Cork City Council is set to spend millions buying the Port of Cork’s city-centre quays to help facilitate one of the largest docklands regeneration schemes in Europe.
The local authority and the commercial semi-State company have reached an “agreement in principle” that will see the council acquiring around 1.5km of quayside along the city's north and south docks following the relocation of the port company’s city centre operations to its expanded facilities downstream at Ringaskiddy.
Neither side has commented on the purchase price but it is understood that the figure will run to several million euro — significantly below the estimated €26m that was offered by the city at the height of the property boom when the port was planning its relocation downstream.
The agreement, which it is understood was signed off last Friday, now paves the way for detailed negotiations between both sides on the heads of the agreement.
Both parties have agreed to establish working groups to hammer out the detail.
It is understood the deal will only be triggered when the port company relocates all of its city centre operations to Ringaskiddy. The timeline for the completion of that relocation is unclear.
The south docks became a go-to destination during lockdown, with hundreds of people regularly socialising on Kennedy Quay.
The gatherings highlighted the area's public amenity potential but the company had to fence the area off on safety grounds.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who last year announced €353m in urban regeneration funding for the Cork docklands project, some of which will help acquire the quays, welcomed the agreement.
“The purchase of this crucial strip of land will enable the development of a walkway from Passage West effectively, right into the city along the quays so that you will be able to cycle or walk the entire way from the harbour to the city centre without ever having to go near a road,” Mr Martin said.
Council chief executive Ann Doherty said securing the quays in public ownership has been a long-term strategic goal.
“The future of the docklands is linked to the reimagining of assets like this held by the Port of Cork and this agreement will help the city council to realise the long-term ambition of the docklands,” she said.
The port company stressed that all it has done at this stage is agree to enter into talks with the council to develop a heads of agreement to eventually relocate port activity downriver from the city quays.
"A key point of this agreement will be to ensure that Port of Cork Company continues to facilitate trade within the city quays, and we wish to reassure our clients, our staff and stakeholders that there will be no handover of the quays until proper infrastructure, including the construction of the M28, is in place," it said.
Port of Cork Company chief commercial officer Conor Mowlds said the company continues to support realising the redevelopment potential of the city’s docklands.
“The company is working with Cork City Council towards an agreement to relocate port activity downriver from the city quays, to which senior management from our respective organisations have been put in place to a develop heads of agreement,” he said.
“The sale of the city quays is an important step in the Port’s strategic development, the careful management of which will not only support the displacement of cargo activity downriver in a manner that continues to support regional trade, but will also help us realise the value of a port asset disposal, as is incumbent upon us as a commercial semi-State.”
The Port of Cork has recently completed the near €100m expansion of its facilities in Ringaskiddy and is in the process of transferring container handling out of Tivoli and the bulk goods handling from Tivoli and the city quays.
In 2017, it sold its iconic Custom House Quay building — its headquarters for over a century — and its 200-year-old bonded warehouses for €5m to Tower Development Properties Ltd. The site has planning for a 34-storey hotel and retail development.
On the south docks at Kennedy Quay, the council has sought further information on O’Callaghan Properties’s planning application for a €350m scheme, which includes a private hospital, office blocks and residential units, the repurposing of the famous Odlums building and the proposed demolition of the landmark R&H Hall silos.
The Cork docklands is Ireland’s largest regeneration project, with over 146 hectares set to be developed over the next 20 years. The blueprint for the area envisages a population of 25,000, a workforce of around 30,000, and a student population of 3,700.