A defining report on Cork’s local government structures could see the city secure its first boundary extension in 50 years, and the creation of a huge metropolitan Cork region of almost 300,000 people.
As the government-appointed Cork Local Government Review Group enters the final phase of its work, the Irish Examiner today focuses on the process which will affect the lives of just over half a million people living in Ireland’s biggest county up to 2070.
The five-person review group established by Environment Minister Alan Kelly — chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, and including Dermot Keogh, John Lucey SC, UCC’s Theresa Reidy, and former Kerry County manager Tom Curran — was tasked last January to review the region’s local government structures and to issue recommendations on new structures designed to last for the next 50 years.
They are examining the case for the first extension of Cork’s city boundary since 1965, or the possible merger or amalgamation of the city and county councils.
The argument for a dual-authority approach — a boundary extension and the retention of a separate city or metropolitan authority as well as a county council – has been spearheaded by the city council.
In its detailed submission to the review group, it argues for the retention of two local authorities — one to govern an enlarged metropolitan Cork area, which would drive economic development in the region, the other to govern the rest of the county.
It has pointed to the experience in South East Queensland in Australia, where four local council mergers are being reversed; to Brisbane, where local authority consolidation has been halted; and to mergers in Ireland, such as the HSE, which have presented their own problems.
It quotes Aodh Quinlivan of UCC’s Department of Government and an expert in local government, who argues against a merger and who has warned that West Cork is now one of the most under-represented regions in the country following the abolition of town councils last year.
Dr Quinlivan says evidence from more than 400 local government cases worldwide over 40 years shows the ‘big is beautiful’ mantra just does not stack up.
The evidence, he said, suggests that larger local authorities are associated with higher spending per capita than smaller local units and amalgamations can produce diseconomies of scale.
The city has also devised a formula that it says would provide for the payment “in perpetuity” of compensation to the county council for any rates losses arising out of a boundary extension.
Mr Smiddy said they are still considering this, and more than 90 other submissions made as part of its public consultation, and are on course to issue recommendations to the minister by his September deadline.
The last extension of Cork’s City boundary was secured in 1965. The city council has been seeking a new extension for over a decade.
Preliminary work on a boundary extension in 2006 included plans to raise the city’s size from 4,000 hectares to 22,359 hectares and boost its population from 117,000 to 180,000, which would have seen areas in Kerry Pike and Killeens, Monard, Rathpeacon and Rathcooney, Glanmire, Riverstown, Glounthane and Little Island, Curraheen, Waterfall and Ballinora, Ballygarvan, Togher, Doughcloyne, the airport and business park, Douglas, Donnybrook, Grange, Rochestown, Passage, and Monkstown become part of the city.
However, a request for an extension was shelved pending an overhaul of local government.
In 2012, then environment minister Phil Hogan gave the city and county councils five years to agree an extension. But an agreement wasn’t forthcoming, triggering this new process.
Similar reviews in Tipperary, Limerick, and Waterford have resulted in the merger of local authorities.
The review group is considering the outcome of these mergers, and is also examining similar moves in an international context.