Thursday, October 10, 2019

THE relocation of Plunkett Railway Station onto the North Quays, which had been previously estimated at between €28 and €30 million, has skyrocketed to €50 million, according to the Department of Transport. This unexpected cost hike was disclosed to “shocked” Waterford Oireachtas members on Thursday last during a meeting in which Department officials declared that it couldn’t justify such a standalone allocation from its budget given the cost base involved.

However, as of Friday last, the relevant Secretaries General of the Government Departments party to the North Quay proposal – Transport and Housing, Planning & Local Government – had yet to officially meet to specifically discuss the proposed train station relocation.

This newspaper understands that the greater financial competency in relation to the Transport Hub’s development lies with the Department of Housing, as opposed to the Department of Transport.

‘Fringe’ discussions between officials in relation to the project have taken place, but the absence of an official meeting heretofore came as a disappointment to Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler.

Speaking to the Waterford News & Star, Deputy Butler said the Department of Transport had indicated it “couldn’t support that part (the €50 million element)” of the North Quay proposal.

However, she added: “They’re very much supportive of the project and are prepared to get involved in other elements of the plan; so maybe in relation to funding the pedestrian bridge over the Suir to link both quays or maybe in terms of associated road works in Ferrybank (at the Abbey Road, for example), they could justify that level of funding but they couldn’t justify investing €50 million on the transfer of the train station 400 metres across the road.”

It’s also believed this was the first time such a funding estimate for the proposed relocation was put to local representatives by the Transport Department.

Minister of State John Halligan, along with local Oireachtas members, is due to meet with the Department of Transport’s Secretary General (and former Waterford Airport CEO) Graham Doyle this week. Speaking in the wake of last Thursday’s meeting, Minister Halligan stated: “All of the departments have said that this (North Quay) project will be funded. It will be funded. People may have said that the initial €6 million (via the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund) was small but it was still the biggest single allocation given anywhere in the country and the government is certainly not going to give €6 million and then leave it there. The Taoiseach himself, on a number of occasions, has mentioned Waterford as being the progressive city, as the city that, on a regional basis, needs to be developed further and part of that regional development involves the North Quays. So there’s a lot to play for yet, there’s a lot of meetings to take place yet because this is substantial money we’re talking about.”

When asked if the overall project was in any doubt, Minister Halligan replied: “I don’t think so because the Government have committed to financing it. When you’re looking for substantial money, no government will simply say ‘there it is for you’ if you ask for, say, €10 million. It doesn’t work like that.”

Sounding his own concerns on the issue, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said it was time for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to intervene in the process.

“It was clear from a meeting held between the Department of Transport and local Oireachtas members that they are supportive of the project and stand ready to help,” he said. “They outlined elements of the project they can support and elements they cannot support. What is required here is clarity and certainty. Clarity on what each Department will fund and certainty on when and how they will fund it. This requires further dialogue between the Departments… so I am asking the Taoiseach to directly intervene and ensure that the funding needed is granted to ensure the project does not slip from our grasp.”

For its part, Iarnród Éireann told this newspaper in July: “While we were advised that the full project would be funded by (the) developer and local authority, we are of course open to discussing the funding of rail elements.”

Funding the cost of moving services from Plunkett Station onto Waterford’s North Quay has skyrocketed over the past two years.

An artist’s impression of the proposed Transport Hub on the North Quays.

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