Planning experts oppose merger of Cork city and county councils

Proposal would not address divergent needs of city and rural communities, say experts

A group of planning experts has come out strongly against the recommendation by a review group that Cork City Council and Cork County Council should be merged into one local authority to run both city and county.

The three lecturers at the centre for planning education and research at University College Cork (UCC) – Brendan O'Sullivan, Jonathan Hall and William Brady – said the merger proposal would fail to address the divergent needs of city and rural communities.

A five-person review group appointed by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly and chaired by former Beamish & Crawford managing director Alf Smiddy made a majority recommendation, with two dissenting, that the two councils should be merged.

But the three planning experts said while the report’s recognition of the the need for a metropolitan Cork area to allow the region compete internationally for investment was welcome, forcing the two local authorities into “some form of unhappy marriage of convenience is not the way to do this”.


They said the councils faced different challenges. The city must carve out “a meaningful urban identity on the international stage” while the county faced challenges of agricultural restructuring, peripherality and demographic changes,

Worst of both worlds

A single local authority “gives us the worst of both worlds – an oversized and unworkable entity that will never be able to fully meet the needs of the two constituencies. Instead they will be diluted, downgraded and confused. One or both will suffer,” they said.

Although the majority report acknowledged the need to create a large “metropolitan area”, it recommended the same metropolitan area be “established merely as a subdivision of a county entity” without political or financial autonomy and no obvious leadership in political terms.

“Ireland’s second city will be administered at the lowest possible level in the local government hierarchy and will be managed through the post of a deputy chief executive,” they said, adding they had seen no persuasive evidence this best serves Cork city.

“In fact this will relegate Cork’s status considerably – we will see Ireland’s second city being demoted to the municipal district status with powers equivalent to places like Edenderry, Letterkenny and Dunshaughlin,” they said.

“Put simply, a city without power is not really a city,” they said, adding Cork city would no longer be able to produce its own development plan nor shape its social and economic future.

Meanwhile, Cork county would develop only if the council could focus on issues relevant to it, they argued. “Put bluntly, the needs of declining, isolated and peripheral rural villages cannot be met on the same local authority agenda that also has to address intractable inner-city issues associated with systemic intergenerational unemployment and urban decay. A combined authority simply cannot provide the required focus to govern the needs of Ireland’s second city as well as Ireland’s biggest county at the same time,” said the planners. They called for consideration of whether a single authority would deliver for Cork.

“Future generations of Cork people will not thank us if we allow the entire region’s prospects to be determined on the basis of selecting an option for Cork’s governance that is weighed heavily in favour of bureaucracies rather than citizens and businesses.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times