Could a Town Architect benefit Balbriggan?

Balbriggan’s population has increased from circa 6,000 to 25,0000 in just twenty years. It has one of the youngest populations in Ireland. Despite this growth and youth, it is not as booming or vibrant as one would expect. 

There are other examples of towns in Ireland which faced similar challenges and were successful in turning things around and they are now great places to live, work, play and visit.

There are likely many factors contributing to these success stories and one of them that seems to stand out is the appointment of a Town Architect in places such as Westport and Clonakilty.

We need good planning and planners involved in the development process and why I believe Fingal County Council should recruit a Town Architect for Balbriggan. Given the housing crisis at the moment, there is a strong tendency to allow housing no matter what. If good planning processes are not put in place, we risk the mistakes of the past.

Figures compiled by the Architects’ Council of Europe show that there is one architect for every 2,100 people in Germany, one to 8,000 in France, one to 9,500 in Britain and one to 15,000 in Ireland.


10 years ago, Balbriggan’s main streets and main street throughout Ireland was negatively affected by out of town shopping developments. Today, even out of town developments are challenged by the rise of retail on the internet. Given this situation, a good architect is a vital part of the resource necessary, particularly with the launch of the Our Balbriggan plan.

Our Balbriggan is a €20m plan from Fingal, which aims to deliver a ‘Socio-Economic Strategy’. The plan is a very welcome response to the challenges that present. The council was hugely innovative in how it engaged with residents through surveys, meetings, stalls and other ways. The result was that 4,000 people made submissions to the plan. The challenge now is to develop and drive the plan and I think the appointment of an urban architect is vital to increased success.

Many people think architects design buildings or projects within buildings, but architecture is also about much more than that. Town architecture is about the urban design of a place and how different buildings, parks, roads, facilities interact with eachother and with a view to ensuring some kind of cohesion.

Westport was voted the Irish Times Best Place to Live in Ireland in 2012. In researching this further, I came across an article where Simon Wall, Westport’s Town Architect gives some advice to the town of Fermoy.

Town architect Simon Wall says: ‘Pedestrianising areas, upgrading footpaths, uniformity of design of buildings to provide continuity and plenty of planting. Tidy up the streetscape by undergrounding 95% of its overhead lines, the judicious restriction of cars in the town centre, a policy of using space over shops for living accommodation’ all help to improve the look of a town. 

As an employee of the local authority, the Town Architect with the local Tidy Towns and other bodies worked together as a cohesive team to bring projects to fruition. They accessed LEADER and other funding to pay for the works with financial support  from the town council. They got funding for much more ambitious projects too such as the €5M national allocation to enable them to become a ‘smarter travel’ town, allowing them to develop extensive cycle lanes and a linked up system for public and private transport that is a revelation. They also developed a skate park and green play area which Simon Wall said helped stop young people from congregating in other areas and reduced anti-social behaviour. They even reopened their old railway line, providing a 45K open ‘greenway’ all the way to Achill, a project that he said had gone far beyond their own expectations with 175,000 users annually. It won them a prize and brings in 7.2M in tourism benefit annually.

Have a look at the video on the work of the Westport Town Architect and then imagine #Balbriggan

Check out this video from RTE Eco Eye on how we can incorporate physical activity in to our travel routines. It highlights how much of our urban environment encourages sedentary living.

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