Cork council has ‘serious concerns’ on boundary plan

The proposed changes to Cork City’s boundary have already hit serious problems with Cork County Council stating it is currently not in a position to accept it after raising a number of concerns.

The local authority responded to the publication yesterday of the Cork Expert Advisory Group report by saying it has “serious concerns” regarding the proposals and requires further information on a number of points, including the precise nature of the redefined boundary and how much compensation would be paid to it by the city council in relation to reduced rates.

At the launch of the report, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney urged all sides, both county and city and across the political spectrum, to work on implementing its recommendations.

The report proposes an extension of the city area, taking in areas such as Glanmire, Ballincollig and Cork Airport, as opposed to the merger of both local authorities as recommended in the 2015 Smiddy Report.

In a statement, the local authority said that it has held a special meeting of Cork County Council’s Corporate Policy Group to review the report and stressed that Cork County Council has been unanimously committed to a ‘whole of Cork’ model.

Cork County Council’s statement said: “This is a major missed opportunity.

“While the council acknowledges that there are some positive aspects to the report’s findings, it has also expressed serious concerns in relation to many of the overriding principles contained therein.

“As a consequence, the council has indicated that it is not in a position to accept the report in the absence of further information and the receipt of satisfactory clarification to a series of important questions.”

The areas likely to be included in Cork City’s boundary extension.
The areas likely to be included in Cork City’s boundary extension.

Mr Coveney has asked a five-person group to report back by September regarding a timetable for implementation and has targeted 2019 as a possible deadline.

However, Cork County Council raised concerns over the absence of a definitive proposed boundary layout for the expanded city area, the specifics of the proposed new boundary, and the absence of more specific detail regarding the proposed compensatory arrangements for the reduction in its rates base.

Mayor of Cork County Cllr Seamus McGrath said the county council is not in a position to accept the report until it has considered its full details and until it receives satisfactory responses to a wide range of issues.

Tim Lucey, chief executive of Cork County Council, said: “There is no doubt that the proposed changes would have a major impact on the county, and it is important to carefully examine and understand the key recommendations before making further comment on the matter.

“The challenge for all of us in Cork County Council is to ensure that the services for the county are not negatively impacted by the implementation of the recommendations.”

Backing for reform of Cork’s local authorities

- Noel Baker

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said at one point during the launch of the proposed alterations to Cork’s two local authorities: “Let’s get all the issues out on the table.”

But it seems most people liked what was being served up. There was a broad welcome from across the political spectrum and the business community to the proposed changes advanced in the MacKinnon report, but also some words of warning.

Mr Coveney admitted that the proposal to continue with two local authorities, but a larger city area, will not please everyone. “I know this is controversial, politically,” he said, before adding that any solution under consideration would have been controversial to someone.

Referring to the “radical change” proposed in the report, he pleaded for co-operation from all sides and parties, while accepting some level of wrangling over the details was inevitable.

“I think there will be some. We have been talking for 10 years for new local government structures in Cork and it hasn’t happened, mainly for party political reasons. This time I hope it will be different.”

He said Cork County has “a great future under this structure”, having earlier said that were the changes to be imposed, it would remain the largest local authority area by population, after Dublin City Council.

He also stressed the need for anyone running in the next local elections in 2019 to know a year in advance what the electoral areas would be, but admitted it could take longer to impose all the changes, with many details still to be finalised.

Alf Smiddy, whose 2015 report recommended a merger of the councils, said the new report is still “sub-optimal” — “it did not bite the bullet and go for the full merger”.

He said one concern is that it could be 2024 before the recommendations are fully implemented. “I actually think if it’s 2024 that report has died. If this report is going to be embraced by both councils... it will have to be embraced very quickly to the 2019 deadline.” He added he is also concerned for towns outside the metropolitan area which are dependent on urban areas for rates.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he had been opposed to a merger and welcomed many aspects of the report. He said there was no reason why there could not be productive synergies between the two local authorities to achieve mutually beneficial results.

“We need a very strong second city,” he said.

His party colleague Billy Kelleher also welcomed the report, as did Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who said: “A merger would have meant there would not have been adequate focus on developing a strong city as a counterbalance to Dublin, but it would also have meant that the peripheral rural areas of Cork City would have been neglected.”

Cork Chamber had been in favour of a merger but yesterday signalled it is happy to work with the new proposals.

Cork Chamber president, Bill O’Connell, said: “The chamber’s preferred option has always been for an expanded city area but as part of a singular authority structure. While our referred option, it is not the only option that can work for Cork, and we see significant merit in what has been proposed today.”

Cork Business Association also welcomed the recommendations.

Deadline for city boundary extension timeframe

- Noel Baker

An expert group has until September to come up with a timeframe for extending the Cork City boundary — a move Housing Minister Simon Coveney says is essential for the county as a whole to fulfil its potential.

In what he termed the most ambitious boundary extension ever undertaken in Ireland, the redrawing of the city boundary will pull in existing county areas and mean as much as €400m being paid by the City Council to Cork County Council over the next decade to compensate for the reduction in its rates base.

The Report of the Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Cork, also known as the MacKinnon Report after its chairman, Jim MacKinnon, looked at eight possible options, including one single local authority, but has recommended that both councils be retained, with the extension of the city bounds to include areas such as Ballincollig, Blarney, Carrigtwohill, and Cork Airport. Based on last year’s census, it would see the city’s population rise to 225,000, with another 325,000 people living in the county.

Mr Coveney said the status quo is “untenable” and the recommendation takes the best aspects of the 2015 Smiddy Report, which suggests a single super-structure for the county, and the subsequent minority report which veers away from any type of merger.

The new report also warns against complacency about Cork’s role as a natural counter-balance to Dublin.

The recommended city council area has to be fully defined and at yesterday’s launch the minister said he believes it should include Cobh. But he emphasises that the changes are being proposed in light of the new national planning framework, Ireland 2040, to be launched in two weeks, and which envisages a 50% population growth in county and city in the coming decades.

The boundary change will significantly reduce the county council’s ability to collect rates, but the report proposes a reciprocal payment system under which Cork City Council, with its increased earning capacity, pays the balance to the county council. The exact rate of payment still needs to be finalised but the minister said one estimate is €40m a year, and that he wants this guaranteed for 10 years, at which time it would be reviewed.

Another change will be to the electoral composition of both councils. Mr Coveney said at present there is a councillor for every 7,300 people in the county, while in the city the ratio is one councillor to every 3,800 people. Under the changes the figure will move closer to 5,500 people per councillor, meaning it will take one-third more votes to be elected in the city and one-third fewer in the county.

It also proposes lord and county mayors, not directly elected, in situ for up to five years, although the minister said terms of two or 2.5 years would be more appropriate.

A Cork Economic and Planning Development Board is proposed, consisting of five councillors from both local authorities and two non-voting business people helping oversee implementation of the recommendations.

A new expert group, which will also include Con Murray, former chief executive of Limerick Council, and Michael Walsh, who filled the same role in Waterford, is to return by September with a timeframe for implementation.

The minister said electoral boundaries should be finalised by next year ahead of 2019 local elections.

Report: housing.gov.ie

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