Michael Moynihan: Wake up and support our local businesses before they're decimated

The proposed village-type development in east Cork is very near some... actual villages, not facsimiles
Michael Moynihan: Wake up and support our local businesses before they're decimated

Mahon Point must be the only facility in Ireland where the local authority felt one road leading in and one road leading out was sufficient.

With respect to my learned colleagues in news, they rather spoiled my porridge last week with a yarn in these pages.

“Plans for a €100m Kildare Village-style retail centre in Co Cork have been given a major boost,” I read, “after the planning minister sided against objections to the development from the Office of the Planning Regulator.

“The OPR had previously instructed Cork County Council not to allow British-based Rioja Estates to develop the centre in Carrigtwohill... Local Government and Planning Minister Peter Burke has, for what is believed to be the first time, sided against the OPR objections to the local authority-backed development.” 

 Hat-tip on one small point: recent tradition dictates that this outlet can only be described as a Kildare Village-type development, so we’ll maintain that approach for the sake of clarity. For the sake of consistency.

And for the sake of pointing out the affront to common sense here.

The idea of a village-type development is presumably to give shoppers a sense of being in a village, a welcome facsimile of small-scale, close-quarters friendliness which would be difficult to find in a large city, for instance.

The obvious point here is that the proposed village-type development in east Cork is very near some... actual villages, not facsimiles. In fact, for many of the prospective customers, the road to the village-type development leads through those places. The likes of Killeagh and Castlemartyr on the main road, Ladysbridge and Lisgoold off the beaten track.

What will this new development do to the businesses which already exist in those real villages?

I’ll come back to this, one of the more obvious drawbacks to this scheme.

Traffic misery

Another drawback?

Every morning when you turn on Marty Whelan to hear him bamboozle listeners with the theme music to 'Knight Rider' or 'Au Fond Du Temple Saint', you will also hear the lady from AA Roadwatch say that traffic is heavy heading west into the Dunkettle Interchange, or heavy coming out of Castlemartyr on the N25.

Creating a large shopping centre on that road will have an impact on that traffic, with the word ‘impact’ doing a lot of work in that sentence. No doubt a sophisticated traffic plan is already near completion which will show that hundreds of extra cars and trucks will  actually make traffic in the area lighter in some way.

You probably see that as some kind of rhetorical flourish on my part, an exaggeration for effect. However, look at the nearest shopping centre, at Mahon Point. This must be the only such facility in Ireland where the local authority felt one road leading in and one road leading out was sufficient.

Now consider what traffic in the area will look like when the east Cork outlet is completed.

I bring up Mahon Point deliberately, because it shows how interconnected everything is in Cork. Readers are no doubt familiar with the old Chinese proverb about the flapping of the wings of a butterfly being felt on the other side of the world. 

If the old Chinese in question was familiar with traffic in Cork he would have said the breakdown of a car on the off-ramp to the Jack Lynch Tunnel can be felt on the other side of the city

The connections go on and on and round and round in Cork. Readers will be familiar with the ongoing rumbles about the BusConnects plan for Cork — a plan which aims to improve people’s access to and mobility around the city (while decimating the tree population, but we’ll have to come back to that masterstroke, and other points, at some future date).

The eagerness of Burke to overrule the Office of the Planning Regulator in this case means there must now be serious doubts about whether or not to continue with BusConnects. Why should millions be spent on improving access to a city which has been hollowed out by a large-scale retail development a few miles to the east?

Damage to businesses

This development has the potential to inflict catastrophic damage on businesses in Cork city centre which are still recovering from the effects of the lockdown. It might be no harm for the local authority with responsibility for that area to be more vocal in this case, if for no other reason than to counter some of the raiméis being spouted outside the city boundaries.

For instance, county councillors are talking up the Carrigtwohill development and how it will have a hugely positive financial impact on the whole Cork region. They say people from the Cork region will no longer have to travel to the Kildare Village centre for bargains, with their money instead remaining in the local economy.” Where to start with this?

Regret at the wagon trains going north every morning from Cork as people search desperately for cheaper sunglasses in Kildare? Pride at our emancipation from the need to stream up the motorway looking for bargains in Karl Lagerfeld Kids? Anticipation ahead of this sudden spike in spending in Cork as people flock to their own retail village?

Enough of the sarcasm. It’s insulting to suggest to people that this will be a boon to the area. Developers Rioja Estates maintain that the new centre will create 800 jobs, and they may be right.

How many of those jobs will replace an existing job, however, in one of the smaller retail outlets which lie along or near the N25? 

And what will replace the retail outlets in those small towns and villages when they’re swallowed up by the black hole being created with the blessing of the county council?

(Again with the connectedness: they won’t be replaced but will simply fall into disrepair and dereliction.) None of this need worry anyone as they sit in a two-mile tailback, however, waiting for their turn to shuffle around the new village. While that traffic jam inches along, of course, there’ll be increased emissions, another cherry on top of this offering.

At a time when we want BusConnects to offer an alternative to car travel in the city, instead we’ll have a rival development to centre-city businesses which you can reach by way of the dual carriageway. This will help BusConnects, of course, because much of the traffic will head east from the city and vanish, leaving the buses to roam the city like square, lonely dinosaurs.

Aiming for a massive, out-of-town shopping mall is reminiscent of American planning policy going back the decades — a policy which led to deserted downtowns and decay in inner cities, decay which took years to reverse.

In more recent years evidence has emerged that large shopping precincts in the US are now moving beyond retail, offering space in their malls for alternative use — the likes of medical offices and casinos.

And apartments, believe it or not: accommodation, which is truly needed in Ireland. Could we save time and move to that stage first in this case, and just forget about the retail part?

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