Author: Seán Mason, geotechnical & maritime director, Arup Ireland
The fourth-best leisure harbour in Ireland? I am not a sailor, so I am not qualified to judge. However, as a Greystones resident, my clearly biased view is that Greystones Harbour has been transformed from a dilapidated and non-functioning old harbour into a vibrant maritime facility with huge growth potential.
It has been a long time coming, however. In the early days, a small fishing community grew around the rocky headland, taking its name from the local grey rock and beach shingle. Back in Victorian times, rock was quarried to create a small harbour, with the excavated rock used to build a protective breakwater.
Even from its earliest days, the harbour suffered. The exposed northern end of the breakwater was continually undermined and damaged, with little protection afforded to ships from north-easterly storms. In the late 1800s, a northern breakwater was constructed out from the beach to provide a more protected harbour. Unfortunately, this structure failed as it was being constructed. In addition, the original ‘inner’ harbour completely silted up.
Many attempts have been made over the years to retain the harbour, including the use of a section of the base of the Kish Lighthouse, which was damaged during casting/float-out, to extend the main breakwater.
[caption id="attachment_8447" align="alignright" width="363"] Greystones Harbour before the works[/caption]
The impact of the sea on the Greystones community has been even more dramatic on the adjoining coastline. Having been forced by the Earl of Meath to locate the railway line on the seaward side of Bray Head, Isambard Kindgdom Brunel was brought over to design the original complex sequence of bridges, tunnels and coastal protection works.
Progressive coastal erosion over the subsequent century has resulted in the realignment of the railway further inland, with the loss of many coastal structures and construction of a significant length of new tunnel. Erosion of the sea cliffs along the north beach between Greystones Harbour and Bray Head has been estimated at up to half a metre every year – that is 50 metres of movement inland in just 100 years.
In 1930/31, winter storms from the north-east devastated the small Greystones community, with the loss of some 15 houses to the sea along the ‘Beach Road’. All in all, the Greystones coastline has proven historically to be dynamic, aggressive and hostile.
As the harbour fell into further disrepair, with increasing health and safety concerns and reducing public amenity value, something had to be done. After some initial concepts and public consultations, a proposed harbour/marina site was designated in the 1999 Local Area Plan for Greystones/Delgany.
Wicklow County Council then initiated a development plan to procure a major new harbour/marina and associated waterside development, through a public-private partnership (PPP) mechanism. The PPP model was based on a 30-year concession period, during which the appointed private development consortium builds and operates: