Theme 5: The City, Urban Villages and Retail

Icon for theme 5  Introduction

The retail sector is an essential part of the national economy in terms of employment and economic activity and a strong retail sector is a key element in maintaining the vitality and competitiveness of urban centres. In 2019, the retail sector was the largest private sector employer in the country, employing 13% of the workforce. It was the biggest contributor to the Irish exchequer, generating 21% of total tax receipts in the country and it accounted for 40% of personable spending. According to the 2016 Census, 19% of the Dublin City workforce was employed in the retail sector, which translates to 60,000 people.

After years of strong growth, the retail sector is now facing a challenging environment as a result of the Covid 19 crisis as well as other evolving trends including the evolution of e-commerce. In recent months, Dublin City Centre in particular has been very negatively impacted. Footfall in Dublin City Centre has fallen due to office workers working from home, the drop in tourist numbers and the cancellation of cultural and sporting events in the City. There has been a significant contraction in economic activity. Revitalising the City centre is a key challenge for Dublin and developing the resilience of the City post Covid will be a core objective of the Plan.

In line with national and regional guidance, the City must provide an appropriate hierarchy of attractive and liveable urban centres with a particular focus on enhanced levels of amenity, design quality and vitality. Dublin, at the top of the hierarchy, must have the necessary attractions and mix of retail and other land uses to ensure an active and vibrant City centre. Retail also plays an important role in the development of attractive and self sustaining neighbourhoods. Our urban villages and district centres are at the heart of residential communities, and the development of an appropriate range of local retail facilities and commercial activity is essential to successful place making and creating accessible, attractive and desirable places to live.

Background and Context

The Retail Planning Guidelines 2012 set out the planning policy framework for the development of retail in the City. They set out the requirement for a Plan led approach to retail development. It is the policy of the RSES to support the preparation of a new Retail Strategy for the region. Pending the Strategy’s preparation the RSES sets out the retail hierarchy for the region. The RSES also emphasises the importance of placemaking and the development of town centre renewal plans and design guidelines for town centres.

Dublin City is the prime retail destination in the State and the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly area. The City is highly accessible by public transport and the City Council continues to develop, implement and support sustainable transport initiatives for the City Centre to improve and animate the public realm, to enable people to move around the City with ease and to enhance people’s experience of the City.

The principle shopping streets in the City are focused at and around the Henry Street and Grafton Street areas. Current Development Plan policy identifies Category 1 and Category 2 retail streets within the City Centre4 . The purpose of this designation is to protect the primacy of the retail function of these streets. Allied to the retailing attraction of the City is the mix of cafes, bars, cultural attractions and events, services and night time attractions, amenities and recreational opportunities which give a potent vibrancy to the City.

Notwithstanding its primacy, in recent years Dublin has seen little investment in new retail floorspace. New retail development has generally formed part of refurbishment / redevelopment schemes in the City such as the redevelopment of the former Clery’s Department Store on O’Connell Street; the repurposing of the Former Central Bank building and the redevelopment of Hibernian House. Other large profile retail sites, notably the Carlton Cinema / Dublin Central site on O’Connell Street / Henry Street / Moore Street remain as a significant regeneration opportunity for O’Connell Street and for the north side of the City.

There are thirteen District Centres in the Council’s administrative area. Eight of these are designated as Key District Centres which is the top tier of urban centres in the City outside of the City Centre and five are designated as District Centres. Their role is to provide a higher level of service and retail function than neighbourhood centres. The retail profile and success of each Key District and District Centres varies greatly. Some such as Omni Shopping Centre in Santry have a wide range of retail offer. Others however, particularly some of the older suburban centres such as Phibsborough, Finglas and Ballyfermot are characterised by limited and lower order shopping and a car dominated urban environment. The completion and future success of new retail centres such as Clongriffin / Belmayne, ‘The Point’ District Centre, Poolbeg and Naas Road are reliant on the development and completion of proposed high density residential development and office development as appropriate, in these areas.


Changing consumer habits and tastes coupled with technological innovation continue to have a significant impact on the retail sector. The main trends influencing retail development are:

  • The continued growth of e-commerce (online retailing),
  • The rise of ‘omni-channel shopping’ which is essentially the merging of the physical shop and online retailing facilitated by the growth and wide spread use of digital devices such as smart phones and the popularity of social media platforms,
  • The growth of the food service sector and
  • The expansion of experiential and service based retailing (such as grooming services, gyms etc.).

These trends have implications for the type of retail format and offer in the future as well as the demand for retail floorspace. The retail sector has also seen significant challenges from the restructuring of many high profile high street brands, resulting in the closure of a number of retailers. This will have ongoing implications for vacancy rates and a requirement to redevelop and repurpose some of the larger floor plate retail units that are no longer in demand. The City is also under constant pressure to compete with the development of regional and suburban centres, many of which are easily accessible by private car and by existing or planned high quality public transport.

The impacts of Covid-19 remain uncertain in the longer term. Ongoing restrictions, social distancing requirements and the costs associated with adaptation to the crisis, combined with falling consumer sentiment and confidence are particular challenges for the retail sector.

It is clear that the role and function of our retail centres is changing dramatically. For Dublin City centre to be successful into the future it can no longer be considered as a retail destination in isolation but rather as a multifaceted destination where retail, culture, entertainment, food and beverage all play an intrinsic role in contributing to a vibrant dynamic urban core. Dublin City must develop its unique selling point in order for it to compete effectively. The development of niche and specialist retail, combined with high quality attractions and amenities, the continued enhancement of the public realm and the City’s green infrastructure and further development of complementary culture and entertainment facilities will be essential. The role of the night time economy and how this can be further developed, managed and enhanced must also be considered.

It is also recognised that many older inner suburban centres and urban villages no longer have competitive tenant mixes, suitable shop sizes or attractive shopping environments. There is a need to revitalise older centres, establish more diverse and specialist shops and provide for environmental improvements. Many of these centres are underutilised and there are opportunities to further enhance, intensify and repurpose these centres as key focal points for the communities and neighbourhoods that they serve.

The City, Urban Villages and Retail - Some Key Questions:

1 How can the Plan support retailing in the City Centre and ensure that the City Centre remains the premier shopping destination in the Region and State for comparison goods shopping?
2 What is the appropriate balance and mix between retail and other City Centre uses such as leisure, food and retail services in the Category 1 and 2 retail streets of the City Centre?
3 How can the Plan support the development of markets, niche and specialist retailing, independent retailing in the City Centre and in the other urban centres and villages of the City?How can the Plan support the development of a 24 hour City with cross generational appeal without impacting on existing uses in the City and the promotion of residential development?

How can the Plan support the development of a 24 hour City with cross generational appeal without impacting on existing uses in the City and the promotion of residential development?

5 How can the Plan support the commercial viability, social and physical environments of Key District Centres, District Centres and Urban Villages and what mix of uses would best underpin these centres? 
6 What policy approach should the Plan have toward vacant units on shopping streets and what temporary uses should be encouraged on these streets? 
  • 4 - Category 1: The designation restricts non-retail uses at the ground floor level of the main shopping streets, with a land-use emphasis in favour of higher order retail use at ground floor level. Retail service outlets are not permitted on these streets.
    The Category 2: The designation seeks to support further development of retail frontage on these streets. It supports uses which add to the vibrancy of the streets but with regard to the primary retail function of the street.