21 June 2017
By Elaine Murphy
Cork City Council wants to expand it’s boundary, but doing so would come at the expense of Cork County Council. The most recent report – the Mackinnon Report – into the long running issue recommends an extension of the City.
Since the initiation of the Cork Local Government Review process in January 2015, the four City Lord Mayors who have held office have remained unanimous and steadfast in promoting an extension of the boundary of the City. That’s according to a statement issued by the City Council today.
This joint statement is signed by all four Lords Mayor to outline why an extension of the boundary of the City is “critical for the economic and social wellbeing of the region, and for Ireland”.
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The boundary of Cork City was last extended in 1965, and by the 1980s the de facto City had out-grown this boundary and had spilled into the jurisdiction of Cork County Council. Since that time, successive Elected Members and City Managers / Chief Executives of the City Council have consistently held the view that an extension of the City boundary is needed.
The need for a boundary extension was recognised by National Government in 2012 with the publication of the policy document for local government – Putting People First.
At the establishment of the Cork Local Government Review Committee in January 2015, the Government press release confirmed that Minister Alan Kelly saw “a clear case for extending the Cork City boundary to encompass a wider metropolitan area….”
Whilst the Majority (Smiddy) Report recommended the city and county councils be merged, the report also acknowledged the increasing footprint of Cork City. The Minority Report recommended the retention of the two local authorities as separate, autonomous entities and an extension of the City boundary.
The need for a strong expanded city has therefore been accepted. The question of the form of governance for that expanded city is now the essential at stake.
Following his review of the Report of the Cork Local Government Committee, Professor Tony Bovaird recommended the retention of both local authorities and an extension of the city boundary.
The Expert Group appointed by Minister Simon Coveney has now reported under the chairmanship of Mr. Jim MacKinnon, former Chief Planner for Scotland. These appointed experts have also unanimously recommended an extension of the City boundary, with the two autonomous local authorities retained.
At its meeting held on 12th June, 2017 the City Council unanimously welcomed the publication of the MacKinnon Report.
We welcome the evidence-based approach by the MacKinnon Expert Group. But we need also to heed the warnings sounded by MacKinnon.
Most importantly, the Group found no international example of a successful merger of a rural council with an urban authority.
MacKinnon also highlighted the very different focus needed to respond to the different needs of rural and urban areas, stressing that “metropolitan and more rural areas are likely to have differing strategic interests.”
We stand at the cusp of opportunity. But our failure to now grasp the nettle would represent a setback for the entire region, and would represent a failure by Cork to play its national role as Second City. The MacKinnon Report signals the “opportunity to turn the rhetoric around Cork’s growth ambitions into reality.” And that’s the challenge for us all. Failure to progress with the necessary local government reforms in Cork is now the biggest single threat to the wellbeing and growth of the entire region.
MacKinnon warns of the dangers of complacency in highlighting that “other city-regions in Ireland are making conscious preparations to grow, develop, and respond to new opportunities, and they could potentially challenge Cork’s place as the natural location to act as a counter-balance to the Dublin area and the eastern seaboard.”
And it is against this background that we call for the brave political decisions to be made quickly and decisively. We are calling on Government to finally bring certainty to the reform of local government arrangements in Cork. Cork needs these brave decisions to be made now, and allow us to step up to the plate to help Ireland to finally achieve sustainable, balanced regional development.
Tony Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail) – Lord Mayor of Cork 2017/18
Des Cahill (Fine Gael) – Lord Mayor of Cork 2016/17
Chris O’ Leary (Sinn Fein) – Lord Mayor of Cork 2015/16
Mary Shields (Fianna Fail) – Lord Mayor of Cork 2014/15