Dublin City Council has struck a deal selling off public space across the city to the largest multinational advertising agency in the world. With the outdoor advertising market in Dublin estimated to be worth about a billion euro annually you would imagine that the next Council bin lorry you see will be sporting gold rims.
Well, not quite.
In a bizarre arrangement the sum total of the payment to the Council is 500 bikes for a public bicycle scheme, a couple of public toilets and some heritage trail signs.
The story is that JC Decaux are going to get a 15-year lease on two new types of advertising displays that will be erected all over the city in return for the public bikes and jacks.
These will stand on public footpaths or grass verges â€“ the public realm to you and me, or, if youâ€™re in advertising, the best real estate money can buy. Seventy of the 120 things (called metropoles) applied for are seven-metre-square and back-lit, with moving displays. The other 50 are the size of bus-shelter adverts. The length of the contract is as new and unique to the city as the advertising things, since the length of these ad-contracts is usually three years as recommended in the City Development Plan.
A lot of people are very angry they were not consulted about this. These include, An Taisce, the Dublin Transport Office, Arnotts, Clerys, the Mary-Henry Street Partnership and other city centre businesses, a whole bunch of residents and councillors.
There are even some in the advertising industry for whom this is a tad too much.
The business lads and lassies pay rates, so itâ€™s understandable that in their struggle to stay profitable they might find a giant glowing billboard for the Dundrum Shopping Centre on their doorstep a bit irritating.
Of course, it mightnâ€™t matter that they werenâ€™t told, since it would cost about 20k to object to the whole project. This is thanks to the fact that though itâ€™s a single project, 120 separate applications (one for each yoke) were submitted; 70 of them on the 22 December. Oooh, cleverâ€¦. The other 50 came in January or February. That the Council would allow that might be considered strange, but given that they are a beneficiary of the deal, a cynic might use stronger words.
Of course it might be a great deal. However, its difficult to know whether it is or not, because no one has seen the contract. Except the Dublin City Council planning department that is. Apparently, the contract was put out to tender â€“ fair is fair â€“ only no one knows where, when or who was tendered. Except of course the lads in the planning department.
Councillors were not allowed to see the contract and were given the full details of it only after the deal was done.
Some of them are very angry, apparently.
However, it was explained to them that the lack of info was because the contract is â€œcommercially sensitiveâ€. Ah, okay. So the next time I am throwing up a taco stand in the back garden and am asked what the hell Iâ€™m doing (or for a planning application) Iâ€™ll just say, â€œsorry pal, that information is commercially sensitive.â€ Anywayâ€¦ I digressâ€¦.
Back to the separate applicationsâ€¦
Apart from being unable to object to the whole scheme, unless you are an oil baron (or work in the Dublin City Council planning department) another result of the project splitting is that an Environmental Impact Assessment wasnâ€™t required â€“ according to the planners that is. If the project was treated as a single scheme it would need the oul environmental okay, since it affects the entire city and over a hundred streetscapes.
But as loads of individual applications they didnâ€™t feel the need to do it.
For you class warriors out there it might be interesting to know that about 75 per cent of the advertising yokes will be on the northside; a lot in the inner city. I donâ€™t think there is a bike stand due in Summerhill, or the Basin Street flats for that matter, but I suppose since you can buy a stolen one for a tenner in Basin Street (I donâ€™t know the rates in Summerhill) why would you put public bikes up there?
To be fair, according to the council, advertising billboards are supposed to come down as part of the deal. Of course many of them are actually illegal. In fact, questions are very understandably being asked as to whether the Council should even be talking to the good folk at JC Decaux, given their track record.
And that is because their track record is appalling. JC Decaux â€“ like all advertising companies â€“ currently maintain unauthorised advertising all over the country, and Iâ€™m sorry lads in the planning department â€“ but you donâ€™t get brownie points for giving away public space for 15 years in return for them taking down SOME of their unauthorised adverts. But I suppose itâ€™s easier than enforcement huh?
Another rather bizarre aspect to the whole thing is the media silence. This maybe because â€“ as with many of the councillors â€“ everyone is afraid to criticise the bike scheme, something that runs in Lyon in France and which this is being compared to a lot. You can see an advertorial video for it on Google video.
It scheme will work like this: You sign up for a swipe card, and get the first half hour free, after that it is a euro to have the bike. You really need a credit card though, as there is a deposit on the bike of 160 quid or so. In Lyon itâ€™s 150 euro. Otherwise it will be a serious pain to rent one.
Now maybe this public bike thing will work, but having spoken to a friend who lives in Lyon and uses the bikes there everyday, I am doubtful. You see, in Lyon they have cycle lanes all over the gaff.
In Dublin I have never seen anyone not cycling because they couldnâ€™t afford a bike. I have seen people NOT cycling because they are afraid of being mangled by cars, buses and trucks. The smug muppets promoting the scheme are of course avid cyclists â€“ but donâ€™t they already have a bike? I think itâ€™s unlikely that non-cyclists will suddenly decide to take their life in their hands down the quays, or if they do, we can point to theirs as an example of natural selection at work, sigh quietly at the transience of life, and scrape them off the road.
Itâ€™s worth noting that these bikes are billed as virtually vandal proof so weâ€™ll see how that goes. I have every faith in the determined drunk destructiveness of my fellow citizens, and while Iâ€™m hacking away at â€˜metropolesâ€™ they will likely reward that faith.
If the sale of public space amidst secret dodgy deals bothers you, than spare a thought for the Labour and Sinn Fein councillors like Andy Montague and Daithi Doolin, without whom this could not have happened. In fact, spare a thought for virtually all the Labour and Sinn Fein councillors in Dublin City whose support was critical, and make sure itâ€™s a nasty one; preferably a thought in which they have a go on the public bikes on the quays in traffic.
And where are the SWP, the anarchists? Where are the Greens? Didnâ€™t the guru of the SWP recently come out with a book on the corporate take over of Ireland? Well thenâ€¦do something about it, this one is still to play for.
So what will happenâ€¦
The good news is that with a number of the applications pending appeal at An Bord PleanÃ¡la, the deal might yet unravel. The bad news is that planning is based on precedentâ€¦ and that â€˜commercial sensitivityâ€™ I mentioned? Suffice to say plans are afoot.
For an excellent discussion on this go here. Its where I got the lowdown.