Build it and they will come... but where on earth will they live?

In his weekly column John Dolan welcomes plans for a skyscraper at the Port of Cork, but reminds us of the city's housing crisis
Build it and they will come... but where on earth will they live?

HIGH HOPES: A conceptual image of how the Port of Cork tower could look

I LOVE the plan for a gigantic skyscraper at the Port of Cork, on the spot where the two channels of the Lee split apart.

I love its boldness.

I love its striking, modern design.

I love the fact it will make visitors gasp when they see it, especially when it is brightly illuminated at night.

Bring it on, I say.

But when I heard the speculation about what the developers may put inside the 30-40 storey skyscraper — which would be twice the size of the nearby Elysian Tower — I must admit it gave me pause for thought.

The structure is likely to house yet another hotel on the centre island and more offices, with perhaps a few apartments added to the mix.

More jobs, great. More tourists, great.

Build it and the workers and tourists will come.

But where on earth will the office workers and those employed in the tourism industry live?

Because renting or buying a property in Cork city at present poses such a headache, with available homes so scarce, that building yet more office space appears to be akin to throwing petrol onto a blazing building.

Last week, Evening Echo writer Ellie O’Byrne wrote a brilliant article about hunting for an apartment to rent for herself and her family. She said a standard three-bed semi will set you back around €1,600 a month — that’s nearly €20,000, or the equivalent of €40,000 in gross wage.

There are so few good and affordable properties around in Cork city that Ellie professed herself “angry, powerless and stressed”.

Although Housing Minister Simon Coveney has been introducing all kinds of sticking plasters in an attempt to address the crisis, he has been unable to stop the bleeding.

There are simply not enough properties to keep up with demand, and while the authorities and the industry try desperately to meet supply, the demand is getting higher and higher. Just like that proposed tower on the Port of Cork.

To be fair to the developers of that potential skyscraper, they will be factoring in all these issues before they make their plans concrete. Perhaps they will be advised that by the time the tower is finished, enough extra properties will have been built to house all the workers in their development, as well as those employed in Lapps Quay, the Elysian, and all the other big office blocks in that area.

If so, you can only applaud their confidence, Because right now, the housing crisis seems to be going from bad to worse.

Don’t paint me as a begrudger: It’s great that the harbour area is becoming an office hub, but you do wonder whether we have reached ‘peak hotel’ on the central island.

If they build another large one in the new skyscraper, along with the current Clarion, Jury’s, the River Lee Hotel and all the other hotel and B&B establishments on the marsh island, the number of tourists could well outnumber the number of residents of the area!

Tourists bring money and don’t put too much extra weight on transport infrastructure — but the mass of office workers in the area surely will, as will all the people who work in the hotel.

We had a timely reminder of the problem this week, in a tourist town not too far down the road. It was reported that a housing shortage for potential hotel and restaurant workers and others engaged in tourism has created a mini-crisis on the Dingle peninsula, even before the peak season kicks in.

The Chamber of Commerce in the town has resorted to pleading with owners of vacant properties to make them available for long-term rent to solve the problem, while a leading restaurateur warned there was no point attracting extra tourists if there was no accommodation for staff. Apparently, no houses have been built in Dingle since 2009.

Could Cork city be heading full steam towards a similar scenario?

Can Cork City Council ensure that the infrastructure will cope with all the extra people that this new tower will attract?

Because, on the one hand, I really want them to be positive towards this latest tower plan; but on the other hand, I do wonder if the old saying ‘Build it and they will come’ should apply to housing at present, instead of hotels and offices.

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