Its purpose was to bring together a group of business, financial and community leaders to debate ways in which the broader Cork economy could be further expanded and developed to enhance the economy and propel job creation.
The gathering attracted over 50 leaders and they participated in sessions with three contributors chosen because they are at the coalface of activity in the Irish and Munster economies.
Colin Hunt, managing director of wholesale, institutional and corporate banking for AIB; the property asset manager and developer Michael O’Flynn; and Goodbody chief economist Dermot O’Leary engaged in a set of insightful analysis around issues of direct relevance to the future of Cork.
We set out to achieve a fully interactive conversation with the audience to develop at least one — and optimally up to five — big ideas that could help build true positive momentum in the Cork economy.
This debate ranged across a number of topics and triggered a lively debate with many different perspectives. A crucial common denominator was the passion and enthusiasm from all attending about making Cork a much greater economic success.
To that end we have distilled the evening down to five strong initiatives that, if embraced by politicians and policymakers, could have a material impact on the trajectory of the regional economy.
These are; firstly, positioning Cork as a centre of excellence for renewable energy. Renewable energy requirements in the Irish economy will be exponential as we move to meet global and EU climate commitments.
Cork has a set of companies and third level institutions that could create a centre of excellence for the finance, storage and provision of solar, wind, marine, hydrogen and wind energy which will require at least €10bn of capital investment in the coming decade. Local and national interests should combine to explicitly position Cork in this key and growing element of the economy.
Secondly; release state land and tier Vat to boost housing supply. Co-ordinate the provision of state-owned land at low cost with a tiered cut in Vat on housing to drive, in particular, volumes of starter properties, with a strong emphasis on apartments within cities. Acknowledging the thorny issue of exchequer funding, the group argues a radical initiative is needed to provide a surge in affordable housing. Apartments as a percentage of housing stock in Europe is among the lowest in Europe. Rectifying that can energise the city while boosting the economy.
Thirdly; an action focused National Planning Framework (NPF) Agency. Legislate an agency that employs the best attributes of the original Dublin Docklands Authority to implement the newly-launched €115bn NPF. While the recently announced plan is ambitious the group believes an action-oriented agency combining private sector and state representatives should be put in place urgently to tangibly oversea the implementation of the plan, and its specific implications for Cork.
The fourth idea surrounds making the Cork docks a flagship project to create a new quarter for the city.
It was agreed that infrastructural obstacles have stood in the way of making the area a signature urban and commercial office quarter but the prize is worth fighting for. With gradual expansion from the city centre, a process is underway but to- date has comprised development only. More political and institutional leadership is needed to tackle challenges to viable residential development in Cork’s docklands and to accelerate residential and commercial high developments eastwards on the quays.
Until delivery of residential development in the area has become viable, other initiatives, such as strategic land reserves, need to be considered and development on greenfield sites needs to be supported as a means of tackling the deficiency of housing stock and allay concerns of potential employers regarding insufficient availability of housing for their workforces.
The fifth idea is for a new technology hub. Exploit the strengths in third level and private sector organisations in the region to develop clusters of foodtech, medtech and regulatory tech companies around the city, backed by Enterprise Ireland. Cork is home to a multitude of leading edge IT companies and also has strong legacy strengths in agri-food and third level skills in data analytics.
Each of these proposals, it was agreed, need strong leadership from politicians and policymakers if they are to attain any traction.