The backdrop to the publication on Monday of the Cork City Draft Development Plan, “Our City, Our Future”, is vastly different to anything that has gone before.
For the first time, a single statutory development plan will encompass the city’s previous footprint, unchanged for over 50 years, along with the suburb of Douglas, and the urban towns of Ballincollig, Blarney, Tower and Glanmire and the immediate hinterland areas – the “New City” of Cork.
Cork is poised to be the fastest growing city in Ireland to 2040. Its population of 210,000 is projected to grow by 50% over the next 20 years.
Cork’s status as an emerging international city of scale and a national driver of economic growth is, for the first time, enshrined in the Government’s National Planning Framework.
In other words, Cork is a key player in the national policy framework guiding the development of Ireland over the next 20 years. It is a new, welcome and deserved designation.
By definition, that new canvas presents wonderful opportunities and key challenges. How these can best be met is at the core of the Draft City Development Plan, which is now presented for public consultation.
It sets out the strategic vision of Cork City’s elected members and executive, for Cork to take its place as a world-class city, driving regional and national growth, embracing diversity and inclusiveness and growing as a resilient, healthy and sustainable compact city with quality of life at its heart.
The plan is published in the middle of a global pandemic which has swept away old certainties. This new environment has encouraged much reflection and accelerated change. There is now a greater receptiveness to change arising from today’s challenges, which is clear in the earlier consultation on the draft plan.
Already, there is tangible evidence of an appetite for change. Cork’s citizens, businesses and communities have led a national conversation in the way they have embraced the City’s Council’s call to “Re-imagine the City”.
This has led to vastly improved walking and cycling infrastructure, pedestrianisation of city centre streets, facilitation of outdoor dining and a “greening” of the city on a scale never previously seen. That spirit of collaboration augers well for the future.
The development plan is informed by a suite of evidence-based studies and international comparators to ensure best practice.
Its core principles are sustainable development, health, compact growth, the creation of liveable communities and places, the complementing of nature and climate resilience.
Cork’s compact growth will focus on strategic areas to the north and south of the River Lee and throughout the city. This will see more people living in the city centre, the Docklands and strategic growth areas.
A key direction of the plan is the integration of land-use and transport planning to achieve a compact city with 50% of all new homes delivered within the existing built-up footprint of the city on regenerated brownfield, infill and greenfield sites to achieve higher population densities aligned with strategic infrastructure delivery.
It is centred around supporting housing, economic development, public realm renewal, transport, amenity spaces and community services in existing built-up areas using the internationally-acclaimed 15-minute city concept.
These targets are not just aspirational but are underpinned by a commitment of continued investment by Government.
Since the publication of the National Planning Framework in 2018, the Government has committed €1.8bn to mobility, housing and placemaking in Cork, with further investment in health and education.
The effect of this investment will be felt in the short to medium term. The initial phase of the €3.5bn transport plan, the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) will be a comprehensive Bus Connects programme which will see improved bus services throughout the metropolitan area.
Cork’s suburban rail system is to be completely overhauled to deliver improved frequency and speed of rail services from Cobh and Midleton to the city centre and on to Kilbarry.
Cork City will see huge change in the coming years, not least in the city docklands, which is the largest regeneration project in the country. The 146-hectare area will become a “town within a city”, providing homes for 20,000 and almost 29,000 jobs over the next 20 years.
For those who say “this will never happen”, I would simply say please look at what has happened on both the North and South docks, where several thousand new jobs have been created in the past five years.
Even in the short term, the pace of change is ever quickening. Cork City Council recently released details of the first phase of the €46m “Grand Parade Quarter” project which will see a complete renewal of the area around the southern gateway to the medieval city, connecting the Grand Parade and a series of historic lanes, streets and Bishop Lucey Park with the south channel of the River Lee and the city centre business core. This project begins next year.
The whole MacCurtain Street area is set for comprehensive renewal as is the Crawford Art Gallery and Emmet Place.
The new City Development Plan will represent an important step in the evolution of the strategic planning of Cork City. It will influence how we engage with each other as communities; how we work, learn, travel, rest, play and experience all that the city has to offer. It will guide how we use our land and water and where new homes, businesses, schools, community facilities, health services and open spaces will be located.
All this will not be without its challenges. As a city, we need to accept that change must happen if the city is not to atrophy. Change is never impact-free. The notion that desirable change can happen while the status quo, somehow, can remain, is a myth.
The Draft Development Plan offers a view of the city that is progressive, dynamic and radical. I would ask everyone – communities, businesses and individuals – to engage with the draft plan and let us know your views as we together reimagine this wonderful and historic city.