The retention of two local authorities for Cork has been recommended in a Government-commissioned report which supports an expansion of the city council's boundaries.
Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney has expressed hope that hopes it will be implemented in time for the 2019 local elections. The report of the Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Cork recommends two separate local authorities for Cork city and county. It favours the city council area being expanded into contiguous parts of the county in a move which will see the city's population expand by 100,000 to 225,000.
Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney said the proposals will help to grow Cork city as an economic driver and a counterpoint to Dublin.
Some districts on the south side of Cork city, such as parts of as well as Douglas, Donnybrook, Frankfield, Grange and Rochestown, which are currently all administered by Cork County Council, would be incorporated into the city council's area. The city boundary would also extend westward to include the satellite town of Ballincollig and to the north to include Blarney, Tower and Rathpeacon as well as Glanmire and then eastward to include Little Island and Carrigtwohill.
However, Cork County Council said it was “not in a position to accept the report” until it obtained clarification on a number of issues, including the exact location of the boundary extension.
Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Seamus McGrath said the county council was also seeking clarification on the legal status of the report given the existence of the statutory Smiddy report which advocated the merger of the two authorities and clarification on the financial compensation package.
Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey said that the council would need to examine the proposals closely but cautioned that it faced a challenge to "ensure that services for the county are not negatively impacted by the implementation of the recommendations."Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Simon Coveney has expressed hope that a new report on local government reform in Cork, which will see the retention of two separate local authorities, will be implemented in time for the 2019 local elections.
The proposed expansion does not include the incorporation into the city of Ringaskiddy, a key source of revenue for the county council with the many pharmaceutical companies in the area contributing millions of euro in commercial rates.
The expert group recognises the expansion would result in revenue loss to the county council of some €40 million per year as th. The areas it would lose currently generate revenues of €86 million per year in Local Property Tax and commercial rates of which some €46 million is spent in the area.
To counteract this, loss of revenue, the expert group which was chaired by former chief planner for Scotland, Jim Mackinnon, recommends that the city council would pay some €40 million per year in compensation to the county council for a guaranteed period of 10 ten years with a review thereafter.
Mr Coveney explained that the reform would be accompanied by changes to public representation which currently sees each city councillor representing some 3,846 people and each county councillor currently representing some 7,269 people.
There are currently 31 city councillors and 55 county councillors but the reform proposes the addition of eight councillors in the expanded city and one extra councillor in the county which would lead to a representation ratio in both city and county councils of one councillor per 5,500 people.
Mr Coveney, a former county councillor, stressed that Cork County Council would still remain the second biggest local authority in the country with a population of 320,000 and would enjoy equal representation with the city council on a new Cork Economic and Development and Planning Board
He said that he expected the implementation body to report by September on the feasibility of implementing the reform in time for the 2019 local elections which was the preferable option rather than waiting until the 2024 local elections.
The proposal, which differs from the recommendation of the previous Smiddy group which advocated a merger of the two councils, was welcomed by Fianna Fail leader and local Cork TD, Micheál Martin who said it recognised Cork’s importance as an economic driver in the region.
“It is very important that we don’t undermine the city of Cork in terms of its capacity to drive growth in the wider region as a counter to Dublin and this report recognises that and I think the outcome is very sensible and creates an opportunity to deal with this issue once and for all.”