small-medium port cities regeneration - challenges and answers

How is it possible to link a Benchspace to the regeneration of a Port? It is, according to Tony Farell, director of the Benchspace in Cork, a co-making space that was established to provide affordable access to workbenches and professional standard machinery to hobbyists, makers and designers. This co-making community workshop is currently located in the Southern Docklands of Cork in one of the sites that are scheduled to be developed into a new business area, as part of the regeneration process of the port.

With its history going back to the 6th century, Cork is Ireland’s second-largest economic region and the second busiest port in Ireland. This port-city is now scheduled to undergo a major regeneration process that will increase the ports’ capacity, change the existing transport infrastructure and provide more visitor attractions and facilities. Development projects also foresee new buildings for offices and housing in and around the historic port area.

But at the same time, Cork is confronted with a number of development challenges in implementing this large-scale regeneration. Fragmented ownership, reallocation of the current users and the planned combination of office spaces with residential uses are some of them. According to the director of Benchspace, this development may force SMEs and initiatives like his to reallocate due to the increase of the rental costs, unless there are initiatives put in place to help retain these uses.  

To address some of these issues, Cork City Council formed a partnership with the City of Aalborg, Brest Metropole, and the municipality of Catania in a promising ESPON targeted analysis on sustainable urbanisation through port city regeneration - called ENSURE (EuropeaN Sustainable Urbanisation through port city REgeneration).

The four partner cities are facing similar challenges and opportunities in their efforts to use the regeneration of their former port areas as a stimulus to revive their economy and increase the attractiveness of their cities. With ENSURE project, the partners identify the potential outcomes and impacts of port and waterfront regeneration in their cities and aim to become leading examples of sustainable urban planning.

The partnership met on 5-6 November 2019 in Cork to discuss the findings of the project, ahead of the submission of the final report. The research consortium of Ramboll Management Consulting, University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Palermo presented among other findings a comparative analysis of the four port cities, based on the cities’ planning regimes and the participation of stakeholders in the implementation process.

According to this presentation, in Aalborg local authorities have full responsibility for physical planning. Brest Metropole is driving the regeneration within a framework of multi-stakeholder local planning policies. In Catania, the port and the city share the responsibility of the waterfront planning, which results in a planning process. In Cork, the city is the primary driver of regeneration planning but numerous agencies from various scales of government are involved and the city depends on the national government to deliver the necessary infrastructure.  These different approaches lead also to different direct and indirect results:

For Aalborg and Brest, a more varied housing supply, the cultural activities and flagship projects have led to a growing population and tourism. New jobs are also expected because of the increased attractiveness of the city.

In Catania, unplanned projects and outcomes have had negative development impacts in terms of an undesired urban development. Finally, in Cork, an increased economic and demographic growth is foreseen from market-driven investments.

Partners are quite positive for the expected results of the project, including a step by step handbook to port city regeneration that capitalizes knowledge from 25 best practices around Europe.

The meeting ended with a visit to the Blackrock Castle, a landmark coastal defence fortification from the 16th century that has now been turned into an open to the public astronomy center equipped among others with a radio telescope to observe the nearby galaxies. Maybe an example of a successful change of use preserving the history and re-inventing the future?

See more photos of the meeting