Cork City Council: Delivering a vibrant city centre

We are publishing a week-long series, written by Cork City Council managers, about the key plans, projects and ambitions of the local authority. Here, Chief Executive Ann Doherty looks at achievements to-date and the priorities ahead
Cork City Council: Delivering a vibrant city centre
A CHANGING CITY: The Capitol complex on Grand parade. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

RETAIL units are opening for business in the €50million Capitol retail and office complex. Work has started on the €90million Navigation House office development on Albert Quay, and last month, Cork City Council agreed the sale of 7-9 Parnell Place and 1-2 Deane Street to Tetrarch Capital, who propose to build a budget boutique hotel and designer hostel with ground floor restaurants and bars.

Earlier this year, Boole House was handed over to UCC and in the past week, the Presentation Sisters opened Nano Nagle Place on Douglas Street. This is all progress.

Our strategy at Cork City Council has been to deliver for the region through a revitalised, vibrant city centre — to our mind, the city centre is the ‘healthy heart’ of Cork. It is also the city’s front window.

This rejuvenation, the need to increase public and private housing supply and the growth of Cork as a ‘Smart city’ were all key priorities when I took up this post three years ago.

I’m delighted with the opportunities that have presented in housing since then because of the use of the EU Competitive Dialogue Process by our own housing directorate team.

Another delivery was bringing vacant properties back into productive use; this made a significant difference to the numbers on our social housing waiting list. Great work has also been done with the approved housing bodies (AHB) and the private sector to find other housing solutions; whether that was the direct provision of housing by the approved housing bodies or whether it was increasing supply in the private sector through the HAP and RAS schemes.

The provision of private housing is about working with landowners and developers to assist them to bring developments to market. In Cork, we have significant live planning permissions in place for housing development but barriers (which are not to do with the role of the local authority) still face developers which make it difficult for them to get projects off the ground.

Ann Doherty, CEO Cork City Council. Pic Darragh Kane
Ann Doherty, CEO Cork City Council. Pic Darragh Kane

Rebuilding Ireland’s Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) has been pivotal for us in ensuring that infrastructure is in place to facilitate further housing development. For instance it will help in the development of housing at Old Whitechurch Road, a Cork City Council site. This is a mixed housing development of up to 600 houses. Another 13,000 more housing units are planned for the wider city centre in the City Development Plan as part of the €1 billion City and Tivoli Docks projects. Infrastructural development, helped by LIHAF funding, is the key to opening up these landbanks.

And then there’s Cork’s role as a ‘Smart City’. Today, over 50% of the world population live in urban areas. By 2050, it is estimated this will increase to 70% as more and more people want to live in cities where they have ready access to goods and services. This poses huge challenges but as a smart city, Cork City Council is committed to adopting creative approaches to urban development through embracing innovation and smart technologies. This isn’t just about managing the pressures of urbanism, but to enhance our sustainability, competitiveness and to make Cork a better place to work, live and do business in. Working with our partners CIT, Tyndall and Cork County Council as part of Cork’s SMART Gateway project, we have been a follower city learning from cities that have gone before us like Stockholm, Cologne and Barcelona. It’s our ambition now to seek funding under Horizon 2020 to become a lighthouse or leader city. Everything we do as a city council is strategic and it’s all about bringing added value to the city.

In the coming years, we need to continue our focus on the city centre. As part of our City Centre Strategy, we will focus on making the city more attractive by opening up public spaces through projects such as the 32 hectare Marina Park which wraps around the revamped Pairc Ui Chaoimh. We have also set up six city quarters: Shandon, North Main Street/The Marsh, Barrack Street/South Parish, Mac Curtain, Heart of the City and the South Mall/South Channel. These quarters have an untapped potential that we have yet to harness. In the words of the poet Thomas Mc Carthy, ‘a rising city is a beautiful thing’.

Cork City Council is planning a series of public initiatives so citizens and stakeholders can start a real conversation around ‘urbanism’ or the city they want to live in. The aim is to ensure Cork city is best placed to benefit from the next phase of population growth. The talks, which seek to inform the creation of sustainable urban neighbourhoods, will begin this autumn.

Another priority for the next three years is to being the flood defences in play for Cork business, residents and visitors to the city. We need to give certainty in terms of mitigating against those risks. I fully respect that there are many views on what needs to be done but we must come together to find solutions. The river is one of Cork’s greatest assets but we must remain honest and open-minded about how our relationship with the river is maintained. We all want a prosperous sustainable city but we have to bring certainty in relation to flooding and we must do that as sensitively as is practicable.

We’re very fortunate in Cork that the Mac Kinnon report recommended a boundary extension for the city as for too many years, the city’s development was choked by the boundary. Not just for Cork but for the wider country, its recommendations must be brought about so Cork can fully play its role as the State’s second city and act as an effective counterbalance to Dublin. The precise boundary of any expanded city council area must be the result of due diligence and must be evidence-based.

Tomorrow: Director of Services at Strategic Planning and Economic Development at Cork City Council, Pat Ledwidge, on the Docklands.


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