An area with a storied past and huge possibilities: Let’s get regeneration of Blackpool underway

An area with a storied past and huge possibilities: Let’s get regeneration of Blackpool underway
Councillor John Sheehan on Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool.

BLACKPOOL is a vibrant community with a unique character and the next two decades are set to be the most interesting in its history.

Years of underinvestment, the dividing of the community via the Blackpool bypass and other social and economic issues have hampered its growth over the years. While other city suburbs and communities have over-developed, Blackpool has been starved of attention despite being a strategic location on the N20.

There is a feeling now that this is about to change. There are obvious problems with dereliction and illegal dumping in Blackpool but the Government’s Ireland 2040 project plans for Cork and the National Transport Authority’s Cork Metropolitan Area Strategy to deliver key rail, road, pedestrian and cycle infrastructure over the next 20 years sees Blackpool feature prominently.

Cork’s docklands have rightly been identified as the area in which the city centre must develop into and there is little doubt among politicians, civil servants and private developers that this is where the expansion of the city centre will be concentrated.

However, north of the River Lee, the greater Blackpool area is ripe for regeneration and the next 20 years provide a huge opportunity.

Blackpool, Shandon, and the Glen are already home to thousands of long-time residents, businesses, schools, community organisations, sports clubs and cultural hubs.

Planning permission for dozens of apartments has been lodged for Thomas Davis Street, just one indication of the massive potential of Blackpool.		Picture: Damian Coleman
Planning permission for dozens of apartments has been lodged for Thomas Davis Street, just one indication of the massive potential of Blackpool. Picture: Damian Coleman

In the coming years, housing developments at the Old Whitechurch Road, close to the area, and several apartment blocks and houses — social and private developments — within Blackpool itself will see an influx of thousands of people. There are already several planning applications in train for these developments.

Thoughts are now turning to how the services and infrastructure can be delivered to these prospective new residents. The opening of a train station at Kilbarry and the delivery Northern Ring Road have been identified as the main drivers to open up Blackpool.

Flood mitigation will also be needed. A flood relief scheme for the River Bride has been on the agenda since 2013 but has not seen any progress. Lord mayor John Sheehan, who has a GP practice on Thomas Davis Street, believes the future is bright for the area due to its proximity to the city centre.

“Blackpool is heading down a positive pathway. The trend, more and more, is for people to live in the city and this could be Blackpool’s time to capitalise on that. Property is a bit cheaper in the area and people who previously might not have considered the area are now looking at it,” the lord mayor told The Echo.

“Housing will bring a lot of vitality into the area. I am here 16 years now and there are a lot of challenges. There are a lot of small traders in Blackpool and there’s a village feel to the area. It’s important we get a nice mix of housing into the area and there are many projects planned but it’s about realising those projects.

“The Northern Ring Road and Kilbarry Train Station would be gamechangers. The sooner the Northern Ring Road happens, the better. However, even without it, the future is good for Blackpool. There are extremely strong community activities and new people have been embraced into the area. The foundations are there. I’m very optimistic about the future of Blackpool,” Mr Sheehan says.

Blackpool has become somewhat of an employment hub on the northside in recent years.

Blackpool Shopping Centre has expanded into a retail park and several tech companies, such as Teamwork, have set up shop within that campus.

Councillor Ken O’Flynn says developers and business people are looking at Blackpool as one of the most viable parts of the city in which to make a profit. “It’s the last bastion in Cork to make money and it’s an opportunity ripe for the taking. It’s been one of the things that has been under our noses for a long time and we haven’t seen the true value in it,”says Mr O’Flynn.

“There are almost 6,000 people employed in Apple in Hollyhill and the knock-on effect is the development of the businesses in Blackpool and tech companies in the new area. There is a lack of accommodation in the city and Blackpool is the place to invest for relatively low spend, high return.

“The good thing is that we will have a good social mix with all the housing developments and when you get an influx of people, you get a cosmopolitan feel. Blackpool is a great place to invest and will be a fantastic place to live, work and play in the future,” he says.

However, Mr O’Flynn has warned that construction has to be met with infrastructure to support it.

“The Northern Ring Road, is a long way away but the railway station that we were promised 10 years ago has to be delivered and if it was, we could reopen the Kilbarry IDA site which has been starved of investment and you could certainly rebrand Blackpool as its own urban village. That would bring more investment and higher spec investment into the area,” he says. Blackpool Shopping Centre manager John Hartnett is on the ground and interacts with people from both sides of the bypass divide of the village on a daily basis.

For him, Blackpool’s unique sense of community, heritage and forward-looking attitude mean the future is very bright.

“The future is very positive,” says Mr Hartnett. “We know Cork has a housing crisis and I suppose we always knew that Blackpool was going to be the next location for development. The shopping centre probably came before everything and everything seems to be following on from that.

“Thomas Davis Street needs investment, Respond Housing agency has given great support to the whole area of Blackpool.

“Cluid housing agency and Cork City Council and private developments have also helped.

“We also need to have the infrastructure so we need the railway and it all needs to line up. If we get that, it could really take off. If the planning is to develop Kilbarry Railway station then that will improve on to what we have in Blackpool. But, what we have in 10 years’ time will be a completely different offering from a residential pont of view. Kilbarry train station is the key to opening it all up.

“The hinterland out towards Mallow has all been serviced and developed with an infrastructure that comes with the N20 but that doesn’t really have any relief road to get to the southside so we need the city planners or the national government to do their job now.

“Private developers are trying to do their job and even City Council, to be fair, have been trying to progress things. Joined-up thinking would help and Kilbarry and public transport are key.

“Public transport has improved and now we have better services than we had four or five years’ ago. It’s a very positive thing for Blackpool to have all those houses and new residents living and working here. With the likes of Blackpool Shopping Centre and the retail park and office campus and even North Point, Apple developments on the northside, the army barracks — all those people need to live around this area so it would be good that they would live a few kilometres from where they work.”

For Mr Hartnett, though, the friendliness of Blackpool people is still the area’s biggest selling point.

An aerial view of Kilbarry station, Sunbeam and Harrington’s paint factory long before the build-up of further industry.
An aerial view of Kilbarry station, Sunbeam and Harrington’s paint factory long before the build-up of further industry.

“Blackpool has definitely got a character of its own. It’s unique, certainly. From a shopping centre point of view, you very rarely see people in other shopping centres chatting and communicating the way they do here.

The development of a train station at Kilbarry has been identified as the key to unlocking the regeneration of Blackpool, and calls are growing for it to be prioritised to battle increasing congestion on the northside.

The Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy 2040 draft plan lists Kilbarry as a site for a potential new station to link up with Blarney and Monard via Kent station.

Mr Sheehan has joined the growing chorus of voices calling for the station, first planned in 2008, to finally be built to exploit the potential for increased suburban rail services.

“Given the growth that’s planned for Blackpool and the surrounding area for housing and offices and retail, it certainly should be a priority,” said Mr Sheehan.

“I know a lot of businesses, myself included, paid contributions as part of our development levies with the hope Kilbarry train station was going to open, but that money was spent on other parts of the suburban network, and that is fair enough. However, Kilbarry would unlock a lot of the potential of the northside.

“People would be able to commute into the city. You’d have people coming in from Mallow. Congestion is growing a lot around the area and its traffic capacity is going to become fairly limited. It won’t take a lot for Blackpool to turn into a complete bottleneck so I think it the National Transport Authority [NTA] should absolutely prioritise it.”

The N20 coming into the city from Mallow has been shown to be 120% over capacity by a recent report from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the Northern Ring Road is not included in the Government’s 2040 Project Ireland capital plan.

However, the surrounding area of Blackpool area is set for a major population boost in the next five years with housing developments on the Old Whitechurch Road bringing up to 800 new homes to the area.

Cork Chamber too has urged the NTA to prioritise the long-mooted train station.

In its submission, the chamber stated: “Blackpool is an area that has a strong growth agenda and ambition driven by some of the most progressive and rapidly growing companies in Ireland. Kilbarry train station is critical to securing further investment in this city location and to helping address the infrastructural deficit of the north side of Cork City. Given that the existing railway already runs immediately past the main employment areas in Blackpool, there is an opportunity for a quick win by prioritising the development of Kilbarry train station.”

Several housing developments are being progressed in Blackpool and the surrounding area. Respond Housing Association is set to deliver 36 three-bedroom, 38 two-bedroom, and six one-bedroom social housing units at Redforge Road, on the old Sunbeam site, to be built by HRP Construction.

There are also plans for 112 new homes in a €30m development on Thomas Davis Street, as well as tentative plans for 800 homes on the Old Whitechurch Road.

Corkeran’s Quay developers Citdiwell Homes is already undertaking a large housing project on the northside. Almost 80 houses are to be built at the former St Finbarr’s Seminary on Redemption Road and grounds along with three educational buildings by Citidwell.

A derelict site between Blackpool and the N20 is to be developed as an apartment block. A public-private partnership between Cork City Council and Citidwell Homes will see 37 apartments built on Watercourse Rd on a site straddling the Blackpool bypass and the main thoroughfare through Blackpool in a laneway known as Corkeran’s Quay. The development will include 18 one-bedroom, 17-two bedroom, and two three-bedroom apartments.

Developers Compass Homes Ltd has applied for permission to build 42 apartments on Brocklesby Street which runs behind the Church of the Annunciation in Blackpool and parallel to Thomas Davis Street.

The planning permission would allow for the demolition of existing structures and the construction of 42 apartments.

A decision is set to be made by City Hall planners in early February. However, concerns have been raised locally about how this will affect a pre-school housed in one of the buildings on the site of the proposed development.

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