Cork long divided on plans for retail outlet

1980s thinking in the 21st century or a wonderful opportunity? Darragh Bermingham heard how the possible outlet village in Co Cork is still up for debate
Cork long divided on plans for retail outlet

In late 2020, British-based company Rioja Estates confirmed it wanted to build a retail centre similar to Kildare Village on a site at Killacloyne, near Carrigtwohill, in a development worth around €100m.

A RECENT proposal to create an outlet village on the outskirts of Carrigtwohill resulted in major disputes and even high court action, with Cork County Council going up against the Office of the Planning Regulator.

While that proposal has been put on ice for now, there is a possibility of it being reignited in the future, raising concerns for the future of surrounding town centres and the city centre itself.

In late 2020, British-based company Rioja Estates confirmed it wanted to build a retail centre similar to Kildare Village on a site at Killacloyne, near Carrigtwohill, in a development worth around €100m.

The company said it had spent four years researching the viability of a second large-scale retail outlet centre in Ireland and had identified Carrigtwohill as the ideal location.

Former Cork county manager Martin Riordan was an adviser to Rioja Estates on this particular plan.

However, the proposal encountered a bump in the road when the Office of the Planning Regulator objected to the plans, even ordering Cork County Council not to proceed with such developments until it had completed a joint retail study with Cork City Council.

The local authority took two successful cases to the High Court, which ruled it had acted properly in agreeing in principle to the proposed development.

More recently, Local Government and Planning Minister Peter Burke sided with the county council against the OPR objections to the proposed development.

Mr Burke said he recognised the High Court rulings which upheld that Cork County Council made its decision on the project in line with all national retail planning guidelines, and he rescinded the order from the OPR for the local authorities in Cork to complete a joint retail study.

It is believed that the High Court rulings and public backing from Mr Burke will reignite interest from the developers.

While the council would have to rezone the land for such use, this is viewed as a mere formality as most county councillors were in favour of the proposal.

Cork County Council

In a statement to The Echo, a spokesperson for Cork County Council said: “The Cork County Development Plan 2022-2028, which came into effect on June 6, 2022, provides planning policy support for the provision of a retail outlet centre in the NE-2 subcatchment (N25) of the County Metropolitan Strategic Planning Area.

“The policy-making process as regards the retail outlet centre specifically, and indeed as it relates to the overall strategy for Cork County, was the subject of detailed consideration during prescribed processes including extensive external oversight and public consultation.

“Any future development proposal would be assessed in the context of proper planning and sustainable development considerations, which in the context of the development of this nature would be anticipated to include matters such as retail impact assessment as well as ecological and environmental impact assessment,” said the council spokesperson.

“In the event any planning application is received for such a development proposal, the assessment of the same will include further opportunities for public consultation; all submissions received will be considered as part of the assessment process.”

'Hugely positive'

Speaking to The Echo, local Fine Gael Councillor Anthony Barry labelled the possible development as hugely positive for Carrigtwohill and the wider Cork region. He said the outlet village has the potential to bring jobs and tourism to Carrigtwohill and surrounding areas, and can even be serviced by buses and trains due to its main road location.

“I’m a big believer in business bringing business,” said Mr Barry. “I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for Carrigtwohill.

“It would bring hundreds of full-time and part-time jobs to the area and people in Carrigtwohill would be able to fill them. I have spoken to people in Kildare at Kildare Village and most people working there are living nearby, and I spoke to businesses in the surrounding area who are very pleased with it. I know that some businesses in Cork City are concerned about it but I actually think it will bring more people to Cork, many of whom will spend a day in the city and a day in the outlet centre.

“I think it will make Cork even more of a destination.

“We’re going to have 100-plus cruise ships coming into Cobh this year and I’ve no doubt that this development would be another destination for tourists from those ships, and those visiting by other means. If it doesn’t come to Cork, it’ll probably go to Limerick and we’ll lose out,” said Mr Barry.

“If you go up to Kildare Village on any day, you’ll see how hugely popular it is. There’s hundreds of people going up from the south every day to it I would say. I’d rather have one in our own area, supporting jobs and the economy down here instead of exporting it up to Kildare. The environmental side has to be looked at of course but this village would be on the main road and could be serviced by both bus and train services.

“You could also run buses from the cruise ships in Cobh right to the door of the outlet centre. It would also be better to have people from Cork and Kerry driving to Carrigtwohill instead of driving all the way up to Kildare.”

'A terrible idea'

However, with city and town centres attempting to combat dereliction and vacancy across Cork and Ireland, concerns have been raised about the possible impact an outlet village might have on business and footfall in surrounding towns and even Cork city centre.

Shane Clarke, director of operations for the Victorian Quarter in Cork city, spoke to The Echo about the proposed outlet development.

Mr Clarke stated that the Victorian Quarter does not have a policy position on the proposed development at present and that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

When asked what he made of the proposal to develop an outlet village on the outskirts of Carrigtwohill, Mr Clarke said: “Words matter — this is not a village, it’s an out-of-town shopping centre. It’s a retail park.

“It’s 1980s thinking in the 21st century context of climate and biodiversity crises.

“It’s a terrible idea.”

Mr Clarke said there is evidence from across the world that such developments “suck the retail and civic life from adjacent towns and cities”.

“Cork City itself has been witness to this process over the last 30 years,” he said. “The South Link is now effectively an off ramp for car dependent retail provision at every junction.

“That the city centre retains vibrancy is rather remarkable and a massive compliment to the city centre businesses in spite of this.

“Jobs created here are jobs lost in Cork City, Midleton, and Cobh,” he said.

As well as concerns for business in surrounding areas, Mr Clarke highlighted the need for climate change to be to the fore of any decisions made in relation to this proposal.

“Climate must be front and centre in relation to this project,” he said.

“It is entirely car dependent. It will generate massive volumes of traffic congestion, air pollution, carbon, and noise. It radiates ill-health.

“Such projects are effectively subsidised by the taxpayer through the requirement to expand and maintain the multibillion-euro road network,” he added.

“We’ve just spent approaching €200m on the Dunkettle Interchange. It would be idiocy to clog it up again.”

Mr Clarke highlighted the need for sustainable investment to instead be focused on clean, compact design in and around Cork city.

“The future of Cork is a city that is connected by public transport, fuelled by clean energy and of compact design so successful in Europe,” he explained.

“The real prize lies in Cork City, which has unbelievable potential building on a loved and historic urban core. That’s where sustainable investment will produce economic, social, and environmental wins.

“In positive terms, Cork County Council should plan for a gentle urban expansion of Carrigtwohill, with housing, shops, cultural and recreational amenities all linked to an increasingly excellent public transport network and walking and cycling infrastructure,” he added.

“I would urge all the local Councillors, of all political stripes, to heed former taoiseach Micheál Martin’s speech at COP27 — ‘If this generation doesn’t step up urgently, future generations will not forgive us’.”

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