It is hoped that a transformed Cork Docklands can provide a sense of place for 25,000 people in the future, writes Catherine Shanahan
What with Cork’s boundary extension creating all that space and oxygen, the city is thriving, growing upwards and outwards, like a well-fed child.
The push to the skyline sees glass stacks unfolding daily as office and apartment blocks, hotels and student accommodation overtake low-lying neighbours.
There’s only one outcome to the number of cranes monopolising the skyline: a shiny new face for Cork.
As the city develops, Fearghal Reidy, Cork City Council’s Director of Strategic & Economic Development (pictured top, right,) is keen to see a distinctiveness of design “so that you will know you are coming into Cork”.
He also wants a city that is “resilient, able to withstand extreme weather events, such as the flooding that wreaked havoc in 2009. That’s important for investor confidence, he says, and at the moment, investor confidence is high.
“It’s an exciting time for the city, and it’s an exciting time for the City Council,” is Reidy’s judgment.
There’s a fair momentum behind the city, having gained 85,000 residents courtesy of the boundary extension, and a more than three-fold increase in its footprint. This acquisition creates new challenges when devising a new City Development Plan. The current one expires in 2021, so the city is gearing up for a public consultation phase around the new plan in the first quarter of 2020 (Q1).
Work is also under way on a Local Area Plan (LAP) for a dramatic overhaul of our dishevelled docklands. Reidy says it will be ready by Q2 2020, and will be integrated into the City Development Plan.
So what will the docklands look like?
“There will be in the order of 20,000-25,000 people living there and another 29,000 working there, so it will be a very vibrant place,” Reidy says.
“What’s important to us is that there is a sense of place and a sense of community.
“In that regard we are planning it to make sure that there are the correct social services in terms of housing, education, health, and amenities.
“But more importantly that there’s a sense of place, so you can really feel at home when you are living there.”
Has the city learnt lessons from dockland development in other cities? (Dublin docklands was recently described as “boring and repetitive” by the developer that kickstarted it all, back in the early days of The Point, Harry Crosbie).
“We’ve looked at Dublin, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and the UK and I think a number of elements are very important in terms of making sure that there is a good social infrastructure, including a mix of tenure — so social and affordable housing as well as private.
“In Cork right now there’s a broadening mix of people — people coming from different countries, with different families, and different lifestyles and we want the docklands to be a place where you can be comfortable with your difference and still have a sense of community.”
So how much of the docklands will be high rise?
The guidelines from Government are to encourage density in height, Reidy says.
At any rate, Cork has always been proud of its tall buildings and there’s a level of development ongoing right now that by Irish standards is high-rise — the Dean Hotel by Kent Station, Navigation Square, plans for a 25-storey apartment block on the site of the former Sextant pub, plans for a hotel (up to/over 30 storeys) behind the Customs House that will strip the Elysian of its tallest building claim, plans for a 15-storey skinny-scraper “Prism” on a wedge-shaped site on Clontarf Street (see pic far left).
The 10,000 housing units planned for the docklands will range in scale, Reidy says.
“What I think is important is that they are not all the same height. It would be bland, and you don’t want that for the docklands.”
Key to the opening up of the docklands is a new road network. The plan is to invest €6.5m in the city centre to Docklands Road Network Scheme. It aims to create, inter alia, 520m of new dedicated inbound bus lanes and 700m+ of two-way cycle track.
This scheme, following a third-party objection, is subject to judicial review.
Plans to overhaul roads and transport systems tend to generate controversy (eg the city’s decision earlier this year to ban cars from St Patrick’s Street for a couple of hours daily). That ban had to be postponed temporarily after retailers objected.
Reidy says they want the city centre to be easy to enjoy. "My view is that the best way for retailers to sell is for people to see their shop windows, so to do that you need improved pedestrian permeability and improved public transport. You see in other cities that with improved public transport, people start using the city centre more because it's more accessible."
Does the city's plan to open up the city centre include MacCurtain Street becoming two-way next year?
"That’s being developed at the moment,” Reidy says. “There’s an excellent offer on MacCurtain Street in terms of cafes and pubs and restaurants.
“The purpose of the development of MacCurtain Street is to improve the experience for the visitor and for the resident and people coming from the suburbs.
“It’s a beautiful street. The problem is you don’t get enough time to look at it and enjoy it.”
He anticipates it will take up to 18 months to put a two-way traffic system in place.
Reidy says they also hope to make more of the city’s maritime heritage.
City Hall officials are working with Tower Holdings in Ireland, the US-based developers behind the 15-storey Prism (as well as a proposed sky-scraper on Custom House Quay, initially sketched at over 30 storeys), to see what can be done with the iconic Bonded Warehouses that line the same quays.
He says they want to create something that captures the imagination of children and families in the way the annual Seafest has done.
It could be something like the successful interactive learning experience at Blackrock Castle or the Lifetime Lab, except with a maritime theme.
The range of ideas for the city are endless, it seems. As Fearghal Reidy reiterates, it’s an exciting place to be right now.
This time next year, all going to plan, we could start viewing Cork city through a very different Prism — from the one on Clontarf Street.