Cork council merger plans to be axed but extension of city boundary recommended

A review into the proposed merger of Cork city and county councils has recommended both authorities be maintained and the city boundary be extended for the first time in more than 50 years.

Cork council merger plans to be axed but extension of city boundary recommended

The report by the Mackinnon group, which will be published today, is expected to recommend a twin authority approach, effectively tearing up the recommendations of the 2015 Smiddy report, which suggested merging both councils to create one supercouncil.

It is understood the review will also recommend:

  • A boundary extension to boost the city’s population by around 100,000;
  • The extension will bring Ballincollig, Blarney, Carrigtwohill, Little Island, and the airport regions within the city boundary;
  • The changes will see the number of city councillors increase from 31 to 39.

The recommendations are likely to be welcomed by City Hall, which has been fighting for a city boundary extension for decades.

However, the county council will be concerned by the proposed boundary changes, which will erode its rates revenue base by up to a third.

Crucially, the Mackinnon group is expected to recommend a complex compensation formula that will see the city paying the county council for this lost revenue.

The city council has called a meeting today to discuss the outcome of the review.

The key recommendation of the Smiddy report — to create a supercouncil — split the committee three-to-two in favour of the merger, with UCC academics Dermot Keogh and Theresa Reidy publishing a minority report supporting an extension of the city boundary. The recommendations triggered an unprecedented legal challenge by Cork City Council.

The stand-off led to the establishment last year of a five-person review group, chaired by the former chief planner in Scotland, Jim Mackinnon, which was asked to review the Smiddy recommendations and report back to the minister. Local Government Minister Simon Coveney received the 130-page draft report earlier this year but sought clarification on a number of its recommendations.

He said the review has drawn extensively on the research contained in the Smiddy report, published by former environment minister Alan Kelly in September 2015.

Cork COunty Hall
Cork COunty Hall

Mr Coveney refused to comment on the findings yesterday, but last month said he was hopeful of getting political consensus.

“I’m a pragmatist,” said Mr Coveney. “I want to get something of significance done that can put a governance structure in place for Cork as a region for the next 50 years. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”

Independent councillor Mick Finn said he hoped sense would prevail.

“I would hope that sense will prevail and that an appropriate boundary extension be provided to ensure the continued growth of Cork City which is the obvious capital and driver of the southern region,” he said.

Alf Smiddy, who chaired the 2015 group, said he hopes the Mackinnon group have not gone for “the suboptimal political solution, given the delicate and unstable situation of our minority government”.

“The political situation at national level seemed to be uppermost in their minds when I met them back in December,” he said.

“Whatever the report says, one thing we are all agreed on is that the status quo is totally and absolutely untenable, and Cork continues to lose out to Dublin.

“To that extent, I hope that we can now move into implementation phase for completion ahead of the local elections in 2019.”

President of the Cork Business Association, Pat O’Connell, welcomed the expected outcome of the review.

“It is very much what we in the CBA had advocated for,” he said “We always argued that there should be a dual authority approach because Cork is such a big county. The city hasn’t been properly financed and its population has been too small. These proposals, if confirmed today, would help address that.”

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