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Open letter to the citizens of Cork from the Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Fitzgerald


August 22, 2017

OPEN LETTER TO THE CITIZENS OF CORK

The publication of the Report of the Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements, known as the MacKinnon report, was always going to generate debate. However, I have been taken aback by the nature of some commentary in recent weeks. The purpose of this Open Letter is not only to respond but to put some facts in the public domain that will set out why the MacKinnon boundary extension offers the best opportunity to develop Cork City so it can drive economic growth in the wider Cork region.

Cork city is a prosperous outward-looking city with a diverse economic base. Recently, it was hailed as the number one small European city for foreign direct investment by the Financial Times FDI Magazine; won the Great Town (i.e. under 350,000 population) Category from the Academy of Urbanism, was ranked number one for cultural venues and facilities amongst European cities with a population of under 500,000, and came top of the table for cultural vibrancy amongst small to medium-sized European cities.

However, in Cork City’s case, a growing economy has not led to a growing population as it was strangled by an outdated city boundary that had not been extended since 1965. Instead people who work, go to school, shop and socialise – and use city services daily – are living in a necklace of defacto suburbs and satellite towns that were developed beyond the city boundary to meet the pressing demand for housing, commercial and industrial space convenient to the city. For five decades Cork County Council steadfastly refused to agree to a city boundary extension as it would mean relinquishing these rates bases. Indeed, data shows that much revenue generated in these defacto city suburbs and satellite towns is diverted to fund services in more remote parts of the county where population is significantly lower. Cork City Council believes that rates and taxes should be spent in the area where they are raised

As a public representative I am deeply disappointed by recent attempts to whip up unnecessary fear in communities. Such falsehoods must be countered:

  • The extension of the city boundary will NOT stop access to national or EU rural funding streams such as LEADER funding in rural areas.
  • Once the boundary extension beds in, it will likely mean greater spending per citizen in the expanded area. Records show that in 2017 Cork City Council spent €1,363 per citizen on public services while Cork County Council spent just €717.
  • Cork County Council has also alleged that the extension of the Cork city boundary will somehow undermine local identity or change daily life in satellite towns. To the contrary, I am very happy that citizens will enjoy an improved quality of life in strong communities. Citizens will benefit from Cork City Council’s proven track record in community development, sports funding, social inclusion, arts and recreation as well as in meeting housing need.
  • Quality of life will improve for all if one authority is delivering joined-up planning policy. There will be more housing closer to the city centre and better transport links. Without sustainable transport links, we face a future of gridlock and road tolling in the Cork region. Cork City Council does not want an urban area where 40% of land is road and carparks – this is not what a modern smart city should be about, nor is it what the citizen wants.
  • The extent of the increase proposed in the MacKinnon extension area has drawn comment from Cork County Council but such commentary ignores best practice in planning and service provision which states that the most successful cities have jurisdiction over their rural hinterland as well as urban areas. Such best practice takes place in Europe where rural towns similar in size and profile to Carrigtwohill maintain their unique identity while benefitting from improved roads, public transport and enhanced service delivery as part of an urban local government unit.
  • Cork County Council’s recent boundary extension proposal was presented without accompanying data to support its population and economic projections. This means that its argument for a minimalist boundary expansion lacks foundation compared to the detailed evidence-based arguments for an extended boundary that we have made to the various report authors, all of which are in the public domain.

The boundary extension proposed by Cork County Council was given every consideration by Cork City Council but it offered little other than ceding control of existing defacto suburbs. It cannot be described as generous. From our analysis, only 30% of this area is capable of being developed. Their proposal does not offer sufficient land and population to ensure Cork can expand to provide a sustainable counterbalance to Dublin. What the county council is finally offering is what Cork City needed in 1980, not in 2017. 

The time for debate has passed. We have all had our chance to state our case – including community groups in city and county. The case for a boundary extension of scale has been supported by three separate reports. We must focus on implementation and delivering for the people of Cork. The MacKinnon extension is about assuring a quality of life for our children and their children. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

Tony Fitzgerald

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