GCID: Community needs guarantees

Grand Canal Innovation District.
Source: GCID Advisory Committee

By Dermot Carmody

Early in January this year the cabinet accepted the recommendations of a report from the Grand Canal Innovation District (GCID) Advisory Committee and committed government support for the TCD-led initiative.

At the heart of the GCID will be a new Innovation Campus for Trinity in the Grand Canal Dock area, which is proposed as the centre of an innovation district, physically and practically acting as a bridge between existing elements for economic and technological growth and development in the middle of the city.

These elements include nearby tech companies like Google and Facebook, as well as businesses in the Financial Services Centre. The proposed development seeks to include the local community that will host it as a further element.

The Advisory Committee was composed of representatives from all stakeholders in the proposed initiative, government departments, multinational technology companies, state agencies, start-ups, universities and members of the local community. 

Broadly speaking, the plan is to create a partnership between all these elements to ensure that a vibrant business environment is fostered, where space is given for startup companies with support from a strong academic research hub, while committing to working with representatives of the local community, such as the St Andrew’s Resource Centre to ensure a net benefit for the local community.

The report aspires to “the development of a range of educational, cultural and social programmes that will ensure the innovation district evolves in a way that is respectful of and meets the educational, employment and space needs of the local community.”

It states that the development should improve quality of life and increased opportunity for all who live within it. It also envisages “the development of a cultural and creative hub that connects our artistic community with our technology community.”

The report cites examples of similar development initiatives internationally, for example the Kendall Square innovation centre in Boston spearheaded by MIT. Like Kendall Square, the GCID will involve a big investment over a ten-year period to develop all the elements envisaged. These include spaces for startup companies and providing a location for research and innovation centres for major companies, as well as public spaces, and spaces for engagement between the arts and technology.

The report envisages an economic benefit of €3.2 billion from the development of the proposed innovation campus in the GCID. Government would provide €150 million of the expected €1.1 billion development costs.

The indication by the government of a willingness to part-fund the project was welcomed by stakeholders in the GCID, including Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, Chief Innovation and Enterprise Officer at Trinity, who said the the GCID would “connect the significant assets we already have – globally leading businesses, world class research in our universities and a thriving start-up ecosystem.”

Dr O’Brien said that the development “will have a positive impact on the local community, Dublin city and the country as a whole for generations to come.” He also mentioned the need for the innovation centre to evolve in a way that “meets the educational, employment and space needs of the local community and will improve the quality of life and the breadth of opportunity for all who live within it.”

Commenting as a local community organisation, St Andrew’s Resource Centre, also issued a statement in response to the adoption of the report’s recommendations by government. The statement welcomed the inclusion in the report, the needs of the local community as a priority in the development, but sounded a cautionary note saying that “Education, employment and above all social and affordable housing are crucial if the traditional community is not only to benefit from the planned Innovation District, but even to survive.”

They spoke of the need for an outcome where local communities survive and flourish and specifically emphasised as an urgent first step that there be a guarantee that there won’t be a reduction in social housing stock in the area.

A similar note of caution was sounded by Labour’s spokesperson on Transport, Tourism and Sport, Senator Kevin Humphreys, who noted that the plans envisaged supporting up to 6,000 jobs in the area and spoke of the need to provide social and affordable accommodation around the site. (In fact, the report mentions a larger figure of 7,000 jobs which could potentially be created.)

It’s certainly worth looking at the potential issues around housing and of other such city initiatives, as well as the undoubted benefits in terms of bringing more jobs and investment from companies into an area. In Kendall Square, Boston, the example mentioned above, the success of the development has led to concerns about increasing difficulty with transport and rising prices of housing in the area.

NewsFour spoke to Elaine Boland, Staff Manager in Senior Care at St Andrew’s Resource Centre. Elaine was one of three people who sat on the GCID Advisory Committee, not as official community representatives, but to provide voices from some who live and work in the community.

Elaine sees their role as being to ”try and inform the community as much as we can [about the GCID development] and get the community going on this.” She says that the impact of the proposed development will be huge. “It has major implications for everybody who lives and works in this area. We’ve already undergone huge changes with the companies that have come in and what’s been happening already around us. There’s a danger that the traditional community may be driven out. There is this feeling that there will be better job opportunities for communities, but there hasn’t been a lot of proof or evidence of that.”

Elaine is particularly concerned about the influx of people who will be studying, working and living in the area or who will need to be transported in and out. There are doubts about the ability of the transport infrastructure to cope with this. “As it is, our public transport system is not fit for purpose,” she says.

As part of their work on the Advisory Committee, Elaine and others visited an innovation centre in London “We spoke to some of the people in the communities there on the ground. They’d had a range of different experiences, but their advice to our community was to get in and get what you need, and to get a commitment, as much as you can and as strong as you can. One of the big things is, and one of the things we’ve asked for a commitment on, immediately, is that there will be no reduction in the social housing stock that already exists in the community.”

The report by the GCID Advisory Committee does acknowledge that the planned development “will put more pressure on issues such as transport, access and housing, both availability and rental prices.” It goes on to say that the provision of 200 accommodation spaces, comprised of “a combination of single bed studios and three-person apartment clusters,” is in line with models employed in innovation centres internationally.

There is a commitment from Trinity to ensure that a number of these units will be social and affordable housing. While the report does acknowledge concerns  relating to social and affordable housing, there is no specific commitment or guarantee, since at this stage, it says, the Advisory Committee “is developing principles for the district and cannot commit to specific action plans.”

Undoubtedly the local community would wish to have such guarantees in a solid and deliverable form as the project advances.