Cork council merger: Boundary extension will not deliver success

Cork City's northside skyline. Population targets set in the past have not been met. Picture: Larry Cummins

Since 1978 I have dealt extensively with both Cork City and Cork County Councils, writes Michael O’Flynn.

In this regard, I have a lot of experience dealing with local government arrangements in Cork and I would make the following observations on the two options currently being considered by the Cork Local Government Committee for the future local governance of Cork.

The current Cork Land Use and Transportation Study (LUTS)/ Cork Area Strategic Plan (CASP) strategy is no longer economically viable and the boundary issue must be addressed now so that a more appropriate planning policy is adopted that will ultimately map out the long-term economic and social development of Cork as a whole.

It is evident that the population targets set for the City have always come in lower than the projected and I believe that this will continue to be the case.

I believe that the long-term targets set for the population growth in the county areas including the metropolitan towns will not be achieved.

This ultimately will have serious consequences for Cork when you consider its role and responsibilities as a gateway location within the National Spatial Strategy.

The extension of the city boundary should not be used as a means to resolve the missed population targets of 150,000 people for the city that LUTS set out in 1979. Those targets were set out under a plan that as stated above is no longer relevant and is outdated.

We must not find ourselves in a position, after this review, where we continue to experience planning strategies on both sides of the boundary which are not deliverable and not compatible.

If this were to transpire it would indeed be a step backwards. My absolute conclusion is that extending the boundary will not work for the future success of Cork as Ireland’s second city which should be the only over-riding consideration of the review group. In my opinion, the city has suffered as a result of there being two local authorities and I have been a long-time advocate of only having one authority.

This would strengthen both the city and the county and I am surprised with some of the recent comment which seeks to suggest the opposite and which triggered me to make the submission to the review group. A number of arguments put forward by opponents to a unified authority suggested that the Tipperary and the Limerick mergers weren’t progressing well. My information is that recent evidence would suggest that this is not the case and surely this is an important factor in the decision making process.

The option of merging Cork City and county into one structure, in my opinion, has many merits and would be the most effective solution in the long term. I would concur with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Alan Kelly, TD, when commenting on possibly unifying the city and county structures he stated that it would result in benefits such as “strengthening local government, elimination of administrative duplication, improved service delivery, greater efficiency, economies of scale and more cohesive and effective economic development”.

In addition to the merits noted by the minister I believe that unifying the two authorities would also bring the following benefits;

  • It would create a unified authority that would have the status and the ability to map out the future for Cork and engage with state bodies so that its infrastructure requirements can be delivered for the overall county without internal competition;
  • It would result in the creation of a new local authority that has a sizeable population, appropriate political status and the financial resources to deliver a new exciting strategic position for Cork;
  • It brings closure to the boundary extension debate by bringing a permanent solution where future adjustment in due course to boundary extensions would no longer be required.

I think we have a unique opportunity to shape the future of Cork and I really hope we take full advantage of this position.

Michael O’Flynn is chairman and managing director of the O’Flynn Group.

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