2019: Our ambitions for Cork city

As the curtain falls on 2018 and a new year dawns, CEO of Cork City Council Ann Doherty reflects on the year gone by, but also looks ahead at the challenges and opportunities ahead in 2019
2019: Our ambitions for Cork city
Aerial shot of Cork City.  Picture: Tom Coakley.

CORK is a city to watch. Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework, is a game changer.

It has singled out Cork for the first time as the second city and as a real alternative to Dublin, for those looking to invest, do business and live in Ireland.

The National Planning Framework, published earlier this year, has ambition for Cork and this ambition sets the scene for 2019 and for our vision for the city over the next 21 years. To be projected as the fastest growing city region in the country offers great opportunities and undoubtedly, some challenges.

Under the plan, significant population growth is expected and we need to start laying the foundations for this growth. Namely, if you want more people to choose Cork as a place to live, work and invest: you need to ensure we have the jobs to attract them here, good housing for them to live in, good public transport, attractive amenities like family-friendly parks and recreation facilities and a world-class wider infrastructure.

Already, we’re witnessing a changing city. There’s a million square feet of office space in development or planning within the city centre. That will bring significant employment into city centre. The next phase of this is the generation of more employment and housing at the South Docks and Tivoli.

As we all know, one of our country’s big challenges is housing. Traditionally here in Cork, we’ve seen out of town housing; in towns adjacent to the city, in suburbs and in one-off housing in the rural areas that surround our city.

Younger generations want to be less car dependent however, preferring to use public transport, to cycle or walk to work instead. There is a real need for quality city centre and suburban housing with good public transport supports.

As a housing provider, we have an ambitious social housing programme. The City Council has a target of 2,230 homes between 2017 and 2021. These additional homes will be delivered through new construction, purchase of vacant housing units and leasing. It is envisaged that over 1500 of these homes will be provided through construction. We have met and exceeded our housing targets this year.

You can see the changes in Cork when you look at our social housing waiting list. Historically it was Mum, Dad and their children seeking homes but now we see a bigger need for one and two-bed social housing as there are more single-parent families and more single people and so a greater demand for one and two-bed units. We are also mindful that we have older people in family sized houses. Some of these older people would possibly consider, if the option was there, moving from these homes to smaller homes or to supported living accommodation. We are developing some such housing for older people but I think there is also a market for this in the private sector.

Next year marks the first time in 50 years that the city’s boundary has been changed. As the boundary hadn’t kept up with population growth, lots of people worked in, socialised in and their children went to school in the city but they weren’t politically represented in Cork City Council as they lived adjacent to the boundary line. It’s important that this deficit is being addressed.

Equally importantly, a lot of the communities that are due to come into the city administration area are quite rural. We want to reassure these communities that we expect them to remain quite rural over the next 50 years.

The new city is about planning a growing city that is built for the future and avoiding urban sprawl: it’s about building a city with good job opportunities, with sustainable private and social housing, a city that has the density of population to support world-class public transport – all of this growth must be accompanied by policy to protect the uniqueness of Cork.

The Cork of the future is a city of communities; a city of neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhood identify is a strong emotional pull for Cork people and that’s why we developed the much-loved new plaza at Blackrock village and support residents and traders to bolster community identity in the city centre quarters including Douglas Street and the Victorian Quarter (around Mac Curtain Street).

We will be just as committed to preserving and enhancing communities in Tower, Blarney, Douglas and Rochestown. A lot of the newer neighbourhoods in the new city have great community spirit that has been showcased through community activity like Tidy Towns. We will strongly encourage these groups and will work to strengthen them further.

In Cork, we value our quality of life and we want to ensure that we don’t lose that.

The rerouting of traffic on St Patrick’s St in the afternoon is about ensuring that our growing city can prosper while retaining its quality of life. The 3.5 hour bus corridor on St Patrick’s St is the first step in ensuring buses can move quicker in the city centre and so the bus service is more reliable in the city centre, suburbs and outlying towns.

We are so lucky to live in what is regularly called the ‘independent trader capital of Ireland’. But we all see increasing numbers of Fedex and DHL vans driving up and down the motorways and into our communities every day. City centres across the world are changing as the younger generations have markedly different shopping habits. These changing trends are absolutely having an effect on the retail landscape and this is underlined by city centre footfall counters which show steady pedestrian figures yet retailers record lower spend.

Our younger citizens want an ‘experience’ in the city centre while they regularly choose to do their retail spending from their phone or tablet. This is a sizeable challenge for city centres in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds - not just Cork. However, it is a challenge that Cork has the creativity and imagination to help address if we continue to work and seek solutions together.

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