not been prioritised for upgrade in the short to medium term.
I can advise that there are several toilet facilities located within the Park and these are all open during daylight hours where cleaning staff provide passive surveillance and security. The provision of toilet facilities in the Park is kept under continuous review.
In respect of the provision of temporary public lighting; The Phoenix Park is a key location for a range of national and local events presented by internal stakeholders such as Dublin Zoo and third parties including charities, semi state bodies and concert promoters. This is a significant aspect of the Parks operations with in the region of 550,000 people taking part in major road races, pitch sports and attending large public events such as Concerts & Bloom in the Park. (Pre-Covid).
Dublin Zoo attracts 1.2 million visitors annually to the Park. The hugely successful ‘Wild Lights’ event attracted 214,000 ticketed visitors over 47 nights in 2019. The income generated from this event is essential to support Dublin Zoo’s year round operations. The mobile lighting that the Deputy is referring to, close to Dublin Zoo on Chesterfield Avenue, has been erected on a temporary basis and specifically for patrons visiting Dublin Zoo’s “Wild Lights” event, which runs for 57 days from 28th October 2021 – 9th January 2022. These temporary lights allow for the safe ingress/egress during darkness for members of the public, including children, the elderly and people with disabilities, who will be visiting this event at the Zoo. The temporary lights are powered by HVO - hydro-treated vegetable oil - which is a direct replacement for diesel, is 90 % cleaner than burning diesel, is carbon neutral and renewable.
The Deputy will note that in order to facilitate the significant increase of pedestrian users during the pandemic, the 8km bicycle lanes along Chesterfield Avenue, were converted to a pedestrian footpath which had the added bonus, of increased lighting level for pedestrians who walk in this area at night due to this paths closer proximity to the gas light standards. Pedestrian are no longer restricted to the low light areas behind the mature trees on Chesterfield Avenue but rather can now walk adjacent to the lights for the entire length of the Avenue.
The Phoenix Park is one of the few remaining public areas in Europe that still relies on gas for public lighting. The decision to preserve this unique system was made to support the conservation of the historic fabric of the Park and to retain low levels of light pollution, so that the Park can remain one of the few locations in Dublin where star gazing is possible. Gas was first introduced into the Park in 1859 by the Hibernian Gas Company and is a major visual element in the Park's landscape.
The conservation and preservation of these features along with the architecture, built environment, archaeology, biodiversity and landscape are key objectives in the Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan 2011. The Phoenix Park has over 25 different types of habitats and support over 50% of the mammals and 40% of bird species found in Ireland. The Park was designed as a Deer Park in 1662 and is still maintained as one, to support over 600 wild Fallow Deer. The deer graze and feed across all areas of the park and the installation of additional artificial lights throughout the Park will affect their movements across their various habitats at night.
There is a specific objective (SO 8.9) in the Phoenix Park Conservation Management Plan under Architecture and the Built Environment "to maintain the current lighting levels within the Park so as to minimise the levels of light pollution" and therefore the OPW has no plans to install additional lights within the Phoenix Park, other than the traditional gas lights.
Furthermore, recent studies are now highlighting the impact that artificial lighting is having on nocturnal pollination species and this in turn is having negative consequences for plant pollination, worldwide.