Comments on Development Committee meeting, 20th June 2014

All Development Meetings of the County Council are held in camera without media so that members of the Council can speak freely. This morning’s was no different, so I won’t post the notes I took at the meeting on my website.

The briefing on the Port of Cork planning application that was itemised on the agenda was indeed very much that – a briefing. The Planning Section brought us through some of the procedures associated with the Strategic Infrastucture Act and then the Planning Policy Unit gave a brief overview of the planning application for the Port’s proposals for the redevelopment of Ringaskiddy. Some interesting points from the community angle are that the Chief Executive (formerly County Manager) will make a report based on the recommendations of his staff. That report will be sent to Council members on 11th July and discussed at a meeting of the full Council on 14th July. Members’ opinions will not change that report but if the members’ opinions differ from those of the Chief Executive, they may prepare and append a report of their own. The entire package will then be sent to An Bord Pleanala.

Members expressed their disappointment that they had no indication of the Chief Executive’s views at this stage, particularly since the last day for submissions by the public to An Bord Pleanala is the 26th June.

I can’t honestly say that any new information came to light during the course of the briefing and subsequent discussion. What I can document is what I said myself and it is something I feel very strongly about. I commented on an aerial view of the port activities at Ringaskiddy that had been projected for the benefit of the briefing, saying that so often we see aerials of the port activities but so rarely do we see aerials taken with a wider angle lens which show the adjacent village of Ringaskiddy with a population of almost 400 people, the village of Shanbally with over 500 people, the towns of Monkstown and Passage West with some 5,200 people, a little further away the town of Carrigaline with 12,000 people and just across the water, the town of Cobh with 12,000 people living on the island. These people had come together as communities around the harbour to fight the Port of Cork’s proposals in 2008. They had paid heftily to employ an “expert” to represent their views at an oral hearing, they had taken time off work and lost wages to attend the oral hearing. They had used grannies and grandfathers to mind children, employed consultants at a personal level to assist them. They won but continue to be woken by the unloading of containers off the banana boat every Thursday night. The Port says that noise from the “redeveloped” facility will be no more than that experienced at present, but with the “redeveloped” facility, the residents will now be woken every night. Another resident of Ringaskiddy runs a limousine company. He washes his cars three times a week to clean them of the dust from the bulk loading and unloading.

Now these residents see the Port of Cork coming back again. This time, the new National Ports Policy has defined Cork as a Tier 1 port. This has allowed the Port to apply for European money to fund its planning application. As the local communities see it, ordinary people fund the Exchequer and the Exchequer funds Europe. So the residents have in essence paid for the planning application they now oppose. They will have to pay €50 each to submit their objections to An Bord Pleanala. They will have to, yet again, employ professional representation. Although the EIS is available on the internet, it has been presented as a photograph – in other words, they cannot even highlight a sentence to copy and paste it into a document to help them prepare their submissions. Many are not comfortable with the internet as professionals within the County Hall might be. So they must either come to see it in County Hall – for which they must take more time off work – or purchase a paper copy. This is available from An Bord Pleanala for €175. County Hall has advised that the An Bord Pleanala price is cheaper than they can do. The cost of purchasing the EIS from the Port is €500. As the local communities see it, this is not a level playing field.

Nor does one ever see an aerial view yet further encompassing the road network serving the Ringaskiddy port. Port traffic has massive impact on the whole Cork region. As was said by other members in the Chamber, there has been no change to the road network since the 2008 planning application. On this, I quote a report produced in 2013 by the Competition Authority. Although this report relates specifically to ports, it has not been referenced at all in the Port’s planning application:

“If ports are rivals and competing for the same cargo, there is an incentive for port authorities and private service providers to keep port-related charges down and provide better and more efficient services. This helps to keep transport costs down which can have a significant influence on trade volumes … it has been estimated that raising transport costs by 10% reduces trade volumes by more than 20%. Indeed, it has been shown that transport costs can have the same effect as tariff and non-tarif barriers to trade. It is not uncommon for transport costs to account for 10% of the total cost of a product, though it has been estimated that on average 5% of the value of imported merchandise is spent on freight and insurance costs relating to their international carraige. Transport and maritime costs are influenced by a range of factors including road haulage costs, ship travel time, ship size and cargo handling charges which makes calculating the port-specific cost element difficult. While it is likely that port-related charges account for 10% to 20% of total transport costs, the influence of these costs on trade means they should not be ignored by policymakers.”

This is important because we, the County Council, are policymakers.

So my question to the Chief Executive was how can we, the members, represent the views of the residents of our communities to him such that they can be reflected in his report?

The Chief Executive said that he regretted, particularly in the light of the quality of my presentation, that there really was no mechanism by which this could be achieved. The structure he was obliged to follow was set by legislation. The best he could offer was the appendage of the members’ report to his, wherein we could express the views of the residents.

What is disturbing to me is that so many of the Council members are from further afield than Cork Harbour and the Ringaskiddy redevelopment proposal has very little real meaning to them. There was quite a bit of chat in the Chamber as the meeting went on. Many were going in and out, sometimes with mobile phones. Yet on 14th July, all the members, regardless of what part of Cork they are from, are going to vote on whether to support or otherwise the Chief Executive’s report. The future of Cork Harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world, is in their hands. What a responsibility.