Irish Examiner - 21/12/05
THE Port of Cork company recently released a plan showing some outline proposals for the development of a container port at Ringaskiddy.
The sight of a small diagram in that proposal causes me some alarm. It shows plans to in-fill a considerable area of Monkstown Bay in the lower harbour.
Cork does not need extra acreage to develop, even as a major port. It just needs to value the resources it has.
That little diagram makes me think that the existing resources at Cork may not be fully appreciated and that, possibly, a strategic error may be about to be made in the port’s development.
Nature, while generously giving Cork a beautiful and large harbour, has been more parsimonious in providing areas of level ground near sea level which are also in immediate proximity to deep water.
Such land is a prerequisite for port development and at Cork it’s in short supply. Because of this limitation, a large shallow-water area was in-filled to about a metre above high water at Ringaskiddy years ago.
Much of this new land is now used for the parking of newly-imported cars and vans. A nautical college has been built on part of it and a toxic waste incinerator is planned to be built hard by it.
Given the great potential of Cork as a port, it is important that strategically priceless land like this should only be used for primary port-related activities that cannot take place elsewhere. Car-parking and incineration do not qualify: the marshalling of containers does. Only when the existing acreage is properly and fully utilised would it become necessary to make more acreage by in-fill.
The ideal port location is of course at a triple-point location where deep-water interfaces not just with the road system but also with rail. Ringaskiddy is not at a railhead. But such a triple-point location does exist in Cork harbour - at Marino Point. Coincidentally, this large site has recently seen its resident industry close down and is now lying idle. Surely this site is the most appropriate one on which to build Cork’s new container port.
In heavy transport terms a railhead is a priceless resource, and the transport of containers by rail takes lorries off the roads - all of which has road safety and environmental benefits.
Amazingly, it appears that this superb site may be about to be passed over in favour of an intertidal mud bank in Monkstown Bay.
The development of Cork’s downstream container port should be at Marino Point and, if and when that facility is at full capacity, then the existing land resource at Ringaskiddy should be developed. Containers could be readily shuttled between these two nodes on self-propelled lighters.
Cork’s location - at the point where the North Atlantic meets western Europe - gives it huge potential as a port. This suggests that the existing upstream container port facilities - with the railhead at Tivoli - are also best retained in public ownership for the future of the port.
Sensible Corkonians will naturally approve of the correct and careful strategic development of their harbour and the benefits of increased trade. But they have a responsibility to disapprove of developments that are simply wrong.
Regrettably, from toxic incinerators to the possibility of poorly thought-out container port development, Cork’s lower harbour may be setting up to bear - long into the future - the bitter fruits of today’s shabby strategic thinking.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment