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the cork conundrum

How do you get a city ready to have an extra 85,000 people in it?

The time is ticking for Cork City Council and Cork County Council to get ready for the city’s expansion.

cork final Department of Housing Department of Housing

THE TRANSFER OF staff, budgets and a host of services between two sets of councils is set to be a “major challenge” to implement while still maintaining existing services for the people of Cork.

The long-running Cork boundary issue is slowly getting towards consensus, but there’s still an awful lot of work to be done before the city council takes over a large section of land, people and services from the county council.

Both councils have little over a year to get ready for the change, that will bring an extra 85,000 people into the population of Cork city.

Areas such as Ballincollig, Blarney, Donnybrook, Douglas, Rochestown, Cork Airport Glanmire and Sallybrook will become part of the city council, rather than the county, as part of the arrangement.

The idea of expanding Cork City Council has been mooted for several years, with a Department of Housing report last year saying the expansion was necessary to ensure that Cork is not left behind in terms of economic and social development.

New plans were needed to position Cork as “the engine of development and a counterweight to Dublin” and provide a “unified voice for Cork”.

After a consensus was mostly reached on how much land would be handed over last December, both councils face a huge task between now and next year’s local elections to get everything ready.

The man in charge of getting Cork City Council ready is David Joyce, who’s been appointed as transition director.

He told that there’s an awful lot of work to be done.

Joyce said: “We have no idea how many social housing units are in the expanded area. We don’t know how many parks, car parks, parking space, kilometres of road, public lighting… this is all information we don’t have at this point in time.

It’s hard for us to understand at the minute how much we’ll have to change. We’re trying to understand it on a service by service basis what [the county council] provides in terms of both people and finance.

Joyce said he was working closely with his counterpart in the county council to try to understand these things in advance of next year’s May/June deadline.

He explained: “So there’s a submission at the minute for the new electoral map, which has to be submitted to the Minister by 13 June. After that, we need to understand how the local authority will be structured, how many local representatives we’ll have etc.”

This is important, he said, as current and prospective councillors – some of whom may be vying for an election in a whole new council – will likely be starting their campaigns for next year soon enough.

One sticking point for many current councillors is that, while the electoral area is expanding, current proposals do not allow for an increase in the number of councillors.

Workers Party councillor Ted Tynan said that despite the population increase, not one additional seat would be added to the city council, which would “significantly dilute electoral representation on the council”. understands that the city council is appealing this decision to government and petitioning for more councillors to be added to the new electoral areas.

What the county is saying

Cork County Council, which was vehement in its opposition to much of the initial proposals, has put in place a number of measures to commence the “transitional arrangements”.

A spokesperson for the county council told “A high level implementation team has been established. This team will guide, direct and oversee the implementation programme within the county.”

“The transition programme is highly complex in nature, involving the transition of in excess of 400 local authority services,” the spokesperson said.

It will involve an enormous body of work. In addition, it will require a root and branch review – and redesign of – organisational structures and service delivery modelling for the remaining county. Budgetary and staffing matters will also need to be addressed at an early stage.

Joyce said that the city being given over such large swathes of land would provide many opportunities for development, so that the city can grow in line with “ambitious” objectives set out in the Ireland 2040 plan.

By 2040, the government wants the population of Cork to grow by 50-60% to at least 314,000.

With such a large population increase in little more than 20 years’ time expected, Ireland 2040 also aims for Cork to develop “ambitious large-scale regeneration projects for the provision of new employment, housing and supporting infrastructure”.

cork ireland 2040 The Ireland 2040 plans for Cork

Joyce said that the government’s plan has given Cork “significantly higher targets to reach than other areas”, as the onus is on it to grow a large amount in the coming years.

“Every city can’t be the same size,” he said. “[But] if you have one de facto super city, that’s not good for the country. You need a very strong second city, and strong regional cities.”

For example, areas to the west of Cork city, that will now become part of the city council, will offer opportunities for further development.

“In recent years, we’ve identified places like Mayfield and the Docklands as prime for development,” Joyce said. “We’re not gonna come in and identify things that the county council hasn’t, but there are some prime areas there for development in the future.”

Having all this land as part of the city council will allow it to put in place coordinate plans to develop housing, transport and other services for the people of Cork in the years to come, he added.

‘A crucial stage’

The Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork City, Fergal Dennehy, told that what’s coming is going to be a “huge change for everyone”, while councillor Ken O’Flynn said that it comes at a “crucial stage in [Cork's] development”.

Councillor Dennehy said that the change may require a “bedding down process” given the complexities involved, but that it was a necessary thing to do to allow Cork to grow.

“It’s important we do extend, and we do make that change,” he said. “It’s still a small city. And even making the population 210,000 still makes it small by European standards.

But in 50 years’ time, it’ll be a city of half a million. We have to adapt. We might need to start thinking about building up.

But, before Cork can expand in this way, it needs to do an awful lot of work over the next year and the following years to get to grips with the transfer of everything from libraries, museums, roads, social housing, illegal dumping and a host of other services.

“The population of Cork now is so small, and even when it gets bigger there’s still such a significant gap between the cities,” Joyce said.

Narrowing the gap is critical. But we’re going to have work very hard over the next 10 years so that the foundations are put in place for Cork to grow.
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