BALLINCOLLIG residents had compiled petitions with thousands of signatures stating that they did not want to become part of an expanded Cork city.
Their protestations fell on deaf ears and, ultimately, the decision was made by central Government to include the busy commuter town in the city expansion project, with residents, business, and community groups having little say in their fate.
With a little under two months to go, acceptance of the town being subsumed into the city is still mixed, with varying reports on levels of engagement between City Hall officials and locals. Ballincollig Business Association chairperson Emer Cassidy has praised the city council for reaching out to the business community, but says it is paramount that the town retains its own identity.
“We’ve been very happy with our engagement with the city council. They have been very positive and they have been keeping us up to date. City Hall has reached out to us in a proactive manner,” she said.
“We made submissions on concerns we had around the time the boundary extension was first recommended and the city council has picked off all those concerns at a very senior level.
“The number one concern is Ballincollig’s identity. We are immensely proud of the town and we have worked so hard over the years.
“We have given much sweat, tears, and investment in presenting Ballincollig as an entity of its own. We work very hard to attract investment into Ballincollig and we have a blueprint and track record with multinationals. It’s a fabulous place to live and to go to school and we really feel we tick all the boxes.
“With a population of 25,000, we are as big as Kilkenny and Tralee. To achieve what we have done as our own entity, we are fiercely proud of that.
“My primary focus is ‘brand Ballincollig’ and that is sacrosanct to us. In fairness, I think the city council sees that Ballincollig is unique and they understand that. We are looking forward and it’s all positive.”
However, local councillor Daithí Ó Donnabhain (FF) said confusion still reigns among the wider community as to what changes City Hall will implement in the town.
“I really don’t think this will be a smooth transition. Confusion is the way to describe things at the moment,” he told The Echo.
“I have made representations to the local engineer’s office about road surfacing projects, but there’s a stalling in the normal flow of work that breeds uncertainty. A couple of local associations have been given assurances in terms of funding, but the funding streams are very different between the city and the county. While verbal assurances have been given, I think there is a lot of concern around amenity grants.
“On a practical level, will our local engineer area office still exist?
“People are talking about the boundary extension as it has been flagged for some time, but there’s no sense on the ground that the city council has engaged with the public and said ‘this is what we are going to do for you’.
“Certain groups have met them, but for the wider public there is a gap in information and that is feeding confusion and speculation.”
Mags McKenna, a local resident and a member of the Ballincollig Says No group, is anxious for City Hall officials to hold information meetings in the area.
“Residents really don’t know what is going to happen,” she says.
“All the information we get comes from our local councillors and they are not really being told anything either.
“We are very proud of Ballincollig and the achievements of the town and its people. Some of us campaigned against the boundary change, but at the end of the day it was decided by the Government and it is going to happen now.
“However, so far, we really are in the dark in terms of services, what will happen with our beautiful Regional Park and things like parking charges. It’s hard to predict what will happen.
“Maybe a year down the line we will know more, but I’d like to see a public meeting with City Hall officials where they tell us what changes they are going to be bringing in and we can ask them questions.”
Chair of the hugely successful Ballincollig Tidy Towns group, Tom Butler, says the boundary extension will be a “learning curve” for the city council but he doesn’t envisage any sweeping changes based on his communications with City Hall thus far.
“I have met with David Joyce (City Hall director of transition services) and we have met with Cork County Council and Cork City Council. It’s a work in progress and that’s how I am looking at it. As a Tidy Towns group, we are just going to plough on and continue the way we are going.
“Both the city council and county council are on a learning curve and the Tidy Towns have been told things aren’t going to change and our services will be maintained. As far as our committee and volunteers are concerned, we can’t afford to sit back and wonder about what will happen. We have a very good working relationship with the county council and the city council have seen that relationship first hand and have told us they don’t want to change that.
“There are bound to be slight changes but I’ve been told that, in the main, the status quo will remain. The model that Ballincollig has is something that City Council wants to learn from. We don’t envisage any changes for the Tidy Towns for the time being. Once it doesn’t affect our day-to-day running and what we get done — there is no issue. I have had a very positive engagement with the city council so far,” he adds.