Ireland’s National Planning Framework 2040: Cork’s strategic role as a sustainable counter-balance to Dublin

Fifteen years on from the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) 2002, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is now preparing the National Planning Framework (NPF).

The NSS failed to deliver for a number of reasons, primarily because it was misaligned with its funding stream, the National Development Plan. Conversely, the new NPF will be a statutory document, supported by public and private investment.

Cork City and County Council’s submission to inform the NPF, ‘Cork 2050 – Delivering a Bright Future for Cork’ (Cork 2050), is focused on a holistic approach that will position Metropolitan Cork as an international driver of regional population growth and economic activity, collaborating with other cities in the Southern region and mobilising rural towns and villages.

Cork has the most productive and efficient economy of scale in the Southern region with all the necessary credentials for success, including global economic clusters, international connectivity, unbeatable digital infrastructure, skilled population base, high-quality tourism, unrivalled quality of life and a keen sense of place.

Population Growth
The focus for Cork is on delivering an escalated population growth scenario of at least 846,000 people, including an additional 53,000 people in the City and 168,000 people in Metropolitan Cork, in a sustainable manner.

Employment Potential
Cork has a rich portfolio of long-established domestic and global companies contributing 19% of national GDP. An economic growth strategy is proposed to create 121,000 new jobs in sectors such as pharma/bio-pharma, healthcare, energy and maritime, agriculture, food, agri-tech, financial and business services, fintech, leisure and tourism, technology and research. A focus on delivering key skills programmes and maximising existing connectivity underpins this strategy.

Cork is extremely well-connected. Cork Airport is Ireland’s second largest airport (over 2.2 million passengers (2016)), and the Port of Cork is one of three Tier 1 Ports. Above all, Cork has the benefit of Tier 1 International connectivity, which gives it significant global competitive advantage.

Sustainable Transportation
Building on the strength of the existing suburban rail network, Cork 2050 proposes East-West and North-South public transport corridors that will link urban and rural communities with strategic employment areas and service, to secure a transition to a low-carbon economy. The submission also seeks to protect and enhance existing bus routes, walking and cycling greenway routes. 87% of Metropolitan Cork will live within 1km of high capacity public transport.

The delivery of the M28, between Cork and Ringaskiddy, is critical to the continued success of the global cluster of economic activity long established in Ringaskiddy.

Improved connectivity between Cork and Limerick, Waterford and Kerry will require long-term sustainable investment in the Dunkettle Interchange, the M20, the N22 and the N25, driving growth in the Southern Region.

If we are serious about implementing the strategy in Cork, there are a number of potentially significant obstacles to overcome.

The concept of public transport corridors supported by increased population densities will require significant change in our current planning policies for building height and zoning.

A maximum of three storey buildings in the western suburbs of the City won’t deliver the density required to support a high-speed rapid transit. Equally, inflexible zoning objectives in Mahon for example, do not currently support residential use and a high-speed rapid transit on the route of the existing public walkway to Mahon could face significant difficulty.

Once routes are identified, the public transport corridors will need to be fully embedded and reserved in the zoning maps of local planning policy.

While the 11% increase in the use of the Cork-Midleton commuter rail route and 8% increase in the Cork-Cobh route (2015-2016) is welcomed, there will need to be a marked shift in the modal share for public transport, if the case for public investment in a high rapid transit route is to succeed. As much as it will require a cultural change, it will also require a ‘whole of Cork’ transportation strategy.

To unlock the development potential of locations such as Docklands and Tivoli, the relocation of the Port of Cork at City Quays and the Gouldings Seveso site on Centre Park Road will have to be facilitated, as will a clear and implementable strategy to address current flood risk issues in Docklands in particular. We also need to be realistic about the development potential of Docklands and the requisite infrastructure required to facilitate it. We have seen too many plans come to pass for this area already.

The delivery of the M28 to Ringaskiddy and the upgrade of the R264 from Marino Point to the N25 are inextricably linked to the delivery of Docklands and Tivoli.

In the county, the Council is advancing proposals to identify additional land for significant residential development including in the Southern and Western Environs of the City.

We need to be opportunistic about the timeframes by which these lands can be brought forward to facilitate the population growth advocated in the Cork 2050 strategy.

In order to deliver the proposed uplift in employment envisaged in the strategy, existing employment landbanks must be protected and significant new employment lands need to be identified, to provide a choice of location for new investment.