As we approach the 2024 Local Elections, I want to start sharing my vision for West Cork. I firmly believe that it’s time that we address the challenges posed by shortsighted planning regulations that have left Cork County Council constantly playing catch-up with the needs of our community. To be clear, this is not a critique of our council planners and engineers; in my experience, they are capable and well-intentioned, but they’re often shackled by restrictive budgets, outdated regulations, and disconnected directives from central government that don’t reflect our local realities.

Take, for instance, the sprawling housing developments cropping up on the outskirts of towns like Clonakilty and Skibbereen. While these developments are essential, they lack basic facilities like footpaths that should connect them to the town center. As a result, residents, especially older people and families with young children, are forced to rely on cars for very short journeys. This not only contributes to unnecessary emissions, but also clogs up our town with traffic and leads to a chronic shortage of parking, especially during the busy summer months.

On the topic of cars, our road network is already feeling the strain of increased traffic volume. Sticking with Clonakilty, at the Lady’s Cross/The Miles intersection with the N71, we see a prime example of infrastructure failing to keep up development. At this one point, with its absurd triangular junction, traffic tries to access the N71 main road from the businesses at Clogheen Industrial Estate – including the County Council Waste Recycling Centre -from the Lady’s Cross housing estate, the recently completed The Miles housing estate, and the nearing-completion An Sruthán Beag housing estate. At peak times, especially during the school term, this junction is already heavily congested, and this issue will only worsen as more of the new residential developments are inhabited. The solution here is not to ban further much-needed housing in the area, but a much easier one: replace the junction with a roundabout. It’s a simple solution to keep traffic flowing, and one which is already in place and working well less than 250 metres away at the junction with Western Road. While this in itself is an issue worth raising, the real question we need to ask is “why was this not done before planning permission was granted for the new developments in that area?” Why does our infrastructure always seem to arrive 5-10 years behind our need for it?

An aerial photograph showing the current junction layout at The Miles Clonakilty. Multiple red arrows depict the various routes which traffic takes via this complex junction when trying to merge with the N71.
The current junction layout in Clonakilty.
An aerial photograph depicting the junction at The Miles, Clonakilty, overlaid with a sketch of a proposed roundabout, intended to replace the current junction. A nearby junction is also marked with a proposed "Yellow Box Junction", i.e. a junction where traffic can only enter when the way ahead is clear.
A simple solution to keep traffic flowing.

Skibbereen has its own glaringly obvious issues with road infrastructure. The construction of the Community School and the huge number of new houses in the Gortnaclohy area was bound to bring increased traffic to that side of the town, regardless of what infrastructure was put in place, but the absence of a road linking Gortnaclohy directly to the N71 should be a source of embarrassment for Cork County Council. Access from the main N71 road to this area is largely via North Street, a street which has for decades been a traffic bottleneck in Skibb. The street already carries the bulk of traffic into the town, as well as onward to Baltimore – a particularly busy route in summertime – and for reasons known only to council engineers persists in being a two-way street despite only being able to cope with one-way traffic for a considerable portion of its length. The idea of funneling hundreds of extra vehicles into this already congested road is ridiculous, but alas, it is the situation we have ended up with. We need to bring about a culture of “Infrastructure First” in our planning system, not our current system of “Panic-Build Housing, Work Out The Details Later”.

Equally concerning is the absence of essential services like education alongside these residential projects. Many of our local schools are bursting at the seams, resorting to temporary pre-fab structures as they await approval for extensions from the Department of Education. Cork County Council needs to take the reins in identifying suitable sites for new schools or extensions to existing ones ahead of time, and these should be factored into all development plans. I also advocate for smarter construction, favoring multi-storey extensions to maximize classroom space while preserving precious outdoor areas for our students to play and exercise. At the moment schools tend to get permission to build 1 or 2 additional classrooms in single storey extensions, leading to schools with unnecessarily large footprints, arranged in a haphazard fashion, taking up what little outdoor play space the schools have. As well as the missed opportunity of building upwards, these buildings are, again, built when they are long overdue, with many schools finally getting permission to build just 2 new rooms long after they have surpassed that need, and they have to go through the whole process again for more rooms. School extension construction should require a degree of forward-planning, where schools are encouraged to build in a small number of excess rooms into their construction projects to stay ahead of future expansion.

Our local doctors are feeling the strain too, with new and returning residents struggling to find available GPs. While we can’t control the number of doctors in training, we can certainly make it more attractive for them to set up shop here. In areas slated for extensive residential development, we should earmark spaces for healthcare facilities in advance. By working closely with developers, we can ensure that suitable spaces for GP clinics are built. Where private buyers don’t emerge, the Council should step up, retaining ownership of these buildings and offering enticing rental rates to encourage the establishment of GP practices.

My vision for West Cork is rooted in sustainable growth and responsible planning. It’s about time we align our planning with the real needs of our communities. By taking a proactive stance on infrastructure and essential services, I will fight for a West Cork that thrives, remains accessible, and promotes the health and well-being of everyone in our community.