Conor O’Connell: Growth needs rapid investment in Cork

In the period from 1996 to the 2016 Census, the population of Cork City and County increased by 122,000 people, with the vast majority of the growth taking place in suburban Cork.

Conor O’Connell: Growth needs rapid investment in Cork

Over the last 15 years, the Cork region has been transformed with the region having developed significant clusters in information technology, cybersecurity, marine, energy, financial services, as well as a growing creative industry sector.

In the period from 1996 to the 2016 Census, the population of Cork City and County increased by 122,000 people, with the vast majority of the growth taking place in suburban Cork.

Places like Douglas, Ballincollig, Carrigaline, Carrigtohill, Midleton have all seen their populations increase very significantly.

By the time of the next census, it is probable that the population growth figures will have accelerated and the Cork region will remain, by far, the largest growth centre outside of Dublin.

The figures in relation to jobs growth are equally encouraging and the region has an exemplary record of retaining and growing key employers in key sectors.

Significant growth is taking place in the city centre core: Cork City had the largest percentage population increase outside of Dublin and the greatest rate of inward migration in the country.

However, the ability of the construction and property development industry in Cork to deliver even more growth is more dependent than ever on a functioning public sector.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed delays in delivering infrastructural projects such as the Dunkettle Interchange, the M28, and the Events Centre.

In the Construction Industry Federation offices, we hear stories of project delays, frustration with the interpretation of new regulations, a lack of adequate wastewater facilities, housing density guidelines that effectively seek to build apartments in locations where they are not viable, and no facilities to take crushed concrete or no regulations to allow the reuse the material onsite.

It is glaringly obvious to everyone that we simply have to construct more roads, public transport infrastructure, schools, hospitals, houses, apartments, and hotels.

It is simply not acceptable anymore that people are stuck for hours in traffic gridlock, that we cannot get the right public policy mix for our residential construction sector, and that people cannot find homes.

There are also issues about the slow development of plans for a light rail system in Cork to cater for an increasingly urban population and around flood protection measures. The list goes on.

The Cork region needs 3,500 residential units per annum and existing new infrastructure projects, such as roads, foothpaths, cycleways, water and wastewater services, is at risk unless we start to invest heavily.

More importantly, we also need to allow greater regional flexibility to cater for growth. Local authorities must be given the appropriate funding and powers.

Centralised policymaking in housing provision is also not working and it is not appropriate to adopt the same housing policy for South County Dublin as it is to towns outside of Dublin.

We have centralised planning through the Strategic Housing Development process, a centralised model of residential construction, taxation, a centralised model of infrastructural provision though Transport Infrastructure Ireland and Irish Water and an inability to compulsory purchase lands by local authorities.

Cutting taxes and charges associated with residential development will increase supply immediately.

We look forward to 2020 being a year in which infrastructural investment takes place where it is needed.

Conor O’Connell is director of the southern region at the Construction Industry Federation

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