‘We’ve done our bit, now it’s up to the minister,’ says Cork’s lord mayor on boundary extension

We’ve done our bit — now it’s up to the minister.

That was the message from the lord mayor of Cork, Tony Fitzgerald, last night as city councillors endorsed a compromise boundary extension proposal which was agreed following a day of marathon talks, writes Eoin English.

We’ve done our bit — now it’s up to the minister.

That was the message from the lord mayor of Cork, Tony Fitzgerald, last night as city councillors endorsed a compromise boundary extension proposal which was agreed following a day of marathon talks.

“We didn’t want a decision made in Dublin about Cork’s city boundary,” he said. “Now after all of the discussions, we’ve arrived at a point where the implementation oversight group can make a recommendation to government.”

The compromise was agreed by the chief executives of both councils and representatives of the city and county councils, under the auspices of the implementation oversight group, chaired by former head of An Bord Pleanála, John O’Connor, during marathon talks yesterday.

While city councillors endorsed it later, county councillors remain divided. A briefing in County Hall went on late last night, with splits emerging in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

However, the boundary proposal is expected to be forwarded to the Planning and Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy by Mr O’Connor before the end of this week.

Legislation to give effect to the extension should be introduced before next March.

Mr Fitzgerald said the scaled-down version of the Mackinnon boundary extension will ensure that Cork is the southern capital of the region, and best positioned to drive development and growth in the region.

“It has taken 50 years to reach a conclusion on this. But the citizens of Cork are at the centre of this boundary extension,” he insisted.

Former lord mayor, Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary, said the compromise delivers about two-thirds of the Mackinnon proposal, and represents a good deal for the city.

“It gives us a city of scale to develop,” he said.

Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer said the proposed extension will ensure the economic viability of both local authorities.

“Now we have to work on the real substantive issues of service delivery, economic development, planning and the matters that really affect the people and businesses of Cork,” he said.

Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon said he was disappointed at the lopsided nature of the boundary extension but that it was probably the best deal available.

“It was important that we come to a deal because I think it’s important that we show the country that Cork can actually do its business,” he said. “The ongoing wrangle with the county was not doing us any good.”

Independent councillor Mick Finn welcomed the deal but took a swipe at some county councillors opposed to the boundary extension, who, in recent weeks, described Cork “as a city dying on its last legs”.

“These comments were uneducated at best and really nothing short of disgraceful,” he said.

“The compromise proposals will allow the city to grow for the first time in half a century.”

The Cork Business Association (CBA) gave a cautious welcome to the compromise.

“There was always going to be some element of compromise,” chief executive Lawrence Owens said.

“While this extension doesn’t give us the critical mass of a population of 250,000, it’s a pragmatic solution. The inertia around the issue for the last few years has affected the region.

“We now need to get on with the day job of developing the region and what’s good for Cork Inc.”

However, he said such a drawn-out boundary process should never be allowed happen again.

“If we’ve learned anything from this process it’s this — we need to have a practical mechanism that will allow the city to expand,” he said.

“Building in a mandatory review structure in a decade or two would allow for the natural, logical and reasonable expansion of the city — otherwise we will be in the same mess again.”

Oliver Moran, Green Party representative in Cork North Central, who campaigned against the proposed merger of the city and county councils, echoed those calls.

“We need an objective framework for deciding city boundaries in Ireland,” he said.

“It’s farcical that on the one hand we want to grow Cork as a counter-balance to Dublin — but then when it does, it finds itself wrestling with the county to adjust its boundary.”

Cork Airport is set to become part of the city under the deal.

Cork City population to double after deal

The population of Cork City is poised to double within weeks after an historic compromise deal on a city boundary extension emerged last night.

The deal, first reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, was hammered out after a day of talks between representatives of the corporate policy groups of the city and county councils, overseen by the group charged with implementing the findings of the Mackinnon review.

The compromise recommends that Ballincollig, Blarney, Tower, Glanmire, and Cork Airport become part of the city, as proposed by the Mackinnon review. Monard, an area near Blarney earmarked for a new town, and the commercial rates-rich areas of Little Island and Carrigtwohill, east of Dunkettle, which were part of the Mackinnon proposal, will stay in the county.

The extension would boost the city’s population from 100,000 to just under 210,000.

It is understood a 12- to 15-year review of the boundary has been built into the deal, while details of a compensation package for the county to cover its loss of rates income is being worked out.

There was a broad welcome from city councillors when they were briefed at City Hall last night. Deep divisions were evident in County Hall when county councillors were briefed, but their concerns are unlikely to derail the process.

Chairman of the oversight group, John O’Connor, is expected to submit the compromise proposal and a detailed implementation plan as part of his final report on the issue to Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy within days.

Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald described the agreement as a historic day for the city and urged Mr Murphy to act on the report quickly.

Timeline

1965: Cork city secures its last city boundary extension.

November 2006: Former city manager Joe Gavin prepares a boundary extension plan to grow its population from 120,000 to 180,000. His report recommends the city take charge of Kerry Pike and Killeens, Monard, Rathpeacon and Rathcooney, Glanmire, Riverstown, Glounthane, Little Island, Curraheen, Waterfall, Ballinora, Ballygarvan, Togher, Doughcloyne, Cork Airport, Douglas, Donnybrook, Grange, Rochestown, Passage, and Monkstown.

2011: The proposal is shelved and a formal request for the boundary extension stalls pending clarification from then environment minister John Gormley on the future of local government arrangements.

October 2012: Former environment minister Phil Hogan unveils the most radical reform of local government in a century and gives Cork city and county councils five years to agree a city boundary extension, or have it imposed.

January 15, 2015: With no progress on the issue, then environment minister Alan Kelly establishes the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) committee, chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, to examine Cork’s local government structures, and to consider the merits of a boundary extension or merger of the two local authorities.

September 8, 2015: The committee is split three to two in favour of merging the city and county councils to create a unified super-council. UCC academics Dr Theresa Reidy and Prof Dermot Keogh’s minority report favours the retention of the two councils and a boundary extension. However, Mr Kelly accepts the recommendations of the majority report.

September 22, 2015: Following a dramatic midnight meeting of Cork City Council, councillors direct city chief executive Ann Doherty to pursue a judicial review of the actions of the CLGR group, and to mount a constitutional challenge against government policy on the mergers of local authorities.

October 2, 2016: Following a year of political wrangling, former Local Government Minister Simon Coveney establishes an expert advisory group, chaired by former chief planner for Scotland Jim Mackinnon, to examine the CLGR reports and issue a report in a bid to break the stalemate.

Late October 2016: The Irish Examiner reveals details of the Bovaird report, which criticises the majority report and backs the minority report’s recommendations.

June 9, 2017: The Mackinnon report recommends the retention of the two local authorities as well as a significant city boundary extension to include Ballincollig, Blarney, Carrigtwohill, Little Island, and the Cork Airport region, to increase the size of the city eightfold and increase its population by around 100,000 to 225,000. The Mackinnon recommendations are accepted by current Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy.

June 28, 2017: Mr Murphy sets up an implementation oversight group (IoG), chaired by former head of Bórd Pleanála, John O’Connor, to implement the Mackinnon recommendations.

August 4, 2017: A day after the IoG’s first meeting, Cork County Councillors offer to cede land close to the city fringes, including Doughcloyne, Ardrostig, Frankfield, Donnybrook, Grange, Castletreasure, and Rochestown on the southside, and Kilbarry, Carhoo, Kilcully, Ballyvolane on the northside.

The offer does not include Blarney, Ballincollig, Little Island, Carrigtwohill, or Cork Airport, as envisaged by Mackinnon. They say it will increase the geographic area of Cork City by 85%, thereby allowing the city’s population to increase by 39,000 with the capacity to grow to 283,000 over time.

August 14, 2017: City councillors reject the offer on the grounds that it “runs contrary” to the larger boundary extension recommended by Mackinnon.

August 18, 2017: Mayor of Cork County, Declan Hurley, launches a scathing criticism of the Mackinnon report, describing it as “ill-conceived” and “more reminiscent of a child’s scribble on a map rather than a logical, considered conclusion”.

September 4, 2017: County councillors trigger a formal Section 29 process seeking a boundary alteration in line with its rejected August offer. The council also threatens legal action if the ,inister proceeds to alter the boundary in line with the Mackinnon report.

September 25, 2017: The Irish Examiner publishes special reports based on documents released to councillor Chris O’Leary under Freedom of Information legislation which show how senior department officials prepared pro-merger documents during the Smiddy review, outlined the benefits of post-merger governance models, how Mr Smiddy suggested that work should start in the background drafting the final report even before all the consultation was finished, and how department officials suggested less negative wording in the final report to minimise “ammunition for critics”.

October 2017: County chief executive Tim Lucey suggests both chief executives engage in “bilateral talks” in a bid to break the impasse, and use the IoG to mediate if required. City councillors give their backing to their senior officials to continue their engagement with the IoG.

November 2017: City and county officials continue with the engagement with IoG.

November 21, 2017: Mr Coveney, now Foreign Affairs Minister, tells Cork Chamber dinner in Dublin that if the two local authorities can’t reach agreement on the boundary, a decision will be imposed by the Government before Christmas.

December 4, 2017: Details of a compromise boundary proposal emerge.


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