Discussions around the need for better infrastructure and more housing in the city are a constant narrative in Cork, but how we enjoy the city is just as important a consideration.
The recent boundary extension, which took in communities such as Ballincollig, Douglas, Glanmire and Blarney, has gifted the city some of the most beautiful green spaces available to the public anywhere in Ireland and even Europe.
Research in the US has shown parks and green spaces attract business investment, improve public health, improve air and water quality, and give communities a sense of identity and pride.
As the city continues to expand, Cork City Council has set up a new community, culture and place-making directorate.
City Hall chief executive Ann Doherty said one of the council’s main objectives is to make the city centre a more liveable place and foster neighbourhoods.
Ahead of a predicted sizeable jump in population as a result of the commercial development and regeneration of the city’s docklands, the council is pursuing a number of projects to ensure the people have public spaces to enjoy.
There has been significant investment in playgrounds and plans to transform Marina Park and Bishop Lucey Park are advancing — while the Tramore Valley Park recently opened to the public.
While these large public spaces are being redeveloped and turned into appealing areas where events can take place and the public can visit, there is a sense that inner-city and suburban communities need more help to establish and maintain communal spaces.
The Green Party’s Oliver Moran will next month bring a motion before the council asking it to invite neighbourhoods to form trusts to work with the local authority in the development of green spaces.
“All the people that can see that there are problems with these parks need to be given permission and an invitation in a structured way to come in and turn it around,” he said.
Mr Moran also believes an emphasis on people living in the city and a reduction in vehicular traffic will eventually make the city a more appealing place.
“We have a problem in Cork that there is not enough people living in the city centre. When you have people, it changes the character of a city a lot because they need things like playgrounds and parks for the people that are living there. That’s a balance that we have wrong in our city centre in that we are focused on commercial development and cars and it’s genuinely not a liveable city.
“When you look at what happened when North Main Street closed down to cars, it suddenly became a living place with people and communities on the street.”
Communities and groups are willing to roll their sleeves up to achieve better public spaces. Groups like Benchspace Cork, The Transport and Mobility Forum, Mad About Cork, The Douglas Street Business Association all recently helped establish the city’s first Parklet at Douglas Street.
The project was supported and funded by the Cork City Council Placemaking Fund 2019. It will remain on Douglas Street until AutumnFest on September 29.
With several skyscapers set to be built over the next three decades, Cork is doing all it can to avoid becoming a concrete jungle.
Bishop Lucey Park in line for €1m redevelopment work
Bishop Lucey Park is set to be revamped, after Cork City Council secured almost €1 million in funding for the project under the Urban Regeneration and Redevelopment Funding Scheme.
Information requested by Councillor Kieran McCarthy (Independent) revealed last month that €916,000 toward public realm works and development of the park has been allocated and a design competition has now commenced in relation to a redesign.
However, the design of the public realm works is dependent on the final design of the nearby event centre project.
City Hall director of strategic and economic development Fearghal Reidy said designs for the park are expected before the end of the year.
The park opened in 1985 and it is possible it could now have its walls and gates removed in order to be developed as a wide-open city plaza, stretching from Grand Parade onto South Main Street, which could provide a key city walking route.
Green Party councillor Oliver Moran has raised concerns about the area being paved and walls being removed as he believes it should be retained as a stand-alone park.
Extra public lighting and CCTV cameras are expected to be added, to enhance safety on the new plaza, which would be envisioned as a key access route between Grand Parade and the South Mall for pedestrians, with a particular emphasis on walking travel towards the event centre.
Plans were originally scheduled to be revealed in the spring of 2018 but funding was not secured until now.
Bishop Lucey Park has been the scene of anti-social behaviour in recent years and council officials are understood to favour opening up the park to make it more accessible and attractive, with plans for offices and apartments in close proximity.
City Hall chief executive Ann Doherty said she is keen for the park to be made more inclusive.
Ms Doherty said she hopes to move the park project ahead sooner rather than later.
“I am very mindful that if a city is to work, it has to become areas of community and neighbourhood,” she said.
“In the last census, we saw the number of people in the city grow and that is likely to continue in the coming years, so we have to figure out how to create space for them,” she added.
“One of the things on our list to do is to alter Bishop Lucey Park to make it more open and part of the public space around Grand Parade.”
September start date for the Marina Park
Construction of the new Marina Park is set to begin next month, with a completion date of early summer next year.
The public green area, close to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, is set to be five times bigger than Fitzgerald Park when completed.
It was initially scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, but the project has now been delayed until early summer, 2020.
City Hall director of environmental and recreation services Valerie O’Sullivan has said the dates were revised due to tender document issues.
“Works are now scheduled to commence in September, 2019, with a completion date of May/June, 2020,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
The €15m-€20m project forms a central part of amenities for the Docklands area and is on a 22-hectare site on the former site of the Cork Showgrounds.
The park will extend from the Shandon Boat Club all the way to Blackrock, including grounds around the stadium and the Atlantic Pond.
The new park will provide a wide range of options for recreation, with a particular emphasis on water-based activities, play, and a range of event spaces.
It will contain a central plaza, a waterway, green space, a water feature, bridges, and a stadium loop.
The park will not initially contain a playground, due to the estimated €500,000 cost, or an upgrade of the Atlantic Pond, or the pedestrianisation of the Marina.
Documents released to the Marina Park Campaign group under the Freedom of Information Act in February stated that clarifications are ongoing with the lowest tenderer for the project, but that funding is in place and has been approved for the project.
Councillor Des Cahill recently advocated for cheaper playgrounds to be built across Cork City, with average costs hitting €250,000-€300,000.
“A playground policy needs to be drafted by Cork City Council,” he said.
“Large playgrounds seem to be the only desire of the executive, ignoring the greater needs for many areas where small playgrounds (with four pieces of equipment) would, at a much-needed reduced cost and space needed, deliver much more to our suburbs.
“In particular, Beaumont Park and Blackrock Village, which are, and never were serviced, despite the large amount of housing and schools in the area.
“Generic designs can be used at low cost,” he added.
Council environmental director Valerie O’Sullivan said that playground designs and sizes are determined by the population of an area.
“City Council playground policy is to provide a range of playgrounds of varying size with a mix of traditional and adventure play equipment,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
“The size of a playground is determined by the catchment area, safety, and the estimated number of children likely to use the facility.
“The majority of playgrounds installed by the City Council in the last 15 years range in size from six to eight items of equipment, with appropriate safer surfacing and perimeter railings.
“Estimated cost of these playgrounds is now between €250,000-€300,000,” she added.
Partnership plan for public spaces
Community trusts could be formed across the city to allow communities to partner with City Hall in the development of public spaces.
Green Party councillor Oliver Moran will next month bring a motion to the council, asking that it invites neighbourhoods to form trusts that would partner with the council over the proper management and development of local green spaces and parks, in order to facilitate a sense of community ownership.
These would see coordinated community labour, fundraising, and management of public places, overseen by the council’s environment and recreation directorate.
“In the North East ward, there is a real dearth of green spaces.
“The ones that are really taking off are really small parks starting off as just Tarmac, but when a local community jumps in and takes ownership, they can absolutely turn them around and make them great spaces,” said Mr Moran.
“The Railway Park behind St Luke’s Church is a really great example. That was entirely forgotten about by city council. It was one of the top five drug spots in the city. It was supposed to be a children’s playground but you’d be wary of taking your children there. It was entirely unappealing.
“The people living around there got sick of waiting for the city council to do something and asserted their ownership over it. They have turned it around in a couple of years.
“Now it’s a really attractive park to go down to and they have been able to get investment from city council and they have started doing mini-events like yoga and community get-togethers.
“The city council has so many competing interests but the local community can concentrate on their own areas and they can actually do a lot of the work themselves, like coming up with plans and applying for funding.
“These are just small areas that are not really on the agenda for City Hall but the purpose of the motion is to formalise what happened at the Railway Park, to have the city council put an invitation out there to local communities that have green areas around them that they want to see developed — they can step forward and start managing and investing,” he added.
Mr Moran has also identified the Glen River Park as an amenity that has huge potential.
“The Glen River Park could be fantastic and like a Fitzgerald’s Park on the northside with its own unique character, because in an age of a biodiversity emergency it’s semi-wild. There are a whole bunch of wildflowers in the woodland in there.
“The problem is that it doesn’t have a critical mass of people going in there using it for things and it’s got a bad name as a lonely spot.
“The 5km Park Run just started up recently and that’s off the back of local people just deciding that they were going to do it, and there are other people that want to organise events. There is a big demand for a playground up there and it would be a great spot.
“It would get people in there on a regular basis and would make it friendlier for people to use it on a regular basis.
“All the people that can see that there are problems with these parks need to be given permission and an invitation in a structured way to come in and turn it around,” he added.
Tramore Valley Park needs link-up to local communities
The long-awaited €42 million Tramore Valley Park opened in May to much fanfare with a 2.5km looped walk named after Cork Olympian Rob Heffernan.
The site is set to be used primarily as a public park but also contains playing pitches, a biodiversity area and activity trails.
Some other possible uses for the site could see a campervan or caravan park developed.
The 72-hectare park, one of the largest green acre sites in the city, closed as a dump in 2009.
Councillor Seán Martin has urged the city council to take steps to link the park to surrounding areas, with the possibility of a bridge and underground walkways.
He has called for the local authority to speed up plans to include a cycle and pedestrian footbridge linking the park to Grange and Frankfield and a study to be carried out to identify connectivity options between the Black Ash park and ride and the park — possibly through underground walkways which already exist but would have to be upgraded.
He believes the park could be a prime location for hosting summertime concerts if the correct infrastructure is in place to allow people to access it.
“There is a great structure there with car parks at schools and the park and ride so there is a fair spread of parking in an area with great transport links,” said Mr Martin.
“This is something that is definitely worth looking at. If that’s the case, we need infrastructure to link the park and ride and the Grange and Frankfield areas to the park.
“The next step in the process now is to engage on how we can get Tramore Valley Park connected,” he added.
A pedestrian bridge across the south link would allow the park to be connected to a walkway which leads to Togher.
Plans for a bridge across the South Ring Road date as far back as 1992.
Tramore Valley Park has previously been plagued by access issues due to health and safety concerns about large volumes of pedestrians and motorists entering and exiting the park via the South Link Road.
The city council constructed new internal roads to the park earlier this year to ensure maximum access.
North-West Regional Park is central to northside regeneration
A design for the €1.5m North-West Regional Park is set to be completed this year or early next year.
The amenity is set to be the jewel in the crown of the City Northwest Quarter Regeneration Masterplan and will be the northside’s version of Ballincollig’s Regional Park at Kilmore Park.
The final planning stages for the project are scheduled for March of next year.
Funding is secured for the design of the North-West Regional Park, but no funding streams have been identified for construction as of yet.
Director of environmental and recreation services, Valerie O’Sullivan said: “The initial design process for the North-West Regional Park is scheduled to commence in September 2019. Draft proposals will be presented to ward members in December 2019/January 2020 for consideration, followed by public consultation with the local community. The Part 8 process will commence in March 2020.”
“Funding is in place for the design process, however, there is no funding secured to finance the works. Current estimated cost is €1.5m,” she added.
Knocknaheeney is currently undergoing extensive social housing building under the regeneration project and Sinn Féin representative Mick Nugent, who has long called for the park, said services and facilities are much-needed to run in tandem with this and an expected growth in population for the north-west area over the next five to 10 years.
“The Regional Park is a long-term objective and it needs to complement the ongoing regeneration and houses being knocked and built,” he said.
“We are hearing that the residents are happy with the house builds but amenities need to be up to standard as well. There is progress being made on Tramore Valley Park, Marina Park and so on, so hopefully, the North-West Regional Park will be kept as a priority.
“There are still no funds available to construct the park. Maybe, between Cork City Council and the Department of Housing, they can come up with the funds.
“There are hundreds of houses being built at Kerry Pike and with the boundary extension and the growth in size of the north-west ward, you could see more development between Knocknaheeny, Hollyhill and Blarney over the years ahead. Facilities are the missing piece,” he added.
Calls for a regional park in Glanmire
IT is hoped that a park to rival Ballincollig and the planned north-west regional park could be established in Glanmire.
Ger Keohane (Independent) said the former John Barleycorn hotel site could be combined with John O’Callaghan Park to create a green area for the people of Glanmire amid rapid housing construction. He is urging the city council to buy the site.
The 5.4-acre site was pitched to retailers a few years ago but nothing has yet been developed on it.
Once a popular wedding venue, the hotel building and surrounds were purchased by a developer in 2004 for a reported €5m and had been the subject of a mixed-use planning application.
It is now zoned for town centre development but has been repeatedly vandalised in recent years and a fire in 2006 caused significant damage to the hotel building.
The building had dated back to the 18th century and had previously been a coach stop before being renovated and turned into a hotel.
The site backs onto the John O’Callaghan Park and part of the land is slated for the Glanmire and Riverstown Greenway which is being developed under the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF).
Mr Keohane said: “The site is marked as a town development centre but speaking to a few people in the area, there is merit in suggesting Cork City Council should buy it and turn it into a regional park.
“There is LIHAF funding for the greenway in Glanmire and part of that runs through the John Barleycorn site.
“I spoke to the county engineer before the boundary expansion and the site is proving problematic in that there is no agreement with the current owner to allow the greenway to come through the land.
“I have spoken to city officials and they are dealing with negotiations. If it’s going to cost massive money, why not go further and turn it into a regional park? Most of it is a flood-plain and will never be built on but with a bit of creative thinking, it could be linked in with the John O’Callaghan Park. There appears to be a consensus on this in Glanmire because with all the houses being built, there is no green space anywhere.
“With the extra revenue the city has coming out of Glanmire with property tax, rates and planning applications, I think it would be a step in the right direction,” Mr Keohane added.
Real estate company Cushman and Wakefield say the site is “ideally suited to mixed-use development including; residential, commercial, retail, healthcare/nursing home or leisure use, subject to full planning permission”.