The first draft of an enlarged Cork City to drive the region’s growth for the next half century should emerge within weeks.
After 40 years of campaigning by the city, two and a half years of reports and reviews, and a late and ultimately rejected offer from the county to cede certain lands to the city, it is now clear that the Cork City boundary extension saga is entering the final stages.
Despite concerns in county areas earmarked for transfer from the county to the city’s administrative area — there are vocal campaigns of opposition in Ballincollig and Carrigtwohill — work is already under way drafting the ‘red line’ as envisaged in the Mackinnon report, published in June.
Teams of senior public servants from both the city and county council have been asked to work together to prepare it for discussion at the next meeting of a Government-appointed oversight group set up to implement the report.
The chairman of the oversight group, former An Bord Pleanála chief John O’Connor, has made it clear to both local authorities that his group will not be entertaining any other proposals.
It is understood that Mr O’Connor has indicated clearly that the new city boundary line is as has been recommended by the Mackinnon report, but that it is subject to minor adjustments to “reflect existing physical, social, and natural borders”.
He has also said it is not within the oversight group’s terms of reference to oversee the drafting of a completely new boundary line.
Planning Minister Eoghan Murphy has said he wants the work done and dusted by October.
A week on from the city council’s rejection of the county’s offer to cede certain lands on the city fringes, it is now clear that the Mackinnon report is the only show in town.
The Mackinnon review group was set up earlier this year to consider reports and documents compiled by the statutory Smiddy group, which was set up to 2015 to examine Cork’s local government structures.
It was split three to two in favour of merging the city and county councils to create a super-council for Cork.
The Smiddy report sparked controversy and triggered a judicial review of the entire review process by the city council.
It was later torn to shreds by an independent review, commissioned by UCC, and led by international planning and governance expert Tony Bovaird.
In light of the stalemate, former local government Minister Simon Coveney set up the Mackinnon group to review the situation again.
Published in June, its report rejected the Smiddy approach and instead recommended the retention of the two local authorities.
Crucially, However, it recommended a significant city boundary extension to include Ballincollig, Blarney, Carrigtwohill, Little Island, and the airport regions, which would increase the size of the city eightfold, and increase its population by around 100,000 to 225,000.
It would also increase the number of city councillors from 31 to 39.
If delivered, it will be the first extension of the city’s boundary in more than 50 years and will take place as part of one of the single biggest reforms of Cork’s local government arrangements in a generation.
The recommendations were accepted by the minister who, within two weeks, set up the oversight group to implement it.
Chaired by Mr O’Connor, it includes former Limerick county manager Ned Gleeson and retired department secretary general Brigid McManus. They are being supported in an advisory capacity by Conn Murray, the chief executive of Limerick City and County Council, and Michael Walsh, the chief executive of Waterford City and County Council.
However, a day after the oversight group’s first meeting, on the Friday of the August bank holiday, Cork’s county councillors offered to cede land close to the city fringes, including Doughcloyne, Ardrostig, Frankfield, Donnybrook, Grange, Castletreasure, and Rochestown on the southside, and Kilbarry, Carhoo, Kilcully, and Ballyvolane on the northside.
The offer did not include Blarney, Ballincollig, Little Island, Carrigtwohill, or Cork Airport, as envisaged by Mackinnon.
It would, county councillors said, have increased the geographic area of Cork City by 85%, thereby allowing the city’s population to increase by 39,000 with the capacity to grow to 283,000 over time.
City councillors rejected the offer after they were told it was too small and “runs contrary” to the larger boundary extension recommended by Mackinnon.
It is understood that both teams are hoping to have prepared their boundary suggestions for the oversight group’s next meeting on September 5.
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