Cork business arrives at planning crossroads with many infrastructural challenges and opportunities

The economy's continued improvement has highlighted as many infrastructural challenges as opportunities for Cork. Pádraig Hoare talks through the issues with business leaders in the region.

AT long last, the Cork to Limerick motorway is firmly on the agenda; a significant development for the local economy but a long way from the panacea that many think it will be.

After years of campaigning from local business and political figures, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the announcement on his first official visit to Cork that the M20 motorway between the country's second and third cities was back on the agenda.

The €800m road has long been seen as vital to enhance economic interests in the south of the country but will bring its own challenges unless complementary infrastructure is earmarked for development also.

Deputy chief executive and director of economic development at Cork City Council Pat Ledwidge warned earlier this year that without the northern ring road to service the northside of the city, traffic coming into the city from a newly-constructed motorway would be "a horror story".

As it stands, traffic comes from Limerick around Blackpool while Dublin traffic comes through the Dunkettle interchange near Glanmire.

"What the northside of Cork city lacks is the northern ring road — when you look at it, that’s a no-brainer. As far as the city council is concerned, if the M20 between Cork and Limerick is a priority, then the northern ring road is just as important," said Mr Ledwidge.

Co-founder of Coakley-O'Neill Town Planning, Aiden O’Neill was in agreement when he spoke in July.

"I totally agree Cork to Limerick is a priority but in my own view, Cork has to get its ducks in a row first.

"I wouldn’t want a situation where the M20 is delivered before the other key infrastructure because that makes Limerick and Shannon more attractive. There has to be an order of priority. We have to see the Dunkettle interchange, Northern Ring Road and M22 Macroom-Ballyvourney bypass prioritised alongside the motorway.”

The view that Tivoli - which sits overlooking the River Lee on the city’s northside - is key to helping alleviate Cork’s housing needs is a common view from both private and public sector figures.

According to Mr Ledwidge: "Tivoli is important because if you looked in the 1970s, you have the railway station and little else.

"Tivoli opens up that side of the city. It’s on the railway line, it’s south-facing, it looks across at the marina and Blackrock. You’ve hills behind, which means you are sheltered from winds. You have Dunkettle right beside. The access to the Dublin and Waterford road is good.

"It will be more dense and more planned and slightly more mixed than other centres that have built up. Our target is 3,000 units and that can get up to 5,000. That’s a mix of houses and apartments and commercial to service that."

Pat Ledwidge

Mr O’Neill concurred with that view, but only if done first, ahead of the development of Cork city’s Docklands, which is the focus of major private development of office space worth hundreds of millions of euro at present. Residential development alongside office space could be very costly, Mr O’Neill said.

"Tivoli should realistically happen first. It’s mainly in single ownership, it is probably the best area in Cork for a new urban development, primarily residential. Thousands of people could be housed there. They’ve identified it already but the Docklands has taken the focus.

"There is a flooding issue in the Docklands, especially in the south. I worry it is undeliverable. I feel the focus has to change. Tivoli is the primary residential focus, in my view, because the costs in the Docklands are just too high.”

Air travel from Cork had one of its most important developments in July with the first ever transatlantic flights to Providence, Rhode Island on the US East Coast.

The Norwegian Air route has been greeted with universal enthusiasm from business and political leaders in Munster, with the opening of a direct route to the markets of New England seen as a potential boon to Cork and beyond.

Seamus Heaney of business tourism body Cork Convention Bureau said: "I was a sceptic when first told about Providence but the more I looked at it, the more excited I became. It doesn’t just open up Providence and nearby Boston, but the whole of New England - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, even Maine.

The market is huge. Many Americans and Canadians don’t want to come to Ireland from O’Hare in Chicago or JFK in New York if they can do it from smaller easier airports. We’ve got to get business people from New England into Cork and keep them here."

However Brexit has thrown a potential spanner in the works when it comes to air travel in the EU. Uncertainty remains as to how airlines will be able to operate in and out of the UK.

As the first phase of talks between the EU and the UK were coming to a conclusion, Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy said: "Airlines and airports need certainty and we are moving into planning Winter 2018 now which stretches from October 2018 through April 2019.

Clarity on the key questions of borders and markets, including Open Skies, which hopefully will be forthcoming early in the new year, will greatly facilitate that planning.”



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