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"Above all this is a vote about fairness”
On Monday, July 10, Cork City Councillors are set to vote on a proposal regarding the disposal of a corner of Bishop Lucey Park, including 15 trees, to the Freemasons for a symbolic fee of €1.
The upcoming vote by Cork City Council regarding Bishop Lucey Park is a marker for how seriously this city takes the era-defining, existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss but, above all, it’s about fairness.
We may be sick of hearing about it (although it doesn’t make it any less true) but we are knee-deep in a climate emergency. Last month was the warmest June on record in Ireland and across the rest of the globe. The world also had its hottest day on record on Monday of this week.
The role of trees in cooling our cities is very clear. The shading effect of trees can be as much as 12 degrees Celsius, so there is a reason why many of us were sitting under them during this latest hot spell. At our recent one-day symposium at University College Cork on “Delivering Sustainable Urban Forests”, speaker after speaker outlined the many benefits of trees and green spaces in our cities.
Cooling streets and parks is one benefit, but trees and green spaces also boost retail activity and spending; attract tourists; increase physical and mental well-being; and, of course, provide homes for lots of other species too. Why then do we choose to give them up so easily?
Monday’s vote will be on a proposal to sell around 53 square metres of Bishop Lucey Park (along with the 15 trees that currently grow there) to a private organisation to extend their premises. I don’t think anybody doubts the historical and cultural importance of the building in question and the need for alternative access is, I’m sure, well-grounded.
From looking at the planning documentation however, no alternative options seem to have been considered at all. Could a suitable arrangement be made inside the current building? Could a neighbouring building be acquired and utilised? As usual, trees and green spaces are seen as the easy, cheap and dispensable option.
This isn’t just any green space. This is your park and your trees. This is public green space which will be sold to a private organisation for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. No matter how this is packaged, this is not a good look for a city council which values sustainability (and which is making some very good progress in this area elsewhere). It sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.
What is to stop other neighbouring businesses seeking to acquire bits of Bishop Lucey Park? It would make a nice outside dining space, wouldn’t it? What is to stop sporting organisations insisting that this sets a precedent for the development of parts of the Marina Park?
So, this vote is about fairness. At the moment, this space is open to all. Residents, visitors, members of the Freemasons and whoever else wants to pop in. The space is immensely valuable to those who work and live in the city centre. This vote will take something really valuable that belongs to all of us and give it over to a private organisation to build on.
The argument that the building in question can then be open to the public for “a minimum period of up to 20 hours a month” (whatever that actually means) doesn’t hold water. That 53 square metres of park is already open to the public and the organisation has already made much of how the building is, to their credit, already used for multiple cultural, charitable and social events. The public is gaining nothing with this deal, and they are loosing part of their park.
If this vote is carried, it must be very clear to those voting in favour that it is not some routine disposal of a scrap of land. This is a deliberate act to reduce the size of a public park in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis.
With no evidence that all alternative solutions have been examined, city councillors must protect this and other public parks from the sort of incremental, piecemeal erosion that we have seen elsewhere. There is little enough in the way of green spaces in the city centre as it stands, we should be expanding parks, not slicing them up and selling them off.
The vote to dispose of land at Bishop Lucey Park to the Freemasons will take place at the next all-council meeting on July 10 in City Hall Cork. Monthly council meetings are broadcast live on Cork City Council’s YouTube Channel. A full list of all Cork City councillors can be found here.
Dr Eoin Lettice is a plant scientist at University College Cork and a leader of the Science Foundation Ireland-funded “Irish Tree Explorers Network (ITEN)”. He and his colleagues run regular tours of the internationally-accredited UCC Arboretum. Eoin tweets at @eoinlettice.
Eoin waived his fee for this piece and instead asked that it be used to pay for independent local journalism. If you have a story or would like to write a guest essay for Tripe + Drisheen, you can drop us a line at email@example.com or read our About page for more details.