Cork Chamber President Bill O’Connell discusses the need for consistency in our development of the city’s public realm as a functioning, attractive and inviting space. Bill talks us through his reasoning on why we can’t afford to delay, why Cork Chamber believes that now is the time to make visionary decisions and implement change to improve our City in the long-term for business, residents and visitors. Change is hard, there is no doubt about it, but we can’t afford to stand still either, there is no progress with the status quo. The needs of business and residents are changing and we need to change with these needs, to meet as best we can the expectations of those who commute to, live or visit our city environs.
We now have the opportunity. Cork Chamber recently surveyed our members’ priorities for creating a city environment for ‘family living’. The number one preference related to diversity of housing, followed second by an enhanced Cork transport network, and third development of public spaces and amenities. More public spaces in Cork are needed to increase the accessibility and permeability of the city for pedestrians and a diverse range of transport. People want the option not to need their car, to feel safe commuting by bicycle or on foot and to travel on fast and efficient public transport. Currently, the quality of the urban space on Morrison’s Quay is exceptionally poor, with narrow and piecemeal pedestrian paving, decaying riverside railings, and poor quality road and parking surfaces.
It is generally a low value space, and almost exclusively used as a location for parking. If we focus on the potential, we have a south facing space, on the quayside, with exceptional historic features such as the Holy Trinity Church, Capuchin Friary and historic quay walls. Looking at the flood defence project, for far too long residents and businesses of Cork city centre have been heavily impacted by flood damage, leading to uncertainty and concerns around business viability and insurance protection. With the threat of flooding incidences increasing, it is crucial that works are undertaken to protect the future of our city centre as an attractive location for business and residential occupancy. If Cork is to transform into a living city accommodating an extra 125,000 residents by 2040, maximise its potential as Ireland’s second city, and attract more investment, certainty is needed. A
city centre that is threatened unnecessarily and repeatedly from flood and weather incidences is not viable.
Since 2011, Cork city has seen a hugely positive increase in residential occupancy, up 5.4%, and a growing city centre workforce. With more jobs, especially high-value jobs, opting to be based centrally to attract and retain the best staff, we expect Cork’s day and night-time population growth to increase further in the years ahead, bringing more economic activity with it. But for that to happen we need an attractive, inviting, and flood protected city Centre. The public realm project at Morrison’s Island will remove city centre parking and this is a big step change in how we do things. There needs to be actions taken now to ensure that complementary parking and public transport measures are put in place within the 12-month period before commencement of works to mitigate impact on business. These parking spaces are primarily used by city centre workers. And so we need to ensure that people have options. We strongly encourage City Hall to explore the potential for expanding Park & Ride facilities from other sides of the city.
Perhaps another site can be made available for professionals to park and walk to work? We need tech solutions to the current pay and display parking disc system. Essentially, we need to more effectively utilise the
available parking in the City. Rather than looking at negatives, the removal of parking spaces should be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to challenge Government to release the €200m Bus Connects Programme funding as soon as possible. And for dedicated bus corridors to be built so our city centre remains accessible for both workers, shoppers, residents and visitors. We also have a chance to develop connected, integrated and safe cycle routes to offer a viable alternative to commuters and residents alike.
Overall, we are optimistic that the change in primary usage of this space will add to city centre vitality and trade. Research by the National Transport Authority has found that public transport users spend more than twice as much as car users in Dublin. The same research found that cities rely on public transport users and pedestrians to deliver the strongest cash injection to a city’s economy as a whole. Why not also invest in painting and refurbishing the adjacent building facades along the quayside, and the streets linking Morrison’s Quay to the South Mall? We would like to see this part of the city develop into a cultural hotspot similar to the Waterford Walls initiative, making the linkages between the Quays and the Mall a destination in their own right. At a low cost we have potential to realise a hugely impactful cultural attraction.
We need to be ambitious, to move forward, and that is not possible without a change in how we do things. We need to capitalise on the opportunity to grow our city as a vibrant, bustling urban centre,
one that is opened up and inviting. Why not set the bar high? Without a high level of ambition, we are not capitalising fully on the potential to transform Cork.