Tuesday, November 26, 2019

John Roberts Square, Waterford city.


The Phoenix opinion column, which has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years


THE opening of the new Vault wine bar/café, at the former Bank of Ireland premises in the Applemarket, continues the process of change in that area. Some non-entertainment retailers continue in operation there but you wonder how long will that continue? Will they be eventually replaced by outlets more in tune with the developing appeal of the area?

UK comedian and author David Mitchell wrote recently that, “Living online is disconnecting people from consequences. They want shops that aren’t boarded up and aren’t just bookies and charity shops, yet everyone is simultaneously militating against that by buying things from Amazon.”

Anyone reading social media comments about Waterford city can see the same attitude, yet there will always be a future for traditional city centres. They will be different perhaps, but people like to congregate and meet in social circumstances. The Applemarket roof is an exotic feature which is prevented from reaching its full potential by the continuation of traffic through the area. It is instructive to sit in a window there and watch the traffic speed up John Street. The new Vault wine bar sits next to the old bank car park.


‘Anyone reading social media comments about Waterford city can see the same attitude, yet there will always be a future for traditional city centres… people like to congregate and meet in social circumstances.’


Originally the proposal was that the bank would be built facing the Applemarket with a car park entrance opening onto Parnell Street. City planners opposed that. If the site was ever redeveloped, that’s the way it should be done with a hotel or some such facing the Applemarket and underground car parking facing Parnell Street, but that’s another day’s work. We need hotel accommodation in the city and not just along the quays. Imagine if the Broad Street Centre was a fine hotel?


A recovering economy

Cllr Eddie Mulligan has published economic data about the local economy which is quite startling and frightening. Unemployment is nearly 50% higher than the state average at 7.3% versus 5.1%. Earnings are low as is disposable income. Waterford had an economic collapse between 2008 and 2011. The recovery has been slow.

In 2011 Fine Gael promised, in power, a university for Waterford. They did not deliver and have given a veto to Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford on the project. They have simultaneously built up Carlow IT, hacked 25% off the WIT budget and undermined UHW. Waterford’s two economic supports were crippled.

The Fine Gael response to our economic crisis was to run in, like the worst of bullies, and kick us while we were down. It was and is a disgusting example of Irish regional politics at its worst. When the Glass closed, JM Hearn in his history says that a huge problem with those made redundant was low educational attainment and lack of transferable skills. Notwithstanding that, when Digital closed in Galway, the government decamped (plus IDA) to the USA to find a replacement. When the Glass closed I think the politicians cheered. “That’ll put manners on them!”

Everyone acknowledges that jobs have been created here by the IDA and other agencies over the past decade, but the underlying data and trends, published by the South East Economic Monitor (SEEM), cannot be disputed. IDA job creation has lagged considerably behind other centres and regions.


The Red Iron

I went to see the wonderful Jim Nolan Play “The Red Iron”.  It reminded me of the halcyon days of Red kettle with its infectious enthusiasm and local community involvement, although the play could be anywhere. That’s its appeal. Garter Lane is magnificent, and the three adjacent pubs, Tom Maher’s, Tully’s and Walsh’s offer a great vibe.

A site between Tully’s and Hanover Street, formerly occupied by the Stitchcraft shop, is vacant since 1969/70. Painting the rough concrete blocks facing the street fools no one. It’s empty for fifty years in the city centre. 50 years! What does that say about our planners? Why is it not taken from whatever “speculator” owns it and put to some use?  Are our planners afraid to tackle some people? We have a council economic development/planning department. Do they even know where the site is? Who monitors these sites around town? What action will be taken? Will they be idle in 50 more years?

It is heart-breaking to see T&H Doolan’s closed and slowly sinking into the mire.  If the owners have no interest in developing it they should sell it. It looks like a property play and nothing else, waiting for values to increase.  It’s great that plans for a boutique hotel at 44 Merchant’s Quay, with an entrance into O’Connell Street, have been approved. This could add greatly to the street. It’s very hard to understand in terms of urban vitality why Dooley’s Hotel does not have an entrance onto O’Connell Street to help enliven that area? Some small businesses are still emerging with a lovely new Italian café in Berfrank’s on Coal Quay and a nice new boutique in the former Cummins and Stone shop in Conduit Lane. Meanwhile, suburban retail received another boost with news of the opening of Danish Jysk retailer on the Cork Road next February.

The Wadding family have sold the City Arms in High Street. Again, on the hotel warpath, the adjacent surface car park site would make a wonderful in-town hotel with parking underneath for sixty or seventy cars. Surface car parking ruins a city. The only current construction in the city centre is on the Tower Hotel. A Bord Pleanala appeal may derail their bigger plans.

We have bet the house on the North Quays. I do not agree with its huge retail element. The project is exciting, but that single focus, albeit well meant, is causing deeply damaging development inertia across the city centre.  We cannot wait for two or three more years for “something” to happen. North Quays delay is killing us. It is partly caused by normal administrative process and government funding delay, but the city centre cannot take more of this “Waiting for Godot.” Without early action in 2020 on Michael Street as an indication of confidence, by the time anything materialises on the North Quays, we may be reviving a corpse.


Size matters?

The RCSI recently published new Irish research suggesting outcomes for many patients requiring emergency surgery are better when the operation is done by busier surgeons.

“Patients who undergo the most common form of emergency surgery, to the abdomen, are more likely to survive when operated on by a surgeon performing high volumes of work.” Others suggest that outcomes are good regardless of where high volume teams are based. They do not all have to be in Cork, Galway or Dublin!

Currently, 26 hospitals provide surgical services in Ireland. In many smaller hospitals the volume of work is low. In Finland (same population) only 10 hospitals provide surgery. RCSI president and study co-author Ken Mealy said the finding has “huge implications” that need to be considered by the HSE, hospital groups and at political level. He says it bolsters the case for reducing the number of hospitals providing critical surgery services.

Similar sentiments were heard at the time when the hospital groups emerged. Any sensible person understood that the southeast hospital network based on Model 4 UHW with Model 3 hospitals in Clonmel, Kilkenny and Wexford feeding was ideal, but fear in those places of loss of services to UHW caused powerful politicians to create a situation where they dealt with Dublin. UHW was all but crippled but has ended up still providing services to the same network and Sláintecare programmes suggest this should continue.

Some sense may now be emerging around investment and resourcing of UHW. A recent meeting of Oireachtas members with HSE personnel indicated that mortuary construction, second cath lab development and an ophthalmology facility were agreed.  Much more needs to happen around orthopaedics, which is the busiest such unit in the country and diabetes treatment as well as other specialties. We often hear criticism of UHW but most agree that staff and services (when admitted) are excellent. Many would also add underappreciated. The real problem is a criminal and deliberate under resourcing which has been dismally and shabbily led from Cork.

A recent serious road traffic accident saw a patient in UHW undergo a marathon seven hour operation by a dedicated surgical team which ended with life changing positive results for the patient involved.  HSE CEO Paul Reid may not have heard about this on his recent UHW visit and speed dating conversations with staff, but we forget that UHW, despite recent attempts to downgrade and denude it of tertiary services, is a vital cog in Ireland’s acute medical provision and delivers excellent outcomes to thousands of people in the south east each year. Its profile, like our own, has always been downplayed, as if excellence cannot exist here. A national (medical sector) union boss recently referred to it on radio as Waterford General Hospital, while in reality it’s one of Ireland’s biggest hospitals. Have Fine Gael ever publicly acknowledged UHW’s vital role?


Waterford got F…all?

Those sentiments were addressed by John Halligan to his Independent Alliance colleagues over the November 2019 regional allocation of Sports Capital funding. Waterford got nothing he says while south Dublin, including believe it or not, UCD, received very substantial sums. Mr Halligan is a Dept. of Education minister. If he wants to make a real mark he should ensure that the new engineering building at WIT Cork Road campus which received planning permission recently would proceed immediately to construction. WIT has not had a cent invested in new teaching space in 15 years. Fine Gael slashed Its budget by 25%. UL has had €200 million investment in the past five years. Mr Halligan should pay attention to the big asks of this constituency. While the relatively small sports grants are political grist to the mill for all politicians, big ticket items make the difference.

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By Phoenix
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