Cork City Development: Separate authorities are key to ‘selling’ city

Last week’s collective confirmation of major development projects for Cork gave a welcome fillip to everyone in the city, writes Owen O’Callaghan MD, O’Callaghan Properties 

The projects which were outlined are significant and timely. Once rolled out, they will help, in a small but important way, to address the business imbalance between Dublin and Ireland’s second city.

The projects demonstrate the strength of a small number of Cork-based developers and may help to convey the message that economic recovery can’t take place without developers.

The demonisation of property development and the notion of Ireland being better for being a developer-free zone is a nonsense.

Foreign direct and indigenous investment and the employment that flows from that depend on the availability of suitable buildings and facilities in which business can be done.

Employment and development go hand-in-hand.

In our case, approximately 11,000 people are employed in our office and retail projects, circa 4,000 in Cork, and we at O’Callaghan Properties are very proud of that fact.

The upside of the recession in development terms is that it has rid the sector of many of the speculators who inhabited it.

Those developers who have survived are, in the main, responsible, strong business people who will continue to make the kind of significant contribution they have always made.

If the recession from which we are emerging taught Ireland Inc any lesson, it must be not to lose the run of ourselves again.

That is why I warmly welcome the contraction of the Cork Docklands project which in its original form was a good example of Celtic Tiger Ireland’s bloated ambition.

Colliers International, the global consultants commissioned by Cork City Council to scope future city development have it spot on when they recommend the development of City Harbour Quarter, a spatially realistic landbank bounded by Horgans Quay, Andersons Quay, and Albert Quay.

Two of our future new office projects will reside in that area which has the potential to contain a quantum of development projects that can transform Cork City.

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For that to happen, it will require a radical new relationship between developers, the local authority and State agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

There is a new dispensation at work in Irish property development which needs to be understood by everyone involved.

Irish bank support for development is probably a thing of the past.

International funds are the new bankers and the main source of funding for major multi-million euro projects.

These funds will back projects, not on the basis of any empathy or sentiment, but on the basis of return on investment.

If Cork City is to develop a critical mass of projects on the scale thought possible by Colliers International, then it is essential that the city becomes a priority location for FDI investment visits and EI activity — to yield the tenants for the kind of office and other facilities envisaged.

There is a collective, innovative public-private collaborative effort required to ‘sell’ Cork for inward investment. And that effort must be ambitious, global and resourced.

How that promotion occurs will be greatly influenced by the kind of new local government structures to flow from the review currently being undertaken by the expert group commissioned by the Minister for the Environment and headed by Alf Smiddy.

For as long as I can remember, I have argued for a ‘new’ Cork City of scale, of 250,000-300,000 people, which is most likely to emerge from a positive view of a boundary extension.

There is more than a hint that the Minister for the Environment favours a single authority to run both this ‘new’ city and the county.

Presumably that may be influenced by the fact that Limerick, Waterford, and Tipperary have had local authority amalgamations.

What that does not factor in is the fact that Cork has a population larger than the combined populations of those three counties.

‘Large’ or ‘single’ does not always, by definition, signal most efficient. Irish Water and the HSE spring to mind in that context.

It should also be pointed out that Dublin has, for reasons of accountability and service efficiency, broken up its large local authority of the early 90s into four separate authorities to very good effect.

It is also worth noting that each of these four authorities has, on average, the likely population base of an expanded Cork city and a newly defined Cork county area.

I have listened very carefully to the arguments of those in favour of a single authority for Cork.

I am, however, more forcibly struck by the merits of the arguments put forward by the City Council and by UCC academics, William Brady and Aodh Quinlivan.

These favour an independent local authority for a ‘new’ Cork city or metropolitan area and a separate authority to service what would be a huge county area, with its very different demands and priorities.

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