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Cork County accused of whipping up fear over proposed boundary extension

The Lord Mayor of Cork City has accused the county of “attempts to whip up unnecessary fear in communities” in an increasingly bitter row over plans to extend the city boundary.

Cllr Tony Fitzgerald (FF) said he felt compelled to speak out to counter “falsehoods” that implied county dwellers would lose out under current proposals to bring satellite towns such as Ballincollig, Blarney, Little Island, and Carrigtohill, under the control of Cork City Council.

Mr Fitzgerald claimed that, in fact, affected county dwellers would fare better because of higher per capita spending on public services in the city.

“Records show that in 2017 Cork City Council spent €1,363 per citizen on public services while Cork County Council spent just €717.”

Mr Fitzgerald said that contrary to claims by the county, the extension of the city boundary “will not stop access to national or EU rural funding streams such as LEADER funding in rural areas”.

The Mayor of Co Cork, Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind), challenged this assertion, saying that cities were “not eligible” to attract rural funding.

“If parts of rural Cork are subsumed into the city, they will be excluded, no doubt about it,” he said.

Mr Hurley also expressed surprise that Mr Fitzgerald had chosen to highlight the per capita spend on citizens. He said: “Cork City cannot afford to spend the same money per head of population in a Mackinnon city as it currently does.”

The Mackinnon report, the catalyst for the angst between the city and county councils, recommended a significant city boundary extension to include, inter alia, Ballincollig, Little Island, Carrigtwohill, and Little Island, increasing the size of the city eightfold and boosting its population from the current 125,000 or so to 225,000.

The county opposes the extension on the grounds that it represents an unacceptable land and rates grab.

The annual shortfall in terms of lost rates and local property tax has been estimated at €50m, although there is a mechanism for compensation from the city council.

The county council has proposed a scaled-back alternative to the Mackinnon extension but this has been rejected by the city.

Yesterday, Mr Fitzgerald said citizens would enjoy “an improved quality of life in strong communities” within the extended city and would “benefit from Cork City Council’s proven track record in community development, sports funding, social inclusion, arts and recreation, as well as in meeting housing need”.

Mr Hurley said the boundary extension would result in existing city housing applicants being “pitted against” county applications for social housing against a backdrop of “an accelerating housing crisis in Cork”.

Mr Fitzgerald said quality of life would improve for everyone if one authority was delivering joined-up planning policy.

He said Cork County Council’s negative commentary “ignores best practice in planning and service provision which states that the most successful cities have jurisdiction over their rural hinterland as well as urban areas”.

Mr Fitzgerald also ridiculed the county council’s scaled-back boundary extension offer, saying it was “presented without accompanying data to support its population and economic projections.”

“It cannot be described as generous. From our analysis, only 30% of this area is capable of being developed,” he said. The offer was “what Cork City needed in 1980, not in 2017”.

Mr Hurley hit back, saying its proposal “was based on data and policy contained in the joint National Planning Framework submission, our local area plan projections, and on the city’s own plans”.

He said: “It is entirely evidence based. It is a proposal which increases the city area by 85% and which would ultimately give it a population of 283,000.”

The offer would leave Cork Airport, Blarney, Ballincollig, Little Island, Carrigtwohill, and Monard under the control of the county council.

Work is under way on drafting the boundary envisaged by Mackinnon, with teams of public servants from both city and county preparing suggestions for a September 5 meeting of the oversight group tasked with driving implementation.

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