The following report commissioned by Newbridge Tidy Towns Association, has been copied to both Droichead Nua Town Council, and Kildare County Council. It has also been copied to Newbridge Chamber of Commerce, many local businesses and community groups.
Newbridge Town Centre ‘Health Check
Prepared for Newbridge Tidy Towns Association
Helen O’Keeffe, BE (Civil) MRUP MSc MIEI MIPI
of AOS Planning
My brief was to visit Newbridge Town Centre and to provide practical feedback to the Newbridge Tidy Towns Association on improvements that could be made to improve the appearance and functionality of the Town Centre.
The area examined was:
- Main Street / Edward Street – from the Church and the Schools just north of St. Conleth’s Bridge, south-westwards to the McDonald’s / Tesco Store;
- Eyre Street and all streets linking it and Main Street;
- Cutlery Road leading onto Military Road;
The report was prepared by Helen O’Keeffe, an Engineer and Town Planner with considerable experience in the area of local planning and community projects – including the Tidy Towns Competition.
Prior to a visit to Newbridge, Helen reviewed the most recent Tidy Towns Adjudicator’s Report (2011) and some other documents including the Development Plan for the Town. She visited Newbridge on Monday 23rd April 2012, spending the day walking the central area and visiting some other outlying parts by car. Typically for a Monday – and indeed a showery day, the central area was busy, but obviously quieter that on a Saturday or busy match day.
2.0 Broad Findings: Overall Impression
The Town Centre is very attractive and quite well managed. Although on arrival (c.9am) many shops were just opening, it was noted that commercial premises were generally well maintained and presented. Travelling from St. Conleth’s Bridge along Main Street towards the White Water development there was certainly a discernible difference in the ‘busyness’ of the street – i.e. it was busier from Penney’s on and up towards the White Water Centre.
Within the Town Centre there are significantly differing scales of development which do not always sit comfortably together. The most striking example of this is the single storey Post Office sited beside the three-storey Penney’s development, but there are many other examples throughout the Town – particularly to the rear of the White Water Development. Although in more affluent times these changes may have been temporary – pending the re-development of a lower-density site, these must now be seen as semi-permanent arrangements which must be managed (see below).
There are lovely examples of planting at either end of Main Street / Edward Street – at the riverside Park to the northeast, and at Moorefield Park to the southwest, but the Town Centre itself lacked colour. Notwithstanding that my visit was in April and that trees were not ‘in leaf’ to any real extent, the impact of existing planting was ‘lost’ in the context of the wide street, wide pavements and type of tree planted. Comments are noted below in relation to addressing this. I appreciate that you have a good track record for floral displays but as none of these were out it is difficult to appreciate the impact these could have in remedying the lack of colour. Consideration needs to be given to year round displays – see point 3.5 below.
There is a great variety of focal buildings within the central area – including the Church / Schools cluster just across St. Conleth’s Bridge; the Bridge and River Liffey itself; the County Library; the Riverbank Arts Centre; the Garrison Church / Town Hall; the White Water Shopping Centre; the Market Square; the GAA Grounds. These are managed to varying degrees – as noted below.
In terms of the ‘public realm’ paved areas are generous and generally unimpeded. This is a nice town to walk through and enjoyable for a pedestrian as it is generally clean and well maintained. The use of red brick paving throughout Main Street regrettably highlights the problem of chewing gum and also cigarette butts, as this paving is dated and ‘unforgiving’. During times of heavy rain showers, the poorer road surfaces of the secondary streets in particular were harder to navigate with large puddles forming quickly but being slow to drain. It did not appear that cyclists are particularly well catered for as the only cycle lanes noted were on the Military Road / Athgarvan Road, and no bike racks were noted.
Set against the typically well maintained buildings, wires and overhead clutter were noted. Wires are a big problem and a programme for ducting is needed (see below). The issue of overhead clutter is easier to address though as my biggest issue was with excessively large To Let / For Sale signs at first floor level which felt like they could fall over at any time. This can be addressed directly with letting agents. The street-name signs are lovely and it was great to see the heritage trail plates. At some junctions the plethora of directional was confusing and cluttered.
Off Main Street there are a number of very enjoyable and attractive secondary streets – although as noted above, the quality of the road surfacing is generally poor. The larger retail developments are of contrasting appearances with White Water Shopping Centre being well presented and managed, but Newbridge Shopping Centre – and Woodies in particular, being bare and excessively open (see below). Newbridge Silverware is beautifully presented and a fantastic facility. It suffers from being located to the rear of the White Water development though as the contrasting scale and views of structures such as the multi-storey car park are poor. Furthermore, the water tower and some of the adjacent commercial premises are poorly presented.
Given there are a number of significant employers in the area – namely Newbridge Silverware, Bord Na Móna, the retail multiples, Pfizer and the Department of Defence, I thought it was unusual that there were so few physical links between these activities and the Town Centre. For example, I noted no real sign of sponsored facilities / features or any ‘street level’ promotion of these businesses throughout. I feel this is a real opportunity and come back to this below.
Overall, I really enjoyed walking around Newbridge and was impressed with it. For a town of this size and scale it is particularly well maintained and very clean. I noted few areas of dumping and litter. The introduction of the large scale developments in recent years undoubtedly offers a local challenge but there is a great deal of potential for positive ‘spin off’ development and diversification.
3.0 Specific Findings: Tackling Key Issues
I have grouped the most significant issues identified below. Where appropriate – or possible, I have outlined some proposed remedies or suggestions, which may – or may not, be viable. The proposed solutions should, however, be sufficient to start a dialogue and debate!
3. 1 Re-Investing in Newbridge
Given the severe fiscal and budgetary constraints, the ability of public authorities or indeed private interests to promote or fund capital projects is significantly constrained. However, long term plans for Newbridge are needed and there needs to be a build-up of local political and public pressure for these to be implemented when funds are available.
Principally I am referring (see Points 3.2 and 3.3) for the need to improve the key areas of Main Street and Eyre Street in terms of how they look and how they work. From my discussions with the Tidy Towns Association, I understand plans have long been prepared but not actioned. It appears to me that no additional plans are required but that promoting the existing plans needs to become a local priority.
Really there are two potential sources of funding. First, there is capital funding sourced through the County Council or indeed Departments such as the Department of the Environment. Though badly affected by the prevailing economic situation, this is the most likely source of funding for large-scale projects such as those proposed. The best chance you have of securing this funding is to have detailed and agreed plans which are broken down into discernible stages and, effectively, ready to implement once funds become available. This involves local politicians and interest groups (such as Chamber of Commerce, Residents Groups, etc.) coming behind plans and pressing for their implementation.
The second source of funding is the ‘day to day’ revenue streams collected in the Town – namely commercial rates and parking fees. These monies are generated because of the retailing activity of the Town and should – ideally, be used to manage and improve the very services that support that activity – such as the public realm (pavements, road surface, ducting of wires, planting of trees, etc.). Simply, there needs to be significant public and political pressure to ensure that monies generated in Newbridge are, increasingly, spent in Newbridge, i.e. the money is put back into the town. Projects need this funding and – I would argue, securing this is the only real way to implement any significant level of change.
3. 2 Large-Scale Improvement of Main Street
Newbridge Town Centre does not have a principal civic or open space, so Main Street needs to become just that.
Undoubtedly there are significant works needed to Main Street. Ideally, the street would be re-surfaced – pavement and carriageway; wires ducted; additional planting provided; parking rationalised; new lighting poles and flag poles provided; and the overall quality of the street improved. Paving should differentiate between crossing points and secondary streets and should make navigating the Main Street area enjoyable and simple. This can be done by using one style of paving on Main Street with a different colour / texture paving used on the adjoining secondary streets. The contrast created highlights crossing points and focal points such as public art while creating complementary senses of place unique to each type of street.
In parallel with these works, the Main Street-Edward Street axis should be brought to life with commercial premises encouraged to animate the front of their shops. Outdoor seating and display areas should be promoted while ensuring pedestrians, buggies, wheelchairs etc. can navigate the street with ease.
External shuttering is problematic in that it ‘deadens’ the shop frontage and detracts from the overall appearance of the street. Some research suggests that this also has a negative impact on the security of the public realm and can contribute to levels anti-social behaviour due to the removal of passive observation. Appreciating that individual premises may have security concerns a number of solutions/alternatives to standard roller shutters could be promoted – namely the display of art on shutters; and the removal of shutters and their replacement with decorative grilles.
Multi-functional furniture should be provided. Planters can accommodate seating and lighting poles, ensuring the pavement remains open and usable, while encouraging use of the street as an open space. Signage should be rationalised and tidied up. A colour scheme should be adopted for all street furniture to create a unified and managed image for the central area.
As noted above, these are large-scale works are planned but lack funding. Simply, these works need to be championed such that they become a priority project when funding is available.
3. 3 Improve Eyre Street and Secondary Streets Linking to Main Street
In parallel with works to Main Street, Eyre Street requires significant attention. It is an important secondary street with great potential but presently of variable quality.
Eyre Street suffers from a significant number of vacancies / abandoned properties which are screened and secured to varying standards. On adjacent Henry Street / Henry Road, the Oscar Cinema is a high profile building and is poorly secured. There is a regrettable contrast between the beautifully presented Henry Street Gallery and Framing and Health Centre. At the north-eastern end there are clusters of vacant buildings which detract from operational businesses.
Surfacing on the street and pavements is generally poor. On-street congestion is an issue on Eyre Street with on-street parking on both sides of the street causing difficulties for passing traffic. Ideally parking should be rationalised and managed. ‘Passing bays’, or indeed a one-way system, are required.
A number of the courtyards and squares (those associated with apartment / residential developments), adjacent to Eyre Street are poorly maintained and areas of litter were noted. Market Square in one of the only civic / open spaces in the Town Centre yet suffers from neglect. It may require a completely new use to bring life into it. Would there be local interest in a boule pitch in this area?
There are particularly lovely laneways and secondary streets – such as George’s Street; Charlotte Street; and Limerick Lane. Within the broader strategy discussed above, these would benefit from new paving and street furniture that links into an overall improvement of Main Street.
Pending larger scale works, examples of smaller scale works that would benefit secondary streets include:
- ‘Marking out’ corner buildings – such as the Bank of Ireland at the junction of Main Street and Charlotte Street where you could paint the railings blue/silver and provide low planting tubs behind the railing to create a ‘splash’ of colour;
- Using floral displays / trees in tubs to mark out junctions;
- Co-ordinating floral displays along side streets so, say Charlotte Street has blue floral displays, whereas George’s Street has red.
3. 4 Promote Brand ‘Newbridge’
Newbridge is home to a number of significant industries and businesses. The Town Centre need to capture the energy this creates and encourage these industries to use Newbridge itself as a canvas for advertising and branding.
Newbridge Silverware has made an international name for itself based on brand quality while promoting the name – Newbridge, on the world stage. The Silverware brand is synonymous with traditional crafting, high quality goods, luxury products and contemporary design. This is a branding that needs to extend beyond its immediate site to the Town in general. Creating a stronger link between the Silverware industry and Newbridge Town Centre benefits all parties. Actions that could achieve this could be quite simple, such as:
- Adoption of a colour theme for furniture, railings, bins, etc. throughout the Town using the iconic sky blue and silver combination of Newbridge Silverware;
- A project to use iconic Newbridge Silverware Posters to cover the empty windows of vacant units (see point 3.6 below);
- Installation of a central art feature – or an art trail, that links the Town Centre and the Newbridge Silverware site.
The Silverware ‘campus’ itself is lovely. Its context is somewhat undermined by some poor quality developments nearby so additional thought needs to be given to the quality of the link / route between the Town Centre and the Factory. I have addressed these below in point 3.8 ‘Urban Backlands’.
Similarly the location of the Bord Na Mona Headquarters in the Town Centre creates an opportunity for a branding link between this strong, indigenous Irish business and the Town that hosts its corporate home. The entranceway into the Bord Na Móna site requires upgrading such as:
- Improved signage at the entrance characteristic of a corporate HQ;
- Possible installation of a landmark art feature – such as a bog oak or turf feature, creating a link between the site and Main Street;
- Creation of a link into the site and the possible creation of an open space that could be accessed by the public.
Beyond its own site Bord Na Móna should be encouraged to “adopt” some aspect of Newbridge. Given their role in the gardening and landscaping sector, and their current association with the Newbridge in Bloom project, I would suggest there is a very obvious opportunity for Bord Na Móna to adopt some other aspects of Newbridge beyond it’s own site, potentially involving street planting and landscaping.
I am aware that both Old Connell Stud and Pfizer maintain the approach roads from the Naas direction, and that Pfizer sponsor the planting of the Buckley’s Cross Roundabout. Although located on the outer edge of the Town, Pfizer could be approached to participate in the sponsorship of a ‘street level’ feature in the town centre area – such as a landscaped area or similar, that compliments its ‘Host Town’, and provides a physical link to the Pfizer plant.
The White Water Shopping Centre is a dynamic use in the Town. It is well presented and managed. Other corporate players in the Town – Tesco, Dunne’s, Woodies DIY, should be encouraged to address identified issues on their sites.
3. 5 Bring Main Street to Life
There is an absence of colour on Main Street. While there are trees they are relatively small compared to the width of the street and also the height of buildings. They are also set back at considerable distance from the street edge so fail to have any real impact. Floral displays appear to be seasonal so there is a significant portion of the year where they are not used.
Within a broader plan for re-investment in the Main Street area semi-mature or mature trees should be planted. These should be located close to the pavement / road edge to:
- Define the vehicular carriageway;
- Provide a strong vertical edge to the carriageway – with an associated contribution to traffic calming and speed reduction;
- Break up blocks of parking along the Main Street.
Also, median planting would be particularly attractive and effective – greening the Town Centre and also accommodating crossing points for pedestrians. (Note: I understand this is proposed as a wider plan for re-development / improvement of Main Street.)
Trees can be provided without any loss in parking or character and they would be of significant benefit in increasing the ‘sense of place’ in the Town Centre.
Planting up cascade planters with shrubs – and indeed herbs, is a great way of providing colour and cover throughout the year. These require less maintenance and effort than smaller-scale baskets so should really be considered – even as an interim measure, to provide splashes of year round colour.
That said do not underestimate the impact from hanging baskets. I appreciate that many floral displays may not yet be in-place but consider year-round displays (which are lower maintenance and also more environmentally friendly) at locations such as the suite of shops at Main Street / Edward Street (Sitric Jewellers, Carphone Warehouse, Kildare Nationalist, Clarke’s Menswear) – where floral displays and also new grilles around the trees, would have a good visual impact.
The paths along Main Street are wide and clear. There is an excellent opportunity for retailers and businesses to bring life and colour onto the Street with outdoor displays and seating. Some businesses do this to great effect – such as florists and cafes, but more should be encouraged through the Chamber of Commerce (Note: attached guidance on what can be done re. pavement displays and seating).
The siting of commercial refuse bins – both to the front and rear of premises, is sometimes problematic. Where these cannot be stored in an ‘out of the way’ location, it may be an idea to enhance them as features of the Town Centre. One way of doing this is to brightly decorate and paint the bigger, metal, commercial bins. (Note: see attached examples of how this has been done elsewhere.)
3. 6 Manage Vacancies
There is an increasing number of vacated or empty units – particularly along secondary streets such as Eyre Street. While these are a reality of the times, they need to be better managed so as to avoid premises falling into disrepair and also to minimise the negative visual impact on the street.
Empty windows however provide an opportunity. Newbridge Silverware have developed a series of iconic black and white posters used throughout the print media in promoting their products. These posters could be used to amazing effect to cover the windows of empty shops while extending the branding of the Silverware business into the heart of the Town. If logos are carefully managed this can be done without any necessity for planning permission.
3. 7 Manage Key Locations
As noted in Section 2.0 there are prominent focal points in the Town which need to be better managed and looked after:
- At the GAA grounds there are many visible weeds. The car park area would benefit from nicer planting and trees – with no need to lose any parking spaces. All signs should be washed down and the markings on the pay and display sign removed. The adjacent yellow coloured railing needs to be painted. The nearby bins – located to the rear of the Xtra Vision, Permanent TSB and Bakery, look very untidy and should be tidied up.
- The Garda Station is well presented with nice trees and planting beds. Some additional planting boxes would be nice. This would also be a great location for some public bike racks.
- The Post Box at the front of Ladbroke’s needs to be re-painted.
- The Garrison Church / Town Hall is a lovely building that appears to be infrequently used. Its use aside, the Church could be presented to a higher standard by: removing gutter weeds; providing some planters along the low wall to the front; removal of the Christmas lights; cleaning of the overhead barrier and signs; and improved screening of the yard to the rear (see Point 3.11 below).
- The significantly contrasting scale between the Post Office and Penney’s is noted but at this stage unavoidable. Increasing the attractiveness of the building and its setting is the only realistic option. The building itself would benefit from a power wash; the wall to the rear of the telephone box (beside the gate into Bord na Móna) and the parapets should be painted; and the road sign to the front needs to be straightened and poles cleaned up. Ideally the roof mounted aerials should be rationalised but – if this is impossible, roof mounted planting could minimise their visual impact. Installing two or three cascading planters at this location would have a great impact, marking out the junction to good effect.
- The Bord na Móna premises represents a missed opportunity to showcase the Headquarters of an indigenous Irish business in the heart of the Town. As noted in point 3.4 above this can be addressed.
3. 8 Urban Backlands
Secondary sites in the Town, and particularly those to the rear of Main Street, are not particularly well managed. Again these sites may have suffered from the abrupt cessation of development in the Town due to the recession, but in the meantime they present a challenge for you in the future.
The backlands include some very high-profile areas – such as the lands immediately past the Newbridge Silverware site – from the former Schlotter facility to the Chill Dara Industrial Estate. Screening and fencing of these sites (and repair or replacement of existing broken fencing) needs to be considered so they at least present a neat edge to the roadside. Unauthorised fly posters and dumping needs to be addressed in these areas. The rear of the White Water Shopping Centre is poor and management of this may need to be discussed with the operators. Immediately opposite the Silverware factory the stacked containers at Timbercraft / Heating and Plumbing Centre should be removed.
Compounding the issues in this area is the treatment of the old water tower – National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Reference No. 11818059. This area is extremely unkempt and untidy and should be a priority for improvement. I would advise that Kildare County Council and the Heritage Council should be contacted on this item.
3. 9 Improve the Quality of Shop and Commercial Frontages
I noted above the potential for new and enhanced commercial displays at street level. On a related matter more care and attention is required at existing units to the ‘frontage’ they present to the street.
There are some great examples of window displays in the Town Centre – such as the very attractive displays at Life Pharmacy on Charlotte Street, Kelly’s Optician’s Main Street. Typically premises are well maintained and paintwork is reasonably fresh. There are emerging problems however, such as:
- Informal notices on the front of shop windows look cluttered and are simply killing the window displays. These should ideally be removed or, alternatively, be clustered in one corner of the frontage.
- Shops should be discouraged from obscuring glazed opes – which in itself has implications for planning permission. For example, the lovely Bits and Pieces Shop on Charlotte Street could be improved by the removal of the attractive, but ultimately ‘deadening’, stickers;
- Temporary and attractive features such as bunting, flags and Christmas lights are kept in place too long and can become negative features;
- ‘A-frame’ sandwich boards and bollard-mounted signs (such as along the side of the White Water Shopping Centre and adjacent to the water tower) on the path can cause obstruction;
- Large scale tarpaulin signs on building facades appear cluttered and untidy;
- Vacant buildings and sites are being used for advertisement purposes and, as a result, look tatty and unclean. These need to be removed.
Where a premises has recently fallen vacant – say at the Nissan Garage near McDonald’s, early intervention and management can ensure that these do not fall into disrepair.
Some commercial premises are particularly poor and need attention. In particular I would note: Martin Heydon TD’s office – where better bin storage and painting of the boundaries would greatly improve the appearance; the Newbridge Garden Centre and Woodies DIY – both real missed opportunity for outdoor display; and the Topaz Petrol Station – which though tidy, lacks colour. The Newbridge Shopping Centre is particularly stark and requires significant landscaping attention in the car park area. The ‘Opening Time’ signage is particularly stark and would greatly benefit from an attractive backdrop of trees and planting. Woodies benefits from the screening provided by the open space at Moorefield Park but, when seen ‘front on’ is bare and open. The planters provided are insufficient to provide colour in such an expansive car park and significant volumes of litter were noted behind the low wall. There is significant potential for Woodies to improve this situation – given their role as a provider for gardening and landscaping materials and also their involvement in the RTE community project initiative. Similarly as a major Irish retailer Dunne’s Stores should be interested in improving their appearance – particularly considering their proximity to Tesco which is quite well presented.
3.10 Rationalise Existing Features
Throughout the Town Centre, features should be rationalised, such as:
- Telephone boxes: there are at least three boxes along Main Street. Are these used and necessary? Are they well cared for? Are there posters and informal ads that can be removed?
- Bins: these are presented to varying standards and some require repair. Also there are very few bins at key locations such as bus stops. It was also noted that cigarette bins are typically poorly provided for on older bins. Any new bins should have cigarette grills on the top.
- Seats: as mentioned above it would be great to provide additional seating on the street in multi-functional seating / planting units. Existing seating could then be re-located – perhaps to appropriate areas beside bus stops?
3.11 Tackle Housekeeping Issues
The level of maintenance and management is typically quite good. Some additional areas requiring attention are set out below.
Note: responsibility for these does not ultimately fall on the Tidy Towns Association but it may be the case that you need to lobby / request these are carried out.
- Graffiti: where ‘tags’ appear – such as on the Blind Studio, remove immediately;
- Chewing Gum: this is a big problem along Main Street – exacerbated by the dated red coloured paving. Ideally the street would be cleaned and gum removed. However, this is an expensive task so a judgement call needs to be made balancing the cost on the likelihood that the street will ultimately be re-paved.
- Fly Posters: these are a significant problem at vacant sites and in the windows of vacant units. Simply, they need to be removed.
- Clean poles: a significant number of lighting poles need to be tidied up with the removal of tape and cable ties.
- Dog Mess bags: are these provided in shops / the park?
- Clean signs – high profile signs like the information sign in the park and a large proportion of the directional signs need to be washed down.
- St Conleth’s Bridge: needs to be power washed.
- Ensure signs are at optimal location – e.g. of the Liffey sign at the wall near the St Conleth’s Bridge should be mounted on the bridge itself.
- Pedestrian barriers at certain locations need to be repaired – for example at the Credit Union these are discoloured and bent and need to be replaced.
- The yard to the rear of the Garrison Church / Town Hall appears untidy and unmanaged. I appreciate this may still be in use by a local, community initiative. It should be better screened and signs erected indicating its use housing a community project. If this cannot be done, consideration may need to be given to re-locating this use to a less high-profile location.
A more significant and bigger task is that of tidying up bollards, many of which are tatty and require painting. Ideally the design of bollards should be standardised throughout the town. However where this is not possible, the existing bollards should be painted in a unifying theme – see my comments above where a silver and blue theme could be adopted.
3.12 Manage Peak Times
Although the Town was walked on a Monday morning, there are clearly peak times where visitor number numbers to the Town increase. These vary from daytime peaks – such as school drop off and pick up times, to days where the GAA grounds host matches. There are already good strategies in place for managing these days – such as White Water sharing parking facilities. This should be complimented by co-ordinating activities such as litter pick-ups around these times.