CITY HALL officials have reacted strongly to claims by businessman Alf Smiddy that the Council has overseen the decay of the city centre and could not be trusted to run towns like Ballincollig, Glanmire and Blarney.
Mr Smiddy, who produced the shelved 2015 Smiddy Report, recommending a merger of Cork’s two local authorities, told the Evening Echo yesterday that the 2017 Mackinnon report’s proposal to extend the city boundary “doesn’t stack up.”
Under the current proposals for a boundary extension, City Hall would take control of Ballincollig, Glanmire, Carrigtwohill and Blarney.
Mr Smiddy said this was unworkable and insists there should still be a total merger of Cork City Council and Cork County Council.
He said: “There are huge retail problems in the city. North Main Street is dead, South Main Street is dead. The level of boarded up properties in the city and dereliction is unreal. The convention centre is dead, the docklands is being talked about for 15 years and it’s just talk.
“So you have a management team and council presiding over all of this decay and delay, and Mackinnon is recommending that the same council take over control of amazingly progressive towns like Ballincollig, Glanmire, Blarney, and Carrigtwohill.
“It just doesn’t stack up. It’s like asking someone who has a badly-run chipper in the city to take over the running of McDonald’s,” he said.
In a hard-hitting response, Cork City Council issued a lengthy statement last night saying Mr Smiddy’s comments could not be considered credible.
The City Hall statement said: “Mr Smiddy was offered an opportunity to present his report on local government in Cork to an Oireachtas Committee.
“Mr Smiddy also makes a number of claims about the City Council and city centre which are not credible and are not supported by evidence on the ground.”
The Council statement details a number of major projects that have been delivered for the city in recent times, including the One Albert Quay office development, the Capitol retail and office space on Grand Parade, and the completion of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
City Hall said work was progressing on the massive Navigation House office development on Albert Quay and another large planning application was due soon for Horgan’s Quay.
The statement added: “Cork City Council is responsible for the governance of an urban area that is six times the population of Ballincollig and is vastly more complex and challenging.
“The decline in North Main Street is the result of a recession, an unfortunate fire and the complexity of the financial affairs of many of the property owners.
“However, vacancy rates are decreasing and the regeneration of Grand Parade and Washington Street/Lancaster Quay will also bring more activity to North Main Street.
“The function of many streets in Cork will evolve over time in response to new ways of urban living.
“Cork City Council and other stakeholders have been active in exploring these, with considerable success through partnerships such as CORE where the city council brought together stakeholders like the Cork Chamber, the CBA, Gardaí, Bus Éireann and representatives from retail and hospitality to drive the development and promotion of the city centre and also by the establishment of the City Centre Forum and the appointment by Cork City Council of a City Centre Co-Ordinator.”
The council completely rejected Mr Smiddy’s claims that City Hall had failed to deliver developments in the docklands.
“This is untrue,” the statement said.
“300,000 sq feet are under construction at Navigation Square by O’Callaghan Properties. Páirc Uí Chaoimh is completed. The development of Marina Park is underway.
“A very large planning application is expected on the west side of Kent Station shortly. Kent Station is being turned around to face the city centre and drive pedestrian traffic towards MacCurtain Street, the new Harley Street bridge, and the city centre.”
City Hall officials insist that towns such as Ballincollig would fit naturally into an expanded city jurisdiction, as currently proposed by the Mackinnon report.
“These towns owe their growth to the city, with 81% of workers in Ballincollig commuting to the city for work, while that figure stands at 59% in Carrigtwohill.
“Best international practice in planning shows that if you want to have sustainable transport and housing in such clusters of development, its planning policies should be developed by a single urban planning-led authority.”
“Cork City Council has an internationally recognized reputation in community development.
“It's innovative partnership with the HSE around social inclusion has been hailed internationally as has its work with UCC, CIT and the Cork ETB on making Cork a Learning City.
“Cork is the only Irish city and one of just 12 globally recognised by UNESCO for its excellence in the field of learning. Next month, up to 650 international delegates will attend the UNESCO international Learning Conference in Cork and spend up to €1 million in the city.”
“Communities and citizens will receive services appropriate to those for a metropolitan area.
“At present, considerable resources are diverted from the areas to the remoter areas of Cork County.
“In area terms, this is the equivalent of residents in Fingal, South Dublin and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown being asked to forego services so that funds can be diverted to Westmeath, Longford or Cavan.
“It is inequitable that suburban populations should be treated like this. Remote rural communities should be supported from national funding as well. People make many sacrifices to live in urban areas, they should not be penalised for doing so.”
City Hall officials say they plan to press ahead with the Mackinnon report proposals and will engage with the relevant groups that have been established to implement the report.
“A meeting is scheduled for September 5,” the statement said.
“Each chief executive was set the task by the Oversight Group of drawing up a precise boundary line, based on the substantial extension recommended by Mackinnon and reflecting his principles and rationale, which can include minor adjustments to accommodate existing social, natural and physical borders, including communities, townlands and existing infrastructure.
“Work has also been completed on the main elements of an implementation plan. We look forward to working with our counterparts.”