THE EXCHEQUER should fund hundreds of millions of euro worth of infrastructure, including bridges and roads, to kickstart the development of Cork docklands, according to an influential report.
In addition, the Government should heed long-standing demands from Cork that major tax incentives to back the project should be included in this year's budget. Local politicians, Cork City Council, developers and others had all hoped for major concessions last year, but they failed to materialise. In all, €615 million will have to be spent up to 2020 on three bridges, three roads, public transport, water, schools etc, according to the Cork Docklands Forum.
Chaired by former UCC president Prof Gerry Wrixon, the group set up by the Government late last year includes local representatives but, crucially, was dominated by departmental officials.
The potential of the docklands project - the biggest proposal since the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin 20 years ago - is hugely significant, the document says.
It acknowledges that the Government will face significant costs in the face of the economic downturn and that this will create "pressure" on the exchequer.
However, it says the project's "potential, especially in the light of an economic downturn, out-weighs the short-term costs of providing such infrastructure".
Development of the 400-acre site in Cork city has so far been stymied as developers have baulked at paying the cost of basic infrastructure. Developers, city council officials and others will meet Minister for the Environment John Gormley today.
The Wrixon report has recommended that a new body should be set up to oversee the 20-year development of the area but says planning control should remain with Cork City Council, following strong lobbying by city manager Joe Gavin. The Government, it adds, should "adopt an imaginative and creative approach" to getting funding for the development and establishing targeted tax incentives.
Much of the docklands is currently unusable because it has been occupied for decades by oil tanks and other high-risk operations.
These lands, known as Seveso sites, are currently owned by Topaz Energy, the National Oil Reserve Agency and Gouldings Fertilisers.
The expert group says that offering grants to these companies to move operations would not breach EU state aid rules.
Three bridges should be built to improve access, including the Eastern Gateway Bridge to ease movement from the east, although an exact location for it is not given in the report.
Another bridge should be built at Water Street on the approach into the city centre, while the use of a third at Mill Road would be dominated in time by a high-quality public transport system.
The Eastern Gateway Bridge and the one at Water Street would both be able to open up to allow ships to travel upriver to dock at the island where the two channels of the Lee meet.
Two-thirds of the €600 million infrastructure budget would have to be spent over the next five years. "This frontloading of infrastructure expenditure is essential," the report says. "The existing infrastructure, by and large, is simply not capable of supporting the kind of intensive, mixed-use development envisaged."
The Irish Times