CORK City Council’s area is set to be extended, though not as far as the Mackinnon Report had recommended. The agreement was reached by way of compromise, albeit under ministerial threat, between representatives – councillors and officials – of the City and County Councils, and the Implementation Oversight Group (IOG).
The elected members of both councils were subsequently briefed before the IOG chairman, John O’Connor, a former chairman of An Bórd Pleanála, delivered his report on the revised city boundary to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy this week. The agreement between the two parties was quickly endorsed by city councillors, but their county colleagues have been a lot more reticent about approving the deal and were still discussing it on Friday.
Murphy’s predecessor as Minister, the now Tánaiste Simon Coveney, had been pushing for quite a big extension of the city boundary after first rejecting – mainly at the behest of city interest groups – the 2015 Smiddy report on the future of local government in Cork, which had proposed amalgamating the two councils. He set up a review group, headed by Scotland’s former chief planner Jim Mackinnon, which subsequently recommended exactly what the Minister wanted to hear about extending the city boundary.
The extent of the proposed extension shocked Cork County Council members and officials and they fought a rearguard action to hold on to as much lucrative territory as they could, especially the prime rate-paying areas around Cork Harbour from Ringaskiddy over to Little Island where several large multi-national operations are based. As a stalling tactic, the County Council set up a two-month public consultation period to give people a chance to have their say.
When the pressure came on from Minister Eoghan Murphy, and the IOG he set up, to finalise details of the boundary extension, the consultation process seems to have got lost in the mix somewhere and the County Council has not so far got a chance to openly discuss and debate the submissions that, we’re told, are currently being considered. But, this will be like closing the stable door when the horse has bolted.
Anecdotally, there is a lot of unhappiness among people in places such as Ballincollig, Blarney, Tower and Glanmire about their towns being subsumed by the city, along with Cork Airport also, and some county councillors have called for a plebiscite about the matter, but it seems there is precious little they can do about it now, unfortunately.
Because of the territory ceded, Cork County Council’s income from commercial rates and its share of Local Property Tax will take quite a hit, although there will be some compensation for this in the short term. However, its overall budget will have shrunk so the rest of the county could lose out; as if things weren’t bad enough already, the disgraceful state of our roads being just one example.
The city’s population is expected to increase from 125,000 to approximately 220,000 as a result of the boundary extension. The rush to resolve the issue was with a view to having the revised boundaries in place in time for the respective local authority elections in 2019 and, if voters in the affected towns feel their public representatives have let them down, they will be able to make their feelings known through the ballot box.
There is also a danger that the proponents of a wider city expansion may revisit the issue again within a few years and annexe the areas recommended by Mackinnon but not handed over this time around. Certainly, we won’t be waiting 52 years again for the next city boundary extension!