Developer Michael O’Flynn is unsurprised by the ongoing controversy surrounding planned changes to the city-county boundary in Cork and is worried about potential damage to growth.
“Now that the county councillors have come out strongly against, the minister has started on the legislation route and this adds further to the uncertainty of the situation,” Mr O’Flynn told the Evening Echo.
Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy indicated in recent weeks that he intends to introduce legislation that would allow for the expansion of Cork City in 2018. He made the decision to go down the legislation route after county councillors rejected the deal agreed between the City and County executives. Mr O’Flynn does not think this is the right way to proceed for the good of Cork.
“I would be all against legislation being enacted to decide Cork’s future,” he said. “It is clear to me that for the legislation to succeed, the whip system will have to be applied in Dáil Éireann and this is not the way forward in my opinion. I don’t want the whip system being used to decide Cork’s future.”
The legislation is expected to be largely in line with the recommendations of the MacKinnon report, which adds to Mr O’Flynn’s unhappiness.
“We started out with a statutory process under the Smiddy report and the McKinnon report clearly lacked a consultative approach. I think it would be extraordinary for a whip system to be applied to enact legislation based on the McKinnon report. The McKinnon report wasn’t a statutory process, it wasn’t consultative. We had one process, we abandoned that.
“We go on another that wasn’t a consultative process and now that is going to be brought into law under the whip system? You couldn’t make this up.”
The developer had himself favoured a merger but said he would not want to see that option being forced through either using this method.
“Even if a merger was being proposed by a legislative process I would be all against that because I think we shouldn’t decide the future of Cork under a whip system in Dáil Éireann. By all means, have a free vote but if there was a free vote it wouldn’t be enacted, it is only a whip system that will get it over the line. I think it fundamentally flawed to decide the future of Cork.”
He felt it could have been predicted that a majority of county councillors would vote against the agreement reached between Cork City Chief Executive Ann Doherty and Cork County Chief Executive Tim Lucey.
“I’m not a bit surprised that the county councillors rejected it, I was somewhat taken aback that agreement had been reached by the executive given the scale of change that was proposed.
“Unfortunately this adds to the uncertainty and in the meantime, what happens to Cork? This is a very big issue for people in the development industry, where you have to plan ahead.”
His major concern is that the land which is moving from city to county, much of which is suitable for badly-needed housing, will be neglected during a protracted implementation process.
“One of the reasons I favoured an adjustment in line with built up areas rather than taking so much extra land was as I thought taking in a lot of land was going to take a long time to implement. The slow implementation of the boundary changes, and I don’t see how it can be quick, could have a detrimental impact on Cork’s growth in the short and medium term. You have land that is leaving the county and going to the city. It hasn’t left and it will be land that won’t get the same focus from either party. One party is losing it and the other party hasn’t yet got it.
“I just hope that someone somewhere has a plan because we don’t want stagnation in Cork.”
A national plan is currently being prepared to oversee development for the next two decades, which adds further urgency to the need to resolve the issue.
“The 2040 planning framework is an extraordinary opportunity to grow under national policy and to do that we have to be in a position to take up the opportunity,” Mr O’Flynn said. “If there is going to be a delay or slowness in one changing to the other, I think that could impact Cork’s ability to capitalise on the early stages of the national plan.
“We have to be careful here. Cork city has an enormous challenge to take on such a big area and that is bound to take time for it to happen. I think it needs emergency thinking, emergency action and a careful plans to make sure that we don’t fall behind in Cork.”
Mr O’Flynn highlighted a number of areas where development in Cork is doing well and emphasised the need for funding and for initiatives from the local authorities to keep that going.
“Cork county council have been quite forward thinking in having reserved zoning if the zones sites that are designated aren’t available for whatever reason - infrastructure, farmers won’t sell, viability and price in some areas.
“City centre offices are going well and there has been some notable success in that area.”
Funding remains an issue.
“Banks will only do so much so alternative funders are very much the order of the day but those alternative funders up until now have tended to concentrate on the greater Dublin area. Perhaps they will come more out to the regions and Cork needs to be ready for that.
“There is still a big demand in the rental sector and I think that is something that will continue. I think it needs special regulations and standards, standards more appropriate for rental property. Cork desperately needs more housing, more rental property, and it probably also needs more student accommodation. We are fortunate to have two good third-level colleges and I think that is hugely beneficial for some of the industries we have managed to locate here. Obviously, FDI is a critical thing and we need to start putting in advance units.”
Despite the major emphasis on the Docklands as a core centre for the city’s future, Mr O’Flynn believes there are significant challenges to its development.
“I think the north docks is a very interesting place but there are a lot of occupiers still to leave the south dock and there is also brownfield sites and all the issues that go with them. There are a lot of challenges there from a cost viability point of view and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I think it is for the future rather than the present.”