Developer ‘will leave Cork’ over council merger

Developer Owen O’Callaghan says he would consider moving his business to Dublin if a merger of Cork’s local authorities goes ahead.

Mr O’Callaghan, who has been based in Cork for more than 40 years and who delivered some of the region’s biggest retail and office projects, expressed concerns that the region is “sleepwalking” into a merger and criticised local politicians for not being more vocal on the issue.

He spoke yesterday as the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) group continues finalising its report, which is expected to recommend a merger of the city and county councils. Mr O’Callaghan, who developed Mahon Point, Merchants Quay, and Opera Lane, said that if the recommendations are accepted by Government, he may have to consider relocating his retail and property development business to Dublin.

“That’s a possibility because if this goes through as single authority, Cork will become just a section of a large county council,” he said.

Developer ‘will leave Cork’ over council merger

Cork City Hall

The CLGR group, chaired by business consultant and former Beamish and Crawford boss Alf Smiddy, has since last January been reviewing the region’s local government structures and examining the cases for the first extension of Cork City’s boundary in 50 years, or a merger of the city and county councils. It is expected to submit its report and recommendations to Environment Minister Alan Kelly before the end of the month.

However, the five-person group is split three to two over what is expected to be a merger recommendation. UCC academics Dermot Keogh and Theresa Reidy oppose the move and have prepared a “robust and detailed” report against the merger. Their report calls for a city boundary extension to create a larger metropolitan Cork region with a population of more than 250,000.

Mr O’Callaghan and developer John Cleary, the man building Cork City’s largest single office block on Albert Quay, spoke out last month about a possible merger. The developers, whose projects combined host up to 10,000 jobs, warned that a merger could cost the city jobs and investment.

Developer ‘will leave Cork’ over council merger

Cork County Hall

Mr O’Callaghan accepted that a single authority could have greater political clout and influence but added that Cork needs to become a large second city — not a large town within a county — to deliver on the vision set out in the 2008 Cork Area Strategic Plan to position Cork city as a counterbalance to development in Dublin.

“This is our one opportunity to become established as a second city and compete for foreign direct investment against other European cities,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

Large second cities have many benefits, such as cheaper homes, office accommodation, and better social offerings, he added.

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