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Cork on the Rise: Seeds of a new Cork have been planted but we need the tools to deliver change

A dawn view of the newly refurbished St Patrick’s Bridge which was recently completed. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger

Expanding public transport will be one of the key strategic goals for our city during the next five years, writes Conor Healy

‘I’ve hopped on to the Luas in Ballincollig.” So began our Chamber president Bill O’Connell’s speech on the future of Cork at our Dublin dinner in the presence of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste last November. In many ways, this sentence summarises the ambition and the scale of change happening in Cork.

    Over the next 20 years:

  • Cork will be the fastest growing city in Ireland;
  • 65,000 new jobs will be across our metropolitan area;
  • The population will increase by 75,000;
  • We will see the development of 220 hectares of docklands; effectively increasing our city centre’s footprint by 25%.

The seeds of a new Cork are already planted. Since 2015, South Mall has seen massive regeneration through the opening of new offices, flexible work spaces, and the first city-centre hotel in 14 years.

One Albert Quay is fully let. So, too, is The Capitol. New purpose-built student accommodation houses more than 200 students on Western Rd. At the eastern end, a revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh rises tall over the Marina.

Reflecting a significant boost in business confidence — at 96% in a Q1 2019 survey of our members — cranes have reappeared over Cork’s skyline. Outside the chamber windows, we count 10 cranes working on projects such as Navigation Square 1&2, Penrose Dock, HQ, and the Beamish & Crawford site.

Looking at the city alone, over 1 million sq ft of office space is in planning and development for 5,000 extra jobs within the next three years.

With more people comes a need for enhanced transport options. Until recently, most talks with Government on Cork’s transport needs focused on roads only.

The demand for public and sustainable transport across Cork City has never been greater.

A view of St Patrick’s Street from the newly renovated bridge St Patrick’s Bridge

Last year, Bus Éireann reported 17% growth across its Cork network. This trend has continued into 2019 with an average of 49,000 daily journeys across Cork in the year to date. These figures show how Corkonians will use public transport once it is affordable, reliable, and easily accessible.

Expanding public transport will be one of the key strategic goals for Cork in the next five years. Most of the city’s latest offices are built with limited parking and instead designed around public transport use and cycling.

Still, Cork only has 14km of priority bus corridors. If buses sit in the same traffic as cars it will be difficult to encourage more people to switch away from personal vehicles.

Unlike most cities, Cork benefits from a commuter rail network which could be better utilised. For example, train tracks run along Blackpool which is home to thousands of jobs. Yet it has no station. We have hence asked the Department of Transport to prioritise the development of Kilbarry train station and extending commuter fares to include Mallow.

The NTA will shortly publish a strategy for Cork with plans to inject the greatest investment in public transport in our city’s history, including more bus lanes, light rail corridor, additional commuter rail stations, cycling routes, and new park and rides. It’s what the future of Cork needs and what our business community and commuters are looking for.

As Cork develops, we must ensure it does so sustainably. To remain an attractive place to live, we need to shift gear and significantly up our game when it comes to investing in green energy, transport, and climate resilience. Not only is this required for Cork to become a better place to live, it will also enhance Ireland’s global appeal for talent and investors.

Through our ‘Future Forms’ school collaboration with the Glucksman on the development of Cork over 200 years, we see how our younger population want to grow up in a country which takes care of its natural environment and plans for climate change. Ireland is on track to miss its 2020 carbon emissions targets. This is an unacceptable legacy for our next generation. One of our principal objectives is for infrastructure to support carbon reduction by connecting places of work, schooling, and living with excellent pedestrian and cycling networks throughout metropolitan Cork.

We also see huge potential for Cork to be Ireland’s green capital through biomethane-powered buses and deployment of more solar and renewable energy. We have Ireland’s longest coastline and vast marine resources that can be used for energy generation and off-shore wind. Why not maximise the potential of our blue economy for the betterment of our city?

While our city’s needs are changing, the fundamentals underpinning our competitiveness and our economy remain the same.

This year marks the progression of strategic road projects which the Chamber has long been championing. This summer, a three-year work programme will begin on Dunkettle Interchange to upgrade it into a free-flow junction.

Next door, in Little Island, a strategy to improve traffic congestion has been approved. The N22 road to Kerry is progressing. A design team is in place to advance the M20 Cork-Limerick motorway as jointly campaigned for by Cork and Limerick Chambers of Commerce.

A missing link to connect Ireland’s second and third city, the M20 will have a game-changing impact on the competitiveness of Munster and support up to 5,400 jobs in the region.

Another key opportunity is delivery of the Northern Ring Rd to connect the M20 with Dunkettle Interchange while also unlocking economic opportunities on the city’s northside.

Although included in National Government’s 10-year capital plan, there is a real risk this project will be pushed back until the M20’s completion in 2028, which, as a city, we cannot afford.

The M28 to Ringaskiddy remains a critical project for all of Munster and Ireland as the existing N28 just isn’t sustainable. Not only will the M28 underpin our social and economic future by facilitating FDI, addressing congestion, and enabling safer commuting, it’s also central to the Port of Cork’s move to Ringaskiddy.

With the development potential of our Docklands, the Port of Cork, and Ringaskiddy as a nationally significant employment zone all resting on the M28 redevelopment. We cannot afford to continue with the status quo.

While the future of Cork is exciting there are challenges; the most significant of which is delivery of affordable apartments in central locations. Not a single large-scale apartment block has been built in Cork City since the completion of the Elysian in 2008 despite strong demand for urban living.

Ireland 2040 specifies that 50% of all future development in Cork city must be brownfield, which is both costly and complex. The same problem faces growing cities throughout the world: How do we enable people to live in exciting locations close to employment but at an affordable price?

The crux of the matter is that we won’t see any apartments built unless they make economic sense. This year we will campaign for policy change so that the next crane in Cork will be apartment focused. This is critical for Cork to successfully grow its city centre population while continuing to see our suburbs flourish.

Looking ahead, we need to pay as much attention to implementation as we do strategies.

We know people want more green spaces, public places, better health infrastructure, and an improved cultural offering. As Cork develops, it will compete with other second cities such as Rotterdam, Manchester, Gothenburg, and Aarhus.

While we can confidently contest on job opportunities and our natural environment, our relative attractiveness will depend hugely on Government’s ability to deliver on the plans for Cork set out under Ireland 2040, including a new hospital, educational investment, the events centre, and urban regeneration.

A year into the National Development Plan, it is worrying that public investment has yet to deliver real impact on the ground in Cork. Can the State keep pace with the ambition of the private sector?

This year Cork Chamber celebrates 200 years. Our vision for Cork for the next 200 is a European city of scale. Green, clean, and vibrant. Welcoming people from all countries and cultures.

Connected through world-class IT, road, cycling, and public transport networks. We are Cork. Ireland’s fastest growing city. Full of ambition, energy, and determination. The best place for business and an even better place for people.

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