Is Greystones at capacity? ‘There is a genuine concern that the town can’t cope’

It’s close to Dublin and the sea, but residents say it is struggling with rising population and oversubscribed amenities

A walk down Church Road in Greystones, Co Wicklow, on a midweek evening paints a picture of a thriving community. The sun is out and there’s not a seat to be had outside every bar, restaurant and cafe on the road that runs through the town centre.

But not everyone is happy. Despite the positive image of local businesses doing well, residents say the town is struggling to cope with the number of people now living in the area.

Located on the coast, close to Dublin at the end of the southbound Dart line, Greystones has seen its population rise by 20 per cent since 2016. Wicklow County Council has a target for the town of 21,727 residents by 2028. Five years in advance of that date, the number of people living in Greystones is only 300 below that figure, while the number of new housing units under construction – 1,050, according to planners – has already reached the local authority’s “core strategy target”.

Those numbers led the council to recently refuse planning permission 98 houses on the northern fringe of the town. The decision is widely seen as an effective ban on granting planning permissions in the Greystones-Delgany area over the next five years. Local residents and elected officials alike hope the pause can give a burdened amenity system time to catch up to the demand placed on it by new residents.


Paul Byrne, editor of the Greystones Guide, a local website, explains why the area has become such a popular spot to live. “It’s long had that perfect location where you’re accessible to Dublin with the Dart line but on the doorstep of Glendalough or Sallygap,” he says.

“It’s the perfect halfway house – by the sea but with bigger access to everything. The location is key. But there is a strong anger from people in the town that there are too many people in the boat, it’s sinking.”

That frustration is centred on what locals describe as oversubscribed amenities. Be it with traffic and transport, school places, local sports clubs or medical care, residents find themselves stuck in a backlog when trying to go about everyday life.

St Patrick’s National School is one of eight primary schools in Greystones. In 2019, it catered to 260 students. In advance of the new academic year starting in September, there will be over 400 pupils.

Rachel Harper, principal of St Patrick’s, explains that all schools in the area pool applications to ensure that every local child is catered for. “As the eight primary school principles in the area, Greystones and Delgany, we come together once a month,” she says.

“All the schools are in tune, we would have a master copy of the admissions list just to make sure that all the children that are applying, if they don’t have a place in St Patrick’s they have a place somewhere else. That’s been happening the last number of years. This September we know that everyone has got a place.”

Last year, the three secondary schools in the area – St David’s Holy Faith, Temple Carrig School and Greystones Community College – started collaborating on a similar process.

“It came from concerns from parents,” explains Simon Carey, principal of St David’s Holy Faith. “We had requests from local [elected] office holders that the schools should work together.”

Mr Carey explains that his school currently has a first-year waiting list of 127, but that the “overwhelming vast majority, 95, 96 per cent” of those on the list have secured a place elsewhere thanks in part to the schools’ joined-up thinking.

Until 2014, St David’s was the only secondary school in Greystones. Nine years on, even with two extra schools, talk has already emerged of the potential need for more schools.

“I would say [we are at] capacity, but not absolute capacity,” says Mr Carey. “Schools and school leaders are always very creative. I do think we are meeting demand. That isn’t to say come four, five years time we might possibly need a fourth school, but we have very small numbers of children currently who don’t have places.”

Roberta Lawless has a son currently in sixth class in a Greystones primary school. Unable to get her child a place in a local secondary school alongside his primary schoolfriends, she has to send him to a school away from the area.

“We can’t get into a school here, but we could get him into the primary school,” she says. “He’s down in the dumps about it. Nobody out of his class is going, unless he keeps in touch with people here he’ll have to make all new mates, which I’m sure he will but at 12 years of age it’s difficult.

“There was 170 on one school’s waiting list, which is ridiculous. You have to think of all the kids around the area.”

Ms Lawless’ son plays football for Sporting Greystones, a soccer club which was founded in 2017 by Peter Baxter, among others, to give his children somewhere to play. Mr Baxter tried to bring his sons to Greystones United, another local club, only to be told they had a four-year waiting list.

Six years on, Sporting Greystones has over 200 members. “We had a pretty big uptake, explains Baxter. “Our intention was to set up a team just for our kids, then we had a club. It was just ‘Can we join, can we join’.”

As with most sports clubs in the area, space is an issue for Sporting Greystones. Their main grass pitch is largely unusable during the wet winter months and it is only big enough for nine-a-side matches. The club also has 100 children on its waiting list.

Larry Howard, chair of Éire Óg, a local GAA club, tells a similar story. In the last five years, local population growth has seen the club go from 750 to 1500 members, making it “one of the fastest growing clubs in the country.” With men’s and women’s football, hurling and camogie all vying for just two pitches, Howard is concerned that the club will have to “assess membership”.

Citing a need for two further playing fields, he says: “We cannot find land within our price range due to its development value.”

Builders have criticised the council’s planning decision, pointing to the need for housing nationwide and the presence of land zoned for development in the Greystones-Delgany area. However, local Green Party Councillor Lourda Scott says that the council’s decision was about sustainable town planning, rather than just the building of houses.

“There’s definitely a need for social and affordable housing going forward, but that’s not what this development was offering,” she says. “I welcome this decision.”

Offering further examples of the strain the population size has put on Greystones, Cllr Scott said “the traffic and heavy reliance on cars to transport people to recreational activities that are here is a problem,” while plans to increase the frequency of a “relatively infrequent” Dart schedule and for bus connect services are “in the offing”.

Jennifer Whitmore, a Social Democrats TD whose constituency office is in Greystones, criticises the Government for failing to “front load” communities like Greystones with the amenities they need to deal with population rises.

“We need the Government to be proactive, they need to front load that area with the investment required to ensure basics like school, childcare and GPs are all there.

“It’s only recently that Greystones had an out-of-hours emergency doctors service, that’s only in the past few years. There is still no primary care facility in the town.

“It’s not proactive, it’s come about from activism in the community and that’s not good enough. There needs to be a lot more investment in the area from a council and national level.”

Alongside concerns for everyday resources, there is a worry within the community that the shift from developing housing to amenities is seen as a quaint seaside town turning down much-needed development for selfish reasons.

“The one thing that Greystones feels strongly about, because it has a reputation of pleasant-ville, is that this is not nimbyism,” says Byrne.

“It’s in every town that people get angry because developers build on top of their childhood place. But that’s mixed in with a genuine concern, from all generations, that the town can’t cope.”

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist