The Government has been told to provide Cork County Council with the legal and financial means for urgent road upgrades in the industrial district of Little Island to allow businesses to expand.
Several companies in the regional employment zone have threatened to withhold commercial rates and to carry out the work on crumbling roads themselves.
While newer sections of Little Island’s industrial and commercial hub are in pristine condition infrastructure-wise, the older areas on the southern side are falling to pieces, businesses say.
Old roads cannot take the volume of traffic generated by the success of the biggest industrial site in the country outside of Dublin.
More than 18,000 people live, work, and visit the area each day. There are 7,700 permanent employees based there and a residential community of more than 1,000.
There is a huge number of heavy goods vehicles and delivery van movements in and out of the area every day, serving 1,000 companies, which include global giants such as Pepsi, Pfizer, Lilly, FMC, Janssen, Laya Healthcare, and DPS Global.
Access to Little Island has improved in recent years, with enhanced roads to and from the N25, alleviating the traffic congestion of previous years.
The new €215m Dunkettle Interchange will also be a huge boost to Little Island, with much of the initial works already benefiting the area.
More than 500 acres of land to the eastern side of Little Island is of major interest to developers. However, this is unlikely to be opened up unless new access points from the N25 are developed by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
“Much has been achieved to date with new access routes and the alleviation of the traffic congestion that dogged the [general] area for years. Much more remains to be achieved. One of the key outstanding issues is the condition of the roads and services in many of the older business parks in the area,” Little Island Business Association chief executive Michael Mulcahy said.
“With management and development companies either disbanded, liquidated, or in abeyance, we believe that the situation needs a new plan with the support of Government for Cork County Council, as the owners of many of these roads are either long gone or unable to honour commitments to allow the local authority to take the roads in charge,” he said.
He “fully understands” this is a difficult situation for Cork County Council as it has to abide by the law in how they can take roads in charge.
The Little Island Business Association estimates it could cost up to €20m to bring all of the affected roads in Little Island up to standard and that Government intervention most likely will be required for this purpose.
Attracting new investment to these areas of Little Island has become a challenge and the new Harbour Gate Business Park, which is on a 17-acre waterfront site, has to be accessed by a road that id not fit for purpose.
"At times it resembles a dirt track, rather than a route into an international business park seeking to attract global brands and clients," Mr Mulcahy said.
Pronounced Easy Living, it is anything but for workers operating out of the company's two national distribution centres, near the former Harbour Point Golf Club in Little Island.
Company HR manager Sarah Murphy said a survey of staff showed that during the recent winter, they spent in excess of €5,000 repairing damage to their vehicles due to the state of the road.
“It was mainly damage to tyres. But on top of this, we also have issues with raised manhole covers and one car was declared a write-off after hitting one and damaging the gearbox,” Mr Murphy said.
Ms Murphy also described an event about three weeks ago when a woman’s car [not an employee] went into a pothole so deep that the rescue truck operator who arrived at the scene had to ask people from her company and other businesses nearby for help getting it out.
EZ Living has two major warehouses there, housing the many products it sells to clients throughout its 14 outlets countrywide. One is 70,000 sq ft and the other slightly smaller at 60,000 sq ft.
About 100 staff are employed there.
Ms Murphy said apart from damage to employees’ vehicles, they have had to pay for damage to their own trucks on a regular basis.
She stressed the company has to advise people coming to their distribution centres to “watch out for the road".
It is almost company policy now at Ballymaloe Foods to bring out a cup of tea and offer some words of comfort to an unfortunate motorist who is stranded at the roadside after ripping a tyre and/or wheel rim to shreds following an encounter with pot-holes outside their factory.
Maxine Hyde, general manager at Ballymaloe Foods, which is based in the Courtstown industrial estate, said they also make a point of apologising to would-be customers and people attending job interviews about the state of the road before those people raise the issue themselves.
The company, which was established in 1995, has lost several pallets of produce coming out of the factory because its delivery vehicles have hit massive potholes over the years.
The glass jars containing beetroot, pasta sauces, and mayonnaise shatter on impact after the lorry has swayed over.
Sometimes the potholes get filled in, but the core road structure is so poor the tar does not stick very long and it’s back to square one. Lorry drivers exiting the plant are told to proceed at a snail’s pace.
We also want to encourage our employees to use public transport if they can, but it’s incredibly dangerous.
"The footpaths are in a very bad state as well and there’s no proper public lighting. It's also incredibly dangerous for the locals as well. We fear that somebody could be seriously injured around our entrance,” Ms Hyde said.
She said like other companies in the area, they would be happy to hand over the rates they owe to the local authority, but there has now come a point where they believe the only way to solve the problem is to withhold the money and use it on fixing the local road network.
Global logistics company DB Schenker has 60 people out of its 90,000 worldwide workforce employed in Little Island at the Harbour Point industrial park, next door to the one at Courtstown.
The German-owned company built 85,000sq ft of warehousing there at a cost of €8.5m in 2015 and has seen the state of the entrance road to it deteriorate ever since.
Declan Toomey, the company’s regional manager, said reoccurring potholes regularly cause damage to employees' and visitors' vehicles.
“I once saw one vehicle with two tyres blown out and both wheel rims damaged. There are a high number of trucks going in and out of the area every day. But this [the state of the road] is not sustainable. If the roads are impassable then we can’t operate,” Mr Toomey said.
His company deals with air, sea and land freight and cannot afford any disruption to its finely tuned operations.
Mr Toomey said that as a group, local businesses in the area simply have had enough and want to get the roads properly fixed and will do this themselves if they have to.
But he, like others, pointed out why they should have to pay substantial rates, which are supposed to be for maintaining infrastructure, and then pay extra to fix the roads themselves.
Mr Toomey added that many companies are spending “huge money” locating to Little Island, because of its strategic importance but he is concerned, again like other local business leaders, that the commercial/industrial attractiveness will be impacted into the future unless drastic action is taken to improve infrastructure, especially on the southern side of the area.
Companies pay significant development levies, which are also supposed to ensure that the infrastructure supporting them, such as water, sewerage, and road connections, is up to scratch.
“We simply have to get this rectified,” he added.
The Geaney Group may be better known for previously constructing major housing developments in the East Cork area, especially around Carrigtwohill, but in more recent times the company has diversified and also branched out into developing warehousing for logistics companies.
Frank Vaughan, one of the company’s directors, said they were currently nearing completion of five massive warehouses close to the former Harbour Point Golf Club, which will have a combined floor space of 200,000sq ft.
He said fortunately they have tenants signed up for occupancy, but readily admitted “it didn’t help” attracting them into the area when they saw the conditions of some of the roads leading to it.
“The road infrastructure here [the southern parts of Little Island] has been deteriorating for years. Our neighbours are finding it hard to do businesses [to their maximum potential] because of the state of them,” he said.
Mr Vaughan said this was a pity because Little Island was otherwise a very attractive, or as he termed it “special”, location for many companies, both Irish and foreign, to base themselves.
The northern part of 'the island' has seen massive road infrastructure improvements to its approaches, especially since the new traffic access/exit plan was introduced recently by the council on the flyover in Glounthaune; the additional opening of a new flyover to the western side, at North Esk, and the massive ongoing upgrade of the Jack Lynch Tunnel/Dunkettle Interchange.
But while the northern side of Little Island, especially around Eastgate, looks nearly 22nd century, the area he and other companies have to contend with seems to have been entirely forgotten.
“Some ratepayers [in the southern side] are so frustrated about withholding a proportion of rates to pay for road improvements themselves that they see this stance as entirely reasonable,” Mr Vaughan said.