Ireland

'It's been a rip-roaring success': At no cost, Princes' Street leads the post-Covid revival in Cork city

SINCE THE 29 June, Cork City’s Princes Street has been partially pedestrianised.

Before 9.30am, deliveries are made along the narrow street, which hosts mostly restaurants, pubs and cafés. After that, chairs and tables are put up in the road, turning it into an outdoor, spaced-out, congregation point for people in the city.

This has been a boost for businesses along the street, and a pull factor to get people to return to the city as Ireland begins to slowly open back up.

People have been hugely complimentary of the creative idea, particularly environmentalists who support of limiting cars into city centres.

“Here is a great example of a collaborative effort to find new ways of enhancing the consumer experience,” Retail Excellence Ireland said.

“Well done to the traders of Princes St, Cork and Cork City Council for this initiative which is already having a positive spin off in increasing footfall for neighbouring outlets.”

“It has been a rip-roaring success,” Cork City Council’s Director of Services for Operations, David Joyce said. “[There's been] very positive feedback and comments from people, and it’s encouraging local authorities even more, to move this even further forward.”

In a wonderful twist of history, Princes’ Street was also the first street in Ireland to become pedestrian-only; next year will mark exactly 50 years since this happened.

In an interview with RTÉ in 1971, the then-Cork Lord Mayor Peter Barry said that traders were not only “very keen” on the idea, but were the ones “pushing it for the last 18 months” – similar to what happened in the past few weeks.

When asked whether the pedestrian-only street was ‘here to stay’, Barry said: “Oh yes, I’m certain of it. In fact I’m sure this is only the beginning of a number of pedestrianised streets in Cork.” 

In more recent years it reopened to cars – but history is about to repeat itself.

How it came about

In April, plans were floating about that the council was planning to pedestrianise some of Cork City’s streets. “We needed to look at developing measures for reawakening the city, re-awaking the local economy,” Joyce said.

“We looked at reimagining the city, ensuring that it was a safe and welcoming… that it wasn’t a dead zone but that people wanted to be there.

He said that pedestrianising streets would have been in the City Development Plan 2021, but the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown forced them to think about this sooner than they would have expected. 

So they held meetings with councillors, Cork Chamber Business Association, sectoral representatives, An Garda Síochána, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail.

He said that businesses organisations were asked to go to their members and ask what they wanted, and that businesses all from one street came up with a “clear, comprehensive and coordinated proposal” for their street.

We were very, very clear in the approach we wanted to take. We wanted a solutions based approach, but equally and very very importantly, it was all about the streets getting together and coming to us – a street-led approach was critical to the success.

Businesses on Princes’ Street suggested an ‘eat-on-the-street’ proposal at the end of April; Joyce said that the reason why the pedestrianisation of the street only started this week, rather than several weeks ago was because the Irish government said it was not permissible to put street furniture on a public road until the Start of Phase Three, on 29 June.

He said that from 20 July, when pubs that don’t serve food can open up under certain restrictions, will result in “another sea change, another step forward, where there will be a lot more businesses out on the street”. 

Temporary pedestrianisation

In total, there are plans to pedestrianise seven streets across Cork city, prompted by the lockdown. 

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“The Marina was pedestrianised, Tuckey Street, Plunkett Street, Pembroke Street, Princes’ Street. All of these are done, and we’re looking to do five or six more in the short term, and expect even more again following that. They are full pedestrianisation to allow a very fundamental reimagination of those streets.”

So in 4 – 6 weeks’ time, I predict that the city centre of Cork will be very, very different. It will be an amazing place to come to.

But they are temporary closures until 31 August, Joyce stresses.

But obviously the council will look at how well the street closures go over the next couple of months, and we will make a decision then in relation to whether we want to go over for a further public consultation, to look at maybe putting those in on a more permanent basis.

Joyce said that among the top two concerns they had is the safety of people, and accessibility for all to the streets.

In terms of safety, there were fire safety concerns because of road access for emergency vehicles, as well as social distancing concerns.

“Those were all put up on the table at the start of this process, so people understood what they needed to be cognisant of and throughout the process what they needed to deliver to make sure that we were in a position to be able to approve it.”

So, has there been any costs to implementing this system other than paying for a couple of table and chairs?

“No,” he says, adding that the street furniture licences for 2020 are free of charge.

As this progresses hopefully it’s going to mature, and you may have additional features put onto the streets: barriers, maybe planting, greenery, etc.

“The important thing from our perspective was, get it out there, get this initiated.”

The reaction to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive; Joyce reckons that this is because it’s giving Corkonians a taste of the foreign holidays they can’t go on this year.

“Maybe they see this as a way of maybe bringing their summer holiday to them in Cork… dining outdoors is a very different experience to dining indoors.”

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