WE are in the midst of unprecedented change. The implementation of a revised boundary between Cork County Council and Cork City Council brings with it many challenges for both authorities, but despite this there are also many opportunities for city and county.
As Chief Executive of Cork County Council, my priority is in planning strategically for the future economic growth and wellbeing of all the citizens of our region.
I must ensure that our infrastructure is developed to a sufficient standard so as to ensure that businesses, and importantly communities, can capitalise on growth opportunities. People choose to locate where they can enjoy a balanced and attractive quality of life. Thus, economic activity and residential growth are inextricably intertwined.
Cork has been set an ambitious but realistic target of delivering in the region of 23% of the State’s overall population growth over the next 20 under Project Ireland 2040. A challenge yes but we have met similar challenges previously. Between 1996 and 2016, Cork County Council itself delivered a population growth of 120,000, along with the required supporting services and employment opportunities.
Supporting services and employment opportunities are vital to this success. We are on course to deliver somewhere in the region of 800 housing units across Cork County this year, clearly not adequate to meet current or future targets.
In this context, Cork County Council has introduced a series of measures to help address systemic housing supply issues which I consider are impacting on our capacity to deliver on our Development Plans, on the quality of life of our residents and our ability to deliver the employment growth necessary to support sustainable communities going forward.
In addition to our ongoing Housing Delivery Programme, I have spent the last two years in detailed discussions with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) trying to develop an appropriate response to some of the issues that we know are hampering the development of strategic housing sites. We are close to finalising a proposal which I believe will make a real difference in terms of providing a certainty of supply to the market, which will in turn impact positively on housing affordability.
It is our intention that anticipated growth will be infrastructure led and in this context we are capitalising on government back funding initiatives such as the Rural and Urban Regeneration Development Fund. We have secured approx €7.5m for shovel ready projects largely focussed on public realm and quality of life facilities as well as support for a pipeline of many other projects. In fact, seven of the 11 urban projects are in the Cork County Council administrative area.
That said, we must continue to be ambitious to secure multi-annual infrastructure investment in Cork and think beyond the current, or even anticipated needs, to the long term sustainable future of Cork. In this context I would point to the absolute necessity to deliver on the Northern Relief Road as well as the M20. These routes will play a key role in facilitating much needed residential development and community building in the North Environs of the City as well as at the Monard Strategic Development Zone, the scheme for which provides for approx 5,000 housing units along the Mallow rail corridor.
While Monard may seem ambitious, I believe it is my role to be ambitious for Cork and its citizens. To put it into context, Monard would equate to a years housing supply target requirement for Cork. In other words, we need to put the strategies and plans in place to create the conditions to deliver Monard scale housing each year, every year, in Cork up to 2040 if we are to maintain our position as the complimentary to Dublin.
Tourism is a key economic driver for the Cork region, as reflected in the Fáilte Ireland performance report for 2016 which represented the Cork region as the third most visited county in Ireland. Cork generated an overseas tourist income of €579m during 2016 and I have identified significant opportunities to grow this in the improving global economy.
Strategic investment in key marine tourism projects and minor improvement projects affecting rural villages and towns will enable local communities benefit from a targeted tourism product along the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East trails.
The last numbers of years have seen significant changes across our retailing environment. Developments in online retailing together with other new and evolving retail forms continue to change the retail landscape. Changing consumer behaviours and the growth of online shopping, has places serious strain on business communities in our towns and villages. I am unrelenting in pursuing new ideas, policies, strategies and solutions in order to ensure improved economic progress for County Cork and the region.
The need to create the conditions for employment growth remains a key focus of the Council’s work. Our economic remit spans supports for micro-enterprises, business parks and incubation units and major investments in critical infrastructure. With a track record in smart specialisation, including particular regional strengths in agri-food and fisheries, and expertise in managing development across the largest rural economy in the country, I am committed to the development of Rural Economic Growth Hubs to stimulate innovation.
We have a long and proud record of accomplishment in delivering nationally strategic and major capital infrastructure projects as well as an excellent track record in collaborating with local, regional and national stakeholders in the delivering of such programmes and initiatives.
It is my absolute mission to ensure Cork continues to deliver for its citizens and businesses, continues to be both strategic and innovative and continues to be an exemplar for improving infrastructure, services and amenities on behalf of our people.