The Strategic Campus Development Plan: time for a check-up?

The Strategic Campus Development Plan lays out the vision for the development of University College Dublin over the ten years from 2016 to 2026. With “a set of guidelines documenting their intentionsfor each, the Development plan includes a Campus Development Plan, a Sustainable Campus Plan, a UCD Travel Plan and a Residential Masterplan. However these strategies are being designed and implemented without a strong input from the student body. As a result, a group of Planning & Environmental Policy students have decided to organise the documentation of the "UCD Students' Strategic Vision", with the support of the Students’ Union and UCD Estate Services. This is designed to run alongside the Strategic Campus Development Plan and to be used by the University when making future decisions about the evolution of the campus. The UCD Students' Strategic Vision would be a manifestation of extensive research into students’ opinions on campus development. This will involve an online and on-campus survey, written and email submissions and information sessions, as well as a Panel Discussion. For the Strategic Vision to be an accurate representation of the collegian view, the group used a process similar to creating a Local Area Plan, as would be done in a County Council. With the Students’ Union effectively acting as the County Council of UCD, the Final Vision will be brought before the SU Council to be approved. In addition, Roy Harford of the UCD Students' Strategic Vision group outlined the benefit of having such a document when campaigning for student services: “the intention is that this document could then be used by the University to incorporate students views into their own plans, and could … be used by the SU as a basis for future campaigns on campus related issues.” As part of the UCD Students' Strategic Vision initiative and Planning Week, a Panel Discussion on the Future Development of the UCD Campus was held on Thursday 8th November. Hosted in the Richview Campus, a panel of guests were invited to comment on the Strategic Campus Development Plan and how it should evolve. The discussion was broken down by topic; Vision for UCD, Surrounding Area and Local Community, Student Accommodation, Environmental Impact and Transport links, with each guest focusing on different aspects. Chaired by Joe Carr, the President of the Irish Planning Institute, a series of questions were posed to Louise McGauran, Senior Planner with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Barry Murphy, President of the UCD Students’ Union and Tom Phillips, Managing Director of the Planning Consultants Tom Phillips + Associates. With a population of nearly 30,000 staff and students, University College Dublin has come to be a town within itself and it continues to grow rapidly. The Strategic Campus Development Plan explains the vision of UCD in the coming years and how this will physically manifest. As a planner, Louise McGauran saw the importance of looking to other universities to learn how best to develop the campus within its surroundings. Traditionally, a university campus would have been primarily inward looking. This model is evident in UCD with the centre of the campus focused around the lake, however post-war ideas have shifted towards the university becoming more integrated with the adjacent community, such as in the University of Chicago. Tom Phillips also noted that 55% of the population of UCD use the N11 entrance as their primary gateway into the college. This entrance is on its own bridge and slip road. This means that the entrance is only used very deliberately and discourages any casual passer-by. Laid out in the Strategic, Coherent and Integrated Location of Activities section of the Development Plan, the college continues to locate car parks around the periphery, leaving the centralised zone for pedestrians. This serves to further the inward-looking lay out of UCD, the areas connecting the campus and surrounding communities never truly inhabited. Is this model of UCD as an isolated entity preferable to the alternative, where the campus of UCD is truly part of Dublin suburbia, and blends into its surrounding communities or should the Students' Strategic Vision initiative be used to alter this trajectory? Having already spent four years on campus already, UCDSU President Barry Murphy put forward a comprehensive view of the additional facilities that are needed in UCD. As the manner in which we learn evolves, so too must the spaces in which this learning takes place. The introduction of learning hubs, small rooms and tutorial spaces are essential to back-up the large lectures. According to Murphy, the “biggest deficit” in services is the number of library spaces available. Currently there are only approximately 13,000 library seats. This is of major concern as there is no strategy to develop library space in the masterplan. In contrast, University of Limerick has recently opened the state of the art Glucksman Library, which not only caters for every student in UL but also provides a socket for each space. Here in UCD the trend of library usage would see the libraries filled to capacity generally from week nine or ten in the semester, however Murphy claimed that the libraries around campus have been filling up from around week six and seven, showing that this overcrowding is getting worse year on year. This problem emphasises the importance of the Students' Strategic Vision initiative, enabling students to highlight over-sights within the masterplan. A major focus of the Panel Discussion was the development of student accommodation. The Masterplan for Accommodation states that “the provision of additional quality student residences on the campus is a significant ambition of the University”. In short, it outlines the provision of 3,006 new bed spaces. The development is expected to span ten years and will culminate in seven apartment blocks, ranging in height from five to ten storeys. It is proposed that these blocks will follow the format of the existing student accommodation and be arranged into squares to facilitate a “continuous pedestrian route to ensure integration between the proposed villages and to facilitate linkages between the proposed accommodation and the existing student accommodation”. A student facility centre, the Fulcrum Building, will be built to house a function hall, gym, health and wellbeing centre and other shops and services (such as a bank). An issue in the Masterplan that was raised was the proposal that each bedroom would have its own en suite. This is a concern as it hugely increases the cost of building this accommodation and therefore the cost to the prospective resident. Barry Murphy argued that although it is important that the new rooms are of good quality, an individual bathroom is not necessary. It also means that twice the number of facilities are needed compared to a shared bathroom set-up as in Belgrove: 3,006 new showers and toilets and sinks. The en suite room is modelled off the European style of accommodation and is designed to attract international students. This is primarily to makeup for a deficit in government funding, the huge fees of the international students used to subsidise the Irish students. “Banks won’t fund philanthropy” Tom Phillips said, highlighting the need for accommodation to be expensive just to pay for itself. Another potential negative product of having an ensuite in each room is the isolating effect it can have. The sheer size of the population in UCD can make it difficult for people to make friends. When he surveyed students living the current student accommodation, Murphy found that many student living in Roebuck Castle found their living quarters to be quite solitary. There are twelve rooms to each flat, each with their own bathroom. The residents have no reason to leave their rooms once they come home, only to eat in the catered restaurant. It is possible that the new accommodation could become a bit of a ghost town too if the social side of living in a student residence isn’t considered. As an experienced planner, Louise McGauran discussed the effect new student accommodation could have on the wider community. Although more housing would be provided within the UCD campus for students it is unlikely that more housing spaces would become available up on the open market. This is because of the number of students that are forced to commute as a result of the housing crisis in Dublin. As spaces become available they would be taken by the commuting students. The college experience differs greatly for students commuting. Tom Phillips, an alumnus of UCD himself, commuted in and out to college everyday and felt he missed out on the full college experience. For every five student beds created within accommodation a house becomes free on the open market. Whether that house is used to tackle the homeless crisis, student housing crisis or the difficulty faced by young professionals trying to find houses, the building of more student accommodation has positive effects on the entire environs of UCD. As part of Panel Discussion on the Future Development of the UCD Campus the topic of ‘Environmental Impact’ was discussed. Louise McGauran outlined the importance of open spaces in conjunction with the built development. In her work, the importance of the climate change agenda is influencing more and more projects. Tom Phillips pointed to the obvious inefficiency of the lack of waste segregation in the university. Although UCD is leading the way with regards to research into the changing environment, this interest is not represented by the manner in which the University functions. Funds are being pumped into academia as opposed to facilities to bring about change. On of the more troubling revelations of the Panel Discussion was that even though some bins are available for recyclable waste, it is all put into the landfill regardless. This is startling when you consider the amount of waste generated by a population of 35,000, most of whom have been segregating waste since primary school. Some positive moves have already been made towards a green campus such as compostable coffee cups and the promotion of green transport methods, however there is a lot of small changes that can be made that would have a major impact in a space the size of UCD. It is important that we look after the campus that the research is happening is, as well as doing the research.
“when we come back in ten years time [UCD] will be completely different… because [UCD] is developing at such a fast pace, at every stage we should be mindful and careful of what we are actually building”
Details of the Strategic Campus Development Plan can be found online at All the literature discussing the strategies for accommodation, transport and the masterplan are accessible and easy to read and give an insight into the direction in which UCD is going. The ten year cycle of development we find ourselves in is a critical stage and it has never been more important for students to voice their opinions and to have an initiative such as UCD Students' Strategic Vision. The group have set up an online survey which questions all aspects of life in the college; from the internal navigation to nightlife to the provision of accommodation. By participating in this survey and upcoming events discussing the evolution of UCD, the student can have a positive impact on the university for the future collegians. As Murphy put it “when we come back in ten years time (UCD) will be completely different… because (UCD) is developing at such a fast pace, at every stage we should be mindful and careful of what we are actually building”. Have your say in the Future of the UCD Campus, and contribute YOUR views and ideas to the UCD Students' Strategic Vision! Just fill out this short online survey, and be in with a chance to win a €100 One4all gift voucher!