Shanghai’s mayor Ying Yong arrives this week for a visit to Cork and Mr Ledwidge, who is also deputy chief executive of the local authority, is determined that Cork enhances its economic links with a city of 24 million people that is also one of the world’s major financial services centres, and home to the world’s busiest container port.
At the same time, the development of Cork’s docklands in a €1bn transformation that would see the construction of thousands of housing units and offices, as well as bridges and road upgrades, is foremost in the thoughts of Mr Ledwidge.
He said the Chinese relationship is vital for Cork’s future.
“The immediate benefit is that we are promoting Cork in China.
“Secondly, our whole competitiveness as an open economy — we live on an island on the periphery of Europe so we need to be very competitive in different cultures. With this relationship, we expose people to working with the Chinese.
“There are also similarities in the Asian cultures. If you can navigate one, then you have a good chance of doing it elsewhere. One quarter of the world’s population is Chinese and we’re going to deal with more and more Chinese people as time goes on,” said Mr Ledwidge.
He cited Musgrave offering Irish goods to 40,000 Chinese consumers via internet shopping giant Alibaba this year. Mr Yong and his delegation will examine this up-close during their visit.
“We see an opportunity for Cork people and their high-quality goods going to China. That would be for the upper echelons of Chinese society, where Irish produce would be considered luxury goods.
“There are big opportunities there. It will mean meats, seafood, dairy. We see it as a long-term project. Twinning with Shanghai meant we had to really up our game with what we had to do and the results we had to produce. It helped with our other twin cities, particularly San Francisco,” he said. The idea was to keep Cork on the map, he added.
“As well as branding Ireland, we have to do so with Cork. The money I use in branding comes from local ratepayers, local property tax and charges. It is not good enough just branding and marketing Ireland, there has to be benefits delivered for Cork,” Mr Ledwidge added.
Closer to home, Tivoli on Cork’s northside is seen as the next great centre of development along with the docklands.
“Tivoli is important because if you looked in the 1970s, you have the railway station and little else. Tivoli opens up that side of the city. It’s on the railway line, it’s south-facing, it looks across at the marina and Blackrock. You’ve hills behind, which means you are sheltered from winds. You have Dunkettle right beside. The access to the Dublin and Waterford road is good. It will be more dense and more planned and slightly more mixed than other centres that have built up. Our target is 3,000 units and that can get up to 5,000. That’s a mix of houses and apartments and commercial to service that,” he said.
“You will probably have quite a sizeable marina there and you can envisage a lot of small craft as the commercial traffic will be gone.”
The commercial river traffic will have moved to Ringaskiddy when the Port of Cork’s master-plan comes to fruition, freeing up the docklands, an area as big as the city centre.
“One Navigation Square is happening, that is 300,000 sq ft of office space. Clarendon have big plans in Horgan’s Quay at the other side of the river. The Port have sold the custom house and those buildings so that’s three city centre sites that are very developable. We have designated four locations for tall buildings in the south docks.
“We actually have granted permission for a tower of 33 floors on the old Ford site for housing, beside Lee Boat Club. We have plenty permissions for dwelling units. There’s 18,000 units that can be provided in the city, with 2,500 that could be provided tomorrow as they have planning permission, are on zoned lands and don’t need any infrastructural funding,” he said.
The barriers for developers remain, he said. Focused tax breaks are an option. Then there is the US, German, or Danish model of rental complexes, he suggested.
“We need very large blocks of apartments that are available for rent and they will never be sold. The landlord will own every apartment; all management is done; the standard is kept up; you have laundries, a gym, balconies — that is what we need. It’s done in Germany and the smaller US cities.
“For the first time since 1979, the population has grown. At the moment, our population is 13% non-national — akin to Toronto, a major cosmopolitan city. We have to provide accordingly,” he said.