Response by the County Mayor to the Lord Mayor’s Open Letter of August 22nd. 2017 on the matter of a boundary extension

AS Mayor of County Cork, I have repeatedly stated Cork County Council’s position that this difficult problem can best be resolved through dialogue between the two local authorities.

The Lord Mayor has today published an open letter to the citizens of Cork and consequently I am obliged to provide balance to the comments which he has made. All of our public comment made in recent weeks has been based on fact and on publicly available documents. These documents include the joint City/County submission to the National Planning Framework 2017, the County Development and Local Area Plans, the City Development Plan, the City Docks Local Area Plan and the City’s Tivoli Docks Local Area Plan.

The County Council welcomes the successes of the metropolitan region which have been achieved in recent times. These successes have resulted from cooperation between city and county through long established joint planning frameworks. It has long been the case that city and county are indivisible from an economic development perspective. For instance, the Lord Mayor’s quoted Financial Times FDI magazine award relates not only to the city area with a population of 126,000 but to a metropolitan Cork area. Successes in the FDI arena have not been restricted to Cork City’s boundary but have extended from West Cork to Ringaskiddy to Little Island and to East Cork. We join with the City in taking pride in these achievements. Indeed, it has always been our position that there is only one Cork.

Regrettably, the Lord Mayor is correct in stating that Cork City’s population has not grown in line with the rates experienced in other parts of metropolitan Cork. However, to suggest that the City has been strangled by the County is misleading. Growth in the City area has been a longstanding objective of our joint approach. However, the City’s failure to develop the many brownfield sites within its jurisdiction cannot be blamed on the County Council. The forthcoming National Planning Framework (NPF) will demand such an emphasis, not sprawl into greenbelts as Mackinnon will entail. I would suggest that the authority which has best managed growth in metropolitan Cork in recent times has been the County Council; Ballincollig is a shining example of how this can best be achieved.

The Lord Mayor promises more housing close to the city centre if Mackinnon is implemented. There’s no logic to this. If more housing closer to the city centre is what the people of Cork want, then there is plenty of opportunity within the City boundary. An over generous boundary extension won’t help Docklands to redevelop. Rather the City authorities should be asking themselves if their strategy towards docklands has been effective in the way they’ve implemented it. A generous boundary extension as the means to fuel a growing population suggests that a sprawling city will be the outcome rather than a compact, efficient city for tomorrow’s population.

I am advised that in recent history, the first significant approach to the County in relation to an extension was made in 2006. I am further advised that at that time, executives did plot a possible extension but that it was roundly rejected by City Hall. To suggest that this has been going on since 1965 is misleading. I might also suggest that this matter could and should have been concluded two years ago had the City not objected to the recommendations of the Smiddy report.

The concept of equalisation and distribution of taxation is not one which is confined to Cork. At a national level, property tax is distributed in such a way to support the weak by the stronger. Smaller counties could not survive if such an approach was not adopted and it is no different in Cork. The County Council have never made any secret of the fact that its extremities are supported by the centre and this it should be.

On rural funding, Cities are not eligible to attract such supports. If parts of rural Cork are subsumed into the city, they will be excluded, no doubt about it.

I am most surprised that the Lord Mayor has pointed to the elephant in the room in the Mackinnon proposal. The elephant being that Cork City cannot afford to spend the same money per head of population in a Mackinnon city as it currently does (€1,363 City vs. €717 County). This additional cost, in addition to the compensation which it would have to pay to the County is simply not sustainable or affordable. Mackinnon made reference to the possibility that the City may have to borrow funds to finance this. I wonder have DPER heard about this? Are we seriously suggesting that the public will have to pay more to provide services in this day and age? Quite simply, the City can’t afford Mackinnon. Incidentally, do the County residents in the suburbs notice any difference in the levels of service?

On the matter of identity, the Lord Mayor doesn’t have to listen to the County. He simply needs to read about what has been happening in Ballincollig and Carrigtwohill. People know about their own identity and have expressed their views on this independently of the County Council. Rural dwellers have also had their say including Muintir na Tire and the County’s public participation networks. The County’s track record in providing facilities and its community development stands on its record.

To suggest that the County’s proposed offer to the City does not equate to best practice is simply untrue. The NPF will demand the concentrated development of brownfield sites as a priority in addressing the housing crisis. This will not be achieved through the creation of a city area twice the size of Dublin with a population density approaching rural status. Our proposal was based on data and policy contained in the joint NPF submission, our local area plan projections and on the City’s own plans. It is entirely evidence based. Is a proposal which increases the City area by 85% and which would ultimately give it a population of 283,000 minimalist? I will leave that to the readers own analysis.

Finally, there have been only two substantive reports on this matter to date, Smiddy and Mackinnon. The others have been either unpublished or not commissioned by the State. It is remarkable that the City now appear to be levelling overreaction against the County given its own response to the Smiddy report.

Only reasoned dialogue will resolve this and this should happen sooner rather than later to avoid further division in what should be “one Cork”.