An Bórd Pleanála has approved a €6m public realm upgrade of historic Cork city quays which includes flood defences, saying it will deliver significant benefits for the city.
It clears the way for Cork City Council to finally start work on the stalled upgrade of Morrison’s Quay and Fr Matthew Quay, and a short section along Union Quay close to Trinity footbridge.
The scheme was delayed last year after a legal challenge forced the local authority to submit a new planning application to An Bórd Pleanála.
In reaching its decision, the board said it had considered detailed reports on the potential implications of the project on protected environmental sites in the lower harbour.
“The Board concluded that the proposed scheme would not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the European sites, having regard to the Conservation Objectives for the sites,” it said.
And it added: “Having regard to the nature, scale and extent of the proposed development and to the location of the site in an established, built-up urban area in the heart of Cork City, and to the poor quality of the public realm and inefficient use of the riverside area which is dominated by traffic and parked cars, to the poor state of repair of the historic quay walls, and to the severity and hardship experienced by residents and businesses in the area, the Board considers that the proposed development would deliver significant benefits in terms of reducing the risk of tidal flooding in the area, would provide for necessary remedial works to the quay walls, would provide for a much improved public realm along the waterside, would deliver a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and would be acceptable in terms of pedestrian and traffic safety."
It attached a number of conditions, including that a qualified ecologist be appointed to oversee the site set-up and construction and carry out an audit report of the site works, and that a conservation specialist carry out a report on the detailed design of the proposed tie-ins between the flood defence walls and Parliament Bridge, as well as all interventions to the quay walls, including fenders.
The Lord Mayor, Cllr Joe Kavanagh, welcomed the board's decision as “a strong vindication of the rationale in bringing forward this public realm project.
“It is also an endorsement of the design and quality of the scheme. This is a transformational scheme for the city centre and for riverside amenity and I believe it will be warmly welcomed by Cork people and visitors alike.”
The council will now complete detailed design and tender documents with a view to awarding the works contract in the coming months.
The Morrison’s Island area is one of the most exposed parts of the city centre to tidal flooding and a decision was taken some time ago to split the flood defence project here away from the OPW’s €140m Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme (LLFRS) and advance it as a separate project.
It's designed to remove an estimated 80% of the flood threat to city-centre businesses.
Thomas McHugh, the director of public affairs at Cork Chamber welcomed the decision.
“This decision by Ireland’s independent national planning appellate body shows without reservation that the proposals to upgrade the dilapidated and car-focussed sections of Morrison’s Quay and Father Matthew Quay are robust, positive and complimentary to national policy.”
Save Cork City said it regretted the decision despite so much public opposition.
“The potential of the city centre to thrive, to create wellbeing and to attract investment can only be realised with the support of civil society,” it said.
People aren't inclined to live or invest in places where local government acts in conflict with its own citizens.
“Whatever investment may be gained in the Morrison’s Island process is far outweighed by the losses made by a system of local government that forcefully opposes the will of its own people.
“We remember that the Morrisons Island proposal was opposed in the High Court and the case was conceded with costs paid by City Hall.
“The decision at that time to progress it without alteration, to An Bord Pleanála can only be seen as a confrontational act that has fuelled division where leadership could have sought to find common ground.”