The planning permission is so vast that it cost over €120,000 to print and will need to be delivered by lorry
THE North Quays story has been a long one. News of the €500m mixed use development first broke in March 2017, but talks in relation to the project were ongoing up to six months prior to that. Since then there’s been funding submissions, objections, appeals, surveys and a substantial amount of behind-the-scenes work that may never be fully revealed.
This week, the Waterford News & Star spoke to some of the players involved in the project – on and off the record – to discover the current status of the development and how likely it was that it would commence in 2019.
“Michael Walsh (Waterford City & Council Chief executive) has told Falcon Real Estates Development to drive on, and let Council worry about funding,” a senior official on the Council’s North Quays team said. “They know that they probably won’t get the full €105 million that has been requested but they’ve been assured that they will get a substantial amount of it over the next 4-5 years. Measures have already been taken to fill any funding gaps that may occur.”
The official told the Waterford News & Star that the Government apologised for the delay in announcing the second tranche of funding but said it “won’t be much longer”.
“Too much has been said about this project by Government officials – including the Taoiseach himself – for them to let us down on the funding,” the official added. “There has been lots of lobbying done by the Council, Chamber, Government representatives etc and all of the soundbites coming back to us have been positive.”
Architect Niall Harrington of Fewer Harrington & Partners, who has been involved with the project since day one, told the Waterford News & Star that the length of time that it was taking to reach planning was “inevitable”.
“We lodged a planning application for 69 Respond houses in Kilbarry in 2017 and it’s only now that we’re building them,” he said. “This is a 1.2 million square foot development and there have been challenges along the way that people wouldn’t even think about. For example, where do we put the pipework under the buildings as we’re on a wharf with no ground. We can’t go below the wharf level because we’re interfering with the flood plain. We get around them all but these are challenges that have to be managed.”
Other challenges mentioned including the rather absurd image of architects having to dive into the River Suir, with close to zero visibility, to make sure there’s nothing important that could potentially be damaged during construction.
“The planning application for the North Quays is going to shock people,” Niall said. “The documents, which cost over €120k just to print are so vast that they will have to be delivered to the Council offices by truck. This is 1.2 million sq ft, over a 17 acre site that’s going to change the face of Waterford forever, going in as one application.”
Senior Planner at Waterford City & County Council Paul Kelly told the Waterford News & Star that they were expecting the application to be the largest they’ve ever received but would “treat it like any other application.”
“It’s going to be significant, there’s no doubt about that, but we will treat it like we would any other application,” he said. Asked whether his department would have to hire additional people to handle the application (every page of the application needs to be stamped by council) he said they wouldn’t. “When it’s received the whole application is scanned and uploaded and that part of the job is outsourced to another company. It’s going to be big, we know that, but we are fully prepared for it.”
Another reason for the size of the application, according to Niall Harrington, is that they have to make sure that everything is 100% right.
“There are a number of environmental issues relating to a project like this, and they take up a huge portion of the application,” he said. “You have the river – a special area of conservation, and the train line, which is a health and safety nightmare because of signalling etc, so this all contributes to a very restrictive site in which to work in.”
Notwithstanding those issues, Niall says that he’s confident that planning will be approved.
“We have a framework document for this project that essentially says if you do A, B or C you’ll get your planning,” he said. “We have the guidelines and we’ve ensured that we created the application within those guidelines. I know it’s taken time to get to where we are now, but we’re here now and it’s the start of something very exciting.”
Niall says that he has showed the project to people outside of Waterford and they’ve been “blown away by it”.
“It’s hard when you’ve been knee deep in it for so long, but when you take a step back and look at it from the outside, you’ll see that it’s actually a fantastic scheme,” he said. “I’ve shown others who have praised the contemporary design and how reflective it is of the existing city. They love the architecture of not only the buildings, but the spaces, which affords huge potential, especially with regard to linking it with the greenway.”
We leave the final word for now with the senior official who asked what my “worst case scenario” was for the project. “Falcon Real Estate Development packing up and leaving,” I replied.
“As far as we’re concerned, Falcon are full steam ahead with this project and are as excited about it as the rest of us,” the official said. “However, if the worst should happen, it won’t be the end of the North Quays. When this project gets planning, it will be extremely desirable and there will be a queue of people waiting to develop it.”
Exciting times ahead.