In his piece in the “Irish Examiner” (Tuesday, May 8th.) titled “To compete and prosper our cities need fewer cars”, Declan Jordan (a director of the Spatial and Regional economics research centre at Cork University Business School) asserts in the very first line that “it is difficult for some Cork people to accept that their city could be any better than it is“ and that statement could not be any further from the truth.
City centre retailers were at the forefront of the recent ‘heave’ to have the car ban on Patrick St. cancelled but the same city centre traders are those who have been canvassing for years to have better infrastructure put in place. The first “Park & Ride” was trialled in 1997 and the current facility at the Black Ash on the Kinsale Rd. has been in use since 1999; other sites were proposed for the north side of the city, east to Mahon and west to the Lee Fileds – none came to fruition. Apparently, the facility at the Black Ash is losing the Council €250,000 per year while it operates at only 33% capacity. One must ask the question though, if the Council wanted to encorage people to leave their cars outside the city, why did they give planning permission for many of the quayside warehouses to be converted to parking garages???
Mr. Jordan cites the case of Oslo as a hilly city with weather equally inclement to Cork’s climate but on closer examination Oslo offers (besides local buses) a tram service, a metro and even a ferry and the same ticket covers all means of travel ! The Oslo Pass (395 NOK or approx. €41.00) gives you free travel on all public transport, free entry to 30 museums, free entry to swimming pools, free walking tours, free concert tickets, free climbing, free ski rental and much more. By comparison, what does Cork offer..?
There are other factors that Mr. Jordan has failed to take account of and chief among these are that Oslo has a population of 545,000 or 1.3 MILLION including the greater Oslo metropolitan area whereas Cork City has a population of a mere 125,000 or 208,669 including it’s immediate suburbs according to the 2016 census, with in excess of 300,000 in the Metropolitan Cork area. We can all play with figures…
So, let’s go back to that unruly bunch of city traders – the ones who cried wolf when the city looked as though it had been closed down or, as my neighbour Valerie from Ikon Hair Salon revealed “one of my clients came back from hols, knew nothing about it and thought there was a bomb scare”.
From the time that the ban on cars was introduced to Patrick St. until it was removed there can be no question that retailers suffered a catastrophic drop in turnover; comparing my own figures to 2016 (as there was a bus strike in 2017 at the same time) my turnover was down 23% – others reported being down in excess of 50%. Comparing figures since the ban was removed (again comparing with 2016 so we have like for like), my turnover has increased by 13% – is anyone seriously going to tell us that there’s no correlation between those facts..?
Returning to Mr. Jordan’s opening statement that “it is difficult for some Cork people to accept that their city could be any better than it is“… The city’s retailers and traders have been crying out for years to have the infrasructure of their city improved – no-one believes in the city more than we do ! We are here five, six and seven days a week observing and listening to our customers and they want more accessability – not everyone wants to shop in the urban malls that exhibit much decay across the U.K. and America.
We want to see the city grow and nobody knows better than we do that (as Mr. Jordan stated in his piece) “Good urban design matters because cities and large urban areas are the engines for economic growth and wellbeing”. Good urban design only matters if you have the right people to inhabit the space; it’s not a fluke that Oliver Plunkett St. won the “Great Street Award” for 2016, beating off finalists from London & Liverpool – it was because of the unique nature of it’s mix of small (mainly) family owned businesses that enchanted the judges, selling everything from a pillow to a chainsaw or get your hair done or buy some perfume for your better half and what’s more… They all know your name !
It’s time that people stopped blaming cars for what’s happened to the centre of the city – the ‘nail in the coffin’ for the Patrick St. ban was the revelation of the number of free car parking spaces city hall officials enjoy so, while they told everyone else to use public transport, they were (and are) happy to drive in to town themselves. Going forward we must work together to find a solution before more of Cork’s unique character is lost to more coffee shops where economists will pontificate on why it all went wrong.