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Michael Moynihan: If only there was a solution to Cork's Marina Market mistake

Reaction to the planning refusal has been almost entirely negative, with many pointing out it is a space drawing hundreds of people to a previously derelict part of the city
Michael Moynihan: If only there was a solution to Cork's Marina Market mistake

The market began during the Covid pandemic, and has grown in popularity since. Picture: Dan Linehan

And so this week to the Marina Market.

Allow me to refresh your memory if you can’t remember all the details. Last weekend we learned that Cork City Council had turned down a planning application for change of use in the case of the Marina Market — from a warehouse to a market/food emporium.

Among the issues involved are car parking and access to the Market along Kennedy Quay for both vehicles and pedestrians, as Kennedy Quay remains a working quay which is open to the river. As Neil Michael and Eoin English reported in these pages, “Doyle Shipping Group (DSG), which operates in the Cork Port area near the Marina Market ... said they were so concerned about safety issues that it is now just ‘a matter of time’ before someone gets hurt.”

Another issue flagged by Cork planners is the proposed development falling “... almost entirely within the Middle Land Use Planning Zone of the neighbouring COMAH establishment Gouldings Chemicals Ltd and as such is located in an area where it is necessary to limit the risk of there being any serious danger to human health or the environment.”

A family-friendly success

Reaction to the planning refusal has been almost entirely negative, with many observers pointing out that the Marina Market is a family-friendly, alcohol-free space drawing hundreds of people to a previously derelict part of the city within walking and cycling distance of the centre.

In and of itself the success of the Marina Market — and it is a success — doesn’t serve as an exemption; footfall doesn’t double up as a get-out-of-jail free card if there are problems with the site, whether those are legal problems, insurance problems, building issues or health and safety issues within the site itself.

Yet the main issues being cited appear to be the two above — safety of access along the quayside and the presence of Gouldings Chemicals nearby.

In the case of the latter, this seems a strange inclusion. There are other food outlets along and behind Centre Park Road which are as close, or almost as close, as the Marina Market to Gouldings, and even more along Kennedy Quay back towards town; these don’t seem to be affected by the presence of a chemical factory.

If the presence of Gouldings was a live factor, then surely such outlets would be in the line of fire as well?

In the case of traffic and safety along the quay being an issue, this is a far more substantive point.

Your columnist was driving up from the Marina Market one evening last week along Kennedy Quay, research assistants working hard in the back seat (one addressing a portion of cheesy cubes, the other investigating a vegetarian burrito with extreme prejudice), when three hipsters appeared suddenly out of the darkness like three lost Brooklynites/nineteenth-century farriers.

Luckily, I was going slowly and Ireland was not deprived of three more organic muesli fans. But the point is a valid one. There are forklifts and trucks and delivery vans roaming the quay alongside the Market’s fans. In addition, ships still pop up alongside Kennedy Quay — with more frequency than before, though I may be imagining that — as well as those vehicles on their appointed rounds. It makes for a busy enough quay, one on which wandering pedestrians and parking spot hunters alike have the potential to cause serious problems.

A pity there isn’t a wide road nearby, preferably one flanked by broad footpaths and a cycle path, that which could be used as a different means of accessing the Marina Market. What’s that you say? There is?

Centre Park Road, mentioned above, offers the perfect alternative to Kennedy Quay for those people coming from the city to the Market. It’s easily accessible via the roundabout at the bottom of Albert Road for those walking and cycling, even if parking is limited in the locality.

(The obvious solution to that problem would be a bus service looping from the city down Albert Road, Centre Park Road and Monahan Road, but recent events in Pairc Ui Chaoimh — the Munster v South Africa game, specifically — showed that even when an event is flagged for months as needing a bus service to cater for a widely-publicised crowd it can be difficult to provide that service. And by difficult I mean ‘clearly impossible’.) However, it’s possible to recognise the makings of a solution. It requires only a little imaginative thinking, a wish to work together, and a positive outlook for that solution to be found.

After all, the Docklands area is where we have been told Cork is expanding, growing down along the riverbank to find space for its citizens. We’ve seen the developments at Horgan’s Quay, while the plans in train for the site of the old Sextant have caused plenty of debate; only last year we heard about the proposed four-lane carriageway down by the site of Live At The Marquee.

It’s all going on down in the Docklands, so let’s — what? Shut down something that is drawing thousands of people to the area already?

You would have thought at this point that Cork City Council would be more surefooted in how they treat markets. From that time in the seventies when City Hall thought a multi-storey car park would be a better asset than the English Market, the local authority has not always been able to strike the right note in this regard.

After all, it’s only six years since the developers behind the regeneration of the Capitol cinema site abandoned plans for a food hall in favour of more retail and office space.

At the time the developers in question, JCD, told Eoin English of this parish that “following extensive research, and a national and international marketing campaign for the proposed food hall, it emerged that without state-sponsored support, it would not be commercially viable”, adding that “planning restrictions around hot food and take-out offerings were also prohibitive”.

(Your mileage may vary on who bears the ultimate responsibility in that case — whatever about its extensive research, a simple phone call or visit to the planning authorities could have clarified the position for JCD when it came to restrictions around hot food and take-out offerings. Couldn’t it?) 

The Marina Market case offers a few awkward questions which are floating around, as yet unanswered. If the location is so dangerous why wait until the application comes in? A nimble operator saw an opportunity in this site and has made a success of it: what lesson about Cork will other nimble operators take away from the case? Where is the leadership here, the person who’ll take charge and pull people together for the betterment of the city? Still, there’s always someone having a worse day than you are. It’s been pointed out that the operators of the Marina Market have another option — one more card that they can play. They can always appeal the city council’s decision.

To An Bord Pleanála.

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