Alf Smiddy rejects Cork merger criticism

Alf Smiddy with Alan Kelly

The main author of a report recommending the amalgamation of two local authorities has hit back at academics who have criticised the merger plans.

Alf Smiddy, whose report recommended the merger of Cork City and county councils, said he and his team carefully analysed every aspect of the submissions from academics at UCC.

“We also attended presentations given by them and had face-to-face meetings with them,” he said. “Whilst I would be respectful of their perspectives, the reality is that their analysis fell short on the back of the weight of international research and practical examples in support of local authority mergers overseas.”

Mr Smiddy claimed his team “seriously struggled” to get practical answers to the many questions they had raised, with proponents of boundary extensions largely using theoretical models which had little or no application in practice.

Alf Smiddy rejects Cork merger criticism

Cork City Hall

“Consequently, we went substantially beyond the fairly narrow UCC focus,” Mr Smiddy said. He said the team thoroughly researched other jurisdictions, including overseas academic research to include the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

“This is fully documented throughout our report both in the reference material and in a detailed section on international experience with local government reorganisation, mergers and amalgamation,” he said.

Mr Smiddy said he would encourage the academics to at least acknowledge the substantial evidence and international research incorporated into his team’s report in support of mergers.

“Our report outlines in substantial detail why a boundary extension was rejected, and the bottom line is it is largely based on theoretical and conceptual frameworks and not grounded in any sense of reality,” he said.

Alf Smiddy rejects Cork merger criticism

Cork County Hall

He said those who backed a boundary extension had highly divergent views with many proposing very small extensions into areas like Douglas and Blackpool and others very large stretching as far as Midleton. Mr Smiddy said Cork people would not thank him and his committee for repeating the mistakes of history, and putting forward once again a theoretical solution that was unimplementable, unworkable, not feasible or not viable.

“It would be the case of the more things change the more they stay the same,” he said.

 

The following is the full text of Alf Smiddy’s response to yesterday’s publication of an article written by William Brady, Jonathan Hall and Brendan O’Sullivan of UCC’s Centre for Planning, Education and Research, who were strongly critical of the council merger decision:

I realise that the planners and other academics at UCC appear very disappointed that we did not ultimately accept their position, but we very carefully analysed and dissected every aspect of the UCC submissions. We also attended presentations given by them and had face to face meetings with them. Whilst I would be respectful of their perspectives, the reality is that their analysis fell short on the back of the weight of international research and practical examples in support of local authority mergers overseas.

Whilst it may have been convenient to confine our research to the submissions from the academics in UCC, we seriously struggled to get practical answers to the many questions we raised, with proponents of boundary extensions largely using theoretical models which had little or no application in practice. Consequently, we went substantially beyond the fairly narrow UCC focus. We thoroughly researched other jurisdictions, including overseas academic research to include the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This is fully documented throughout our report both in the reference material and in a detailed section on ’international experience with local government reorganisation, mergers and amalgamation’. I would encourage the UCC academics to at least acknowledge the substantial evidence and international research incorporated into our report in support of Mergers and to carefully study our findings (e.g. one only has to look at the success of local authority amalgamation in Auckland, and indeed so many other jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand as fully cited in our Report). Our Report outlines in substantial detail why a boundary extension was rejected, and the bottom line is that it is largely based on theoretical and conceptual frameworks and not grounded in any sense of reality.

In addition, proponents of boundary extension had highly divergent views with many proposing very small extensions into areas like Douglas and Blackpool and others very large stretching as far as Midleton. And then when one delves into the evidence 50 years of Cork boundary extension history (which again my committee could just not simply whitewash away), it is indeed a very sad story of boundary extension failure with so much acrimony, division and friction (all of which has held Cork back for half a century). The people of Cork would not thank me and my committee for repeating the mistakes of history, and putting forward once again a theoretical solution that was un-implementable, un-workable, not feasible or not viable — it would be the case of "the more things change the more they stay the same”!!.

Included in the report are a whole series of arguments against boundary extension (Section 7) of the report, including:

- Two separate authorities would lead to much more divergent and conflicting views on what is best for Cork, and planning for balanced economic and social development would become much more difficult.

- There is a significant risk of major erosion of greenbelt contrary to the aims surrounding sustainable development as set out in the Cork Area Strategic Plan.

- There are major financial complexities associated with boundary extension, including perpetual payments of almost €40m per annum by way of subvention from the city to the county, substantial debt transfer from the city to the county, transfer of assets and liabilities, valuations, associated legal complexity, and major HR challenges and staff transfers (c400 employees).

- It is not clear how the remaining area of the county would work organisationally or structurally. It would no longer be a cohesive unit, would have no clear focal point and would be far removed from the existing county headquarters

Our report is evidenced based throughout. It cites Professor Aulich et al (2011) who carried out extensive research on local government authority mergers in Australia and New Zealand, and points to all of the benefits that come from the increased strategic capability of single authorities in delivering enhanced levels of service to citizens arising from the pooling of knowledge and expertise.

A unitary authority in Cork would strengthen the positioning, status and image of Cork City and the entire Cork region nationally and globally, and help spearhead and create a new drive and energy with Cork city as the heartbeat of the Region. As noted in the Report the major challenges facing local government such as infrastructure development, demographics, economic development , hazards and environmental management are regional in scale, nature and effect. Issues dealt with by local authorities, such as waste management and environmental protection, water, housing and planning, require thinking on a regional scale with Cork citizens at the centre of all decision making. Their impact crosses current council boundaries and local authority responses need to be sub regional and regional in scale.

A EUROCITIES (2013) Page 39 report (Eurocities is a network of major European cities) working paper also makes the point that the urban/rural distinction in the context of the development of city regions should be seen more as a continuum than a clear distinction:

"There is an increasing mismatch between cities as administrative entities and the reality of urban life. The administrative boundaries of our cities rarely fully cover the built up area around a city, job markets, business flows, private and public services or the city’s ‘ecosystem’. Social and functional differences between life in cities, suburbs and surrounding communities overlap in many ways and it becomes increasingly difficult to draw a clear limit between urban and rural areas. Large functional urban areas have thus developed more generally around cities and towns across Europe.…..Due to their size, metropolitan areas can provide services to benefit both those who live in the city and those living in more rural surrounding areas e.g. hospitals, culture, waste and water management and treatment as well as connections to major transport systems.This situation challenges the traditional perception of two clearly different types of regions: urban and rural"

In a resent article published by S Smith (2015) https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/city-government-size-structure-experiment - makes the case that city-county consolidation ….."allows metropolitan regions to effectively marshal regional resources to deal with regional issues.

More on this topic

Reader's Blog: Extension of Cork City boundary long fingeredReader's Blog: Extension of Cork City boundary long fingered

Midnight meeting sanctions legal challenge to Cork council merger planMidnight meeting sanctions legal challenge to Cork council merger plan


Lifestyle

Incarcerated in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps Zuzana Ruzickova somehow survived and went on to create the complete recordings of her beloved Bach, writes James Lawless.Book review: Nazi horrors replaced by brutal Soviets for piano player

The Menu was delighted to make recent mention of a new UCC postgraduate diploma in Irish food culture and is equally pleased to announce availability of two new bursaries for same.The Menu: Food news with Joe McNamee

Milky skincare ingredients keep skin fresh and often suit the whole family, it’s moo-vellous, writes Rachel Marie Walsh.Product watch: Milky skincare ingredients for the whole family

George Orwell’s classic novel foretold a lot, but the manner in which we’ve handed over our personal data to faceless corporatocracies is doubleplus-ungood, says Suzanne Harrington.How we sleepwalked into George Orwell’s nightmarish vision

More From The Irish Examiner