Town planning firm Coakley O’Neill argues that simplifying the planning process to build more homes is not the same as fast-tracking prjects. Pádraig Hoare talks to the firm’s Aiden O’Neill
Coakley O’Neill Town Planning has plenty of thoughts on how Cork can improve its communities, roads, as well ways to ease the housing crisis.
Formed in 2010 when Dave Coakley and Aiden O’Neill left a large multinational consultancy, Coakley O’Neill is adamant that Cork can compete with any city in Europe — but only if proper planning is implemented. Simplicity is key, says Mr O’Neill, and not bureaucratic measures that have hampered other cities.
Key to Cork’s future is Tivoli, he says. Already in the sights of Cork City Council officials, along with Cork’s docklands, Mr O’Neill believes Tivoli should get priority for development before the docks.
“Tivoli should realistically happen first. It’s mainly in single ownership. It is probably the best area in Cork for a new urban development, primarily residential. Thousands of people could be housed there. They’ve identified it already but the docklands has taken the focus,” he says.
While the docklands has great potential, the costs associated with developing it are worrisome, he argues.
“In my opinion the docklands won’t be primarily residential. Because of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it will be akin to something like Wembley in London. There is a flooding issue in the docklands, especially in the south. I worry it is undeliverable. I feel the focus has to change. Tivoli is the primary residential focus in my view because the costs in the docklands are just too high,” he says.
Sticking with ‘the keep-it-simple’ message, Mr O’Neill says that while the long-mooted Cork to Limerick motorway is crucial, it will be ineffective unless other key deficits are addressed. There is little point in having a motorway if Dunkettle is not up to scratch, he says, while the Northern Ring Road, which would connect Glanmire and Ballincollig, is key to opening up the northside of the city, as well as liberating Tivoli’s vast potential as a residential district.
“I totally agree Cork to Limerick is a priority but in my own view, Cork has to get its ducks in a row first. I wouldn’t want a situation where the M20 is delivered before the other key infrastructure because that makes Limerick and Shannon more attractive.
“There has to be an order of priority. We have to see the Dunkettle interchange, Northern Ring Road and M22 Macroom-Ballyvourney bypass prioritised alongside the motorway,” he says.
The suspension of Icelandic carrier Wow Air’s service from Cork to North America via Reykjavik has put the focus on Cork’s transatlantic potential. Norwegian Air has solid bookings to and from Providence in Rhode Island, but a solution to make Cork Airport more attractive lies with extending a notoriously short runway, according to Mr O’Neill.
Cork was never under consideration from transatlantic carriers in the past because its runway is too short. Norwegian’s single-aisle 737 aircraft changed that. Mr O’Neill notes that an extended runway could facilitate the Airbus 330.
“I don’t see why extending the runway at Cork Airport is impossible. If its in the interests of the economy, why not? It we are talking about regional balance, then we should be looking at that.”
Planning is not easy, Mr O’Neill acknowledges, with political influence, as well as delays in implementing EU directives, at fault.
“Post Mahon Tribunal, the Planning and Development Act 2010 came into being. That essentially dealt with transposing European law that had essentially been ignored by this country or long-fingered. It is a legitimate complaint, and not just backed up anecdotally, in some communities that some larger shopping centres and large developments should not have been built where they are on flood plains.
“There is an element of political influence but it shows that correct policy was not in place. Ultimately politicians may overrule planners. Policy does tend to be reactive. Cork being flooded in 2009 led to policy becoming much tighter.”
Simplifying the planning system to build more homes should not be the same as fast-tracking projects, he warns. “Fast-track will fail. Modular is ghettos of the future. The same old issues will arise. With no social infrastructure, history will repeat itself,” Mr O’Neill says.
What is needed is to make it more viable for builders to build homes. Dedicated assistance from local authorities, not just financial incentives from the Government, would go a long way.
“To me, the more you make things complicated, the worse it gets. When it comes to land availability, I’d like to see dedicated teams in-house.
“Locally, housing delivery teams would work when developers go in with a proposal.
“It doesn’t happen enough. You have to talk to each department instead of a dedicated team.
“There is no certainty, of course, with planning because it is a public process, but leaving that aside, there could be some certainty and consistency from experts in-house.”
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