DESPITE the objections of many in the county area, the extension of the Cork city boundary is set to come into effect to coincide with the local government elections at the end of May, as the legislation was passed by both houses of the Oireachtas last week and then signed into law by President Michael D Higgins. It means that the population of the city area is set to increase by more than 85,000 people to 210,000 and its area will quadruple.
Cork County Council is to be compensated for the loss of lucrative commercial rates revenue and property tax receipts from the areas being handed over to the city in this, the first city boundary extension in more than 50 years. Back then, the County Hall site had been in the county area, but ironically by the time it was completed in 1968, it had been subsumed into the city.
Cork city has expanded hugely in the past half-century and there is no doubt that a boundary extension was warranted, but nobody could have imagined that it would have taken so long. Several reports on it gathered dust on shelves over the years. However, the catalyst for it was the Smiddy report in 2015, which suggested the opposite – a merging of Cork City and County Council into one large local authority, thus blurring the distinction between the two areas.
This certainly focussed minds in the city, particularly at the thought of its second city status being diluted, seeing the greater Dublin area had three local authorities covering it. The powerful city business and political lobbies prevailed on then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney, to set up a new advisory group, especially as two of the five members of the Cork Local Government Review Committee, chaired by Mr Alf Smiddy, had dissented from its conclusions and produced their own minority report contradicting them.
The city fathers seemed to have gotten their way in June 2017 when the Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Cork recommended that Cork should continue to have two local authorities and that the City Council area should be extended to include Ballincollig, Carrigrohane, Blarney, Glanmire, Carrigtwohill and the area around Cork Airport, giving it a total population of about 225,000, based on the 2016 Census figures. However, this was too much for the County Council and there were some strenuous objections to the scale of the extension, which was modified somewhat after negotiations between the two councils and eventually approved by government last summer, clearing the way for legislation ahead of this year’s local elections.
Cork County Mayor Patrick Gerard Murphy was philosophical about the outcome of his council’s lobbying to get the best deal for the county during the framing of the legislation, saying that, ‘as with most things in life, you do not get your way in relation to everything, and compromise is the order of the day.
‘The county is particularly disappointed to note that the strong case that we put forward for the retention of Blarney and Tower to remain in the county area proved ultimately to be unsuccessful. We steadfastly believe that these two settlements are inherently rural in character and nature, and that they have little in common with the city.’
However, he said they had no choice but to respect the decision of the Oireachtas in this regard, the disappointment tempered somewhat by the retention of prime rate-paying areas around Cork Harbour, from Ringaskiddy over to Little Island, where several large multi-national operations are based. The County Mayor was happy enough that provision has been made for the extension of financial compensation arrangements for the significant income loss that the county will experience due to the boundary alteration for a 10-year period with possible extension beyond 10 years, as well as indexation of the contribution amount payable.
Anticipating the passing of the legislation, work between the Cork City and County Councils’ franchise departments has been going on for several months, revising the Register of Electors to reflect the new local election areas in which people will vote. It will be interesting to see the response of voters in areas such as Ballincollig, Blarney and Tower where many of the voters are becoming part of the city against their will; how will they use their votes, if at all?
The boundary extension will also involve the transfer of some 200 staff and associated assets from Cork County Council to the City Council and will come at quite a cost. The local elections are scheduled for Friday, May 24th next, to coincide with the European Parliament elections here in Ireland and the plan is that the boundary extension will formally come into being when the new City Council meets for the first time on Tuesday, June 4th.