Chamber President shares his vision for Cork

2018 has seen a rich tapestry of opportunities and challenges weave together in an exciting, fast-paced journey for Cork as a growing, eclectic city region — so says Cork Chamber President, Bill O’Connell who shares his thoughts and vision for Cork
Chamber President shares his vision for Cork
Bill O'Connell, President, Cork Chamber.Pic; Larry Cummins

AS we near the end of 2018, we pay hearty tribute to the past 12 months, with Cork confirmed as the fastest-growing city region in the country under Government’s Project Ireland 2040.

Ambitious and iconic new developments are taking shape across the city skyline, and envious plans for the years ahead have been formed. It is crucial that we plan for a future that grows the region’s uniqueness as a location to live, do business and enjoy.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to achieve a public transport infrastructure that can adapt with the city, to incorporate additional public spaces and amenities, and to cultivate a ‘Living City’ strategy for Cork. We need to continue to innovate, to be thought-leaders and to stay on the growth trajectory as a city region that attracts investment, skills and talent.

Project Ireland 2040 reinforces the socio-economic need to develop brownfield areas in towns and cities, maximising the potential of our development footprint for smart, compact and connected growth that works for people, for business and for Cork.

In the last few months alone, we have seen a range of impressive projects take shape across the City with the commencement of the HQ development at Horgan’s Quay, the second office block of Navigation Square, the planning application for an iconic Prism office building at Clontarf Street and the commencement of the Harley Street bridge connecting Parnell Square to McCurtain Street. This is just a flavour, but it is an impressive glimpse of the not too distant future for Cork.

We expect an additional 5,000 jobs to be created in Cork over the next three years, with our metropolitan population expected to hit half a million by 2040. Such growth is of a scale that hasn’t been seen for decades, creating whole new opportunities throughout the region.

We’ve never had strategic vision as strong as Project Ireland 2040. An Tánaiste Simon Coveney speaks passionately about how 25% of the city’s footprint has yet to be developed. We have the resources and track record to back this up. Now I say — let’s just do it, let’s make it happen. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we truly have it in our grasp to make this great city region of ours a global brand and real counterpart to Dublin.

As part of a changing Cork we will see a much greater emphasis on public transport prioritisation. Already Government has committed to investing €200m in Cork’s bus services over the next ten years so Cork becomes less congested, greener and more enjoyable. We need this made available without delay, with the commitment to future public transport investment. A firm commitment to high standard cycle infrastructure throughout the region is also a necessity. We need clarity. We need confirmation of timelines on announced projects 2 such as the M20 Cork to Limerick which will bring significant efficiencies, having the capacity to trigger an additional 5,400 jobs in the region.

Ultimately, it is essential that we are enabled as a region, otherwise we could be revisiting the mistakes of the past and failing to plan for success. No one wants to be retrofitting Cork in the future. This is a mentality and headache of the past. We have the opportunity now to create the conditions that will underpin a thriving, living City region.

The ever-changing Brexit landscape remains our largest geopolitical hurdle, but in saying that we see our Cork business community striding forward with a resounding 96% of our members reporting confidence in business in our most recent Q3 Economic Trends Survey.

As good as 2018 has been, housing availability and homelessness remains our number one national concern. We need solutions to evolve at a much faster pace. Yes, we have housing developments being approved and certainly the step to fast track developments of scale directly to An Bord Pleanála was a move in the right direction. Nonetheless, there is still significant work to be done in creating the conditions to bring a diversity of housing forward, to further fast track delivery of state initiatives such as the Land Development Agency and identify additional opportunities through open engagement between the public and private sector.

‘Cork must succeed if Ireland is to succeed’: the words of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a recent Cork Chamber dinner hosted in Dublin. We’re certainly in a good, positive place but there’s absolutely no room for complacency.

We’ve got here through hard work and the determination of countless individuals, businesses and institutions.

Everyone of us has a vested interest in seeing Cork succeed. We want our families to have jobs here, to study here, to live here. To have choice.

We want to enjoy the environment on our doorstep, we want a bustling retail and cultural offering, an integrated and connected public transport and cycle network, and an enhanced and inviting public realm.

All of this is achievable if we pull together nationally and regionally to ensure a thriving proactive, flexible, climate-resilient and adaptive region through committed infrastructure investment, innovative housing projects and strong policies to support a diversity of housing and tenure types, public transport investment, the investment in clean energy and a taxation system that rewards entrepreneurs and our flourishing indigenous start-up and investment culture.

It is our opportunity to ensure our economy is influenced by global trends rather than weakened by them, and this opportunity is now.

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