Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Things are not good for Waterford City right now.

The View from the Blue as printed in this week’s edition.

APOLOGIES in advance for how difficult to read this column is going to be. In August of last year, we ran a front page story with the headline “City on a Waiting List”, with the general idea that there was a queue of local developments that were seemingly on the horizon but somehow not getting any closer. With the change of Government and the Covid-19 pandemic, those things seem to be further away than ever before.

I’ll attempt to sum up quickly. We broke the story of the North Quays in 2017. At the time we were told that there were aggressive timelines and the cranes would be on site within months. Sadly, every obstacle that could present itself, did so, and brought others for company. It’s hard to believe that over three years later, we’d still be waiting for the thing to get planning permission and funding promised by the Government. The development was a key project in Ireland 2040, Fine Gael’s plan to take the heat off Dublin and build up Ireland’s other major cities. At the time of publication, Fianna Fáil were very critical of that project and were even exploring legal options to get it stopped. Now they’re in power with Fine Gael and the Green Party so despite being promised by FG in recent years that the funding was agreed “they just had to work out how they’re going to give it to us”, we now have some serious doubts. 

All along, we were told by Michael Walsh that the Michael Street Development would be built “side by side” with the North Quays. When asked at a recent council meeting if this was still the case, Mr Walsh didn’t answer positively. It seems that in all the talk of the North Quays, Michael Street has been completely forgotten. I’ve issued some questions to the relevant departments about the funding. You’ll find the answers in this newspaper as soon as I get them.

Add to that the following: Wetherspoon have put an indefinite halt to their pub developments. To many people, that’s actually great news as they weren’t exactly fans of the company and their model. However, they purchased two fairly significant pieces of property in the city centre FIVE years ago and they’ve been sitting empty and idle ever since. 

City Square is bleeding badly. Debenhams was a devastating loss to the city and I just don’t know how a unit of such a size can be replaced. Add to that the fact that they haven’t been able to fill the new unit at the front of the building and it makes for some very worrying times for the biggest shopping centre that we have. 

I’ve always believed that a county is only as good as its city. When Waterford City is thriving, the rest of the county thrives too. People want to come here, and if the offering in the city is strong enough, they’ll stay anywhere within 20 miles of it, and will sample all the delights of our county while they’re at it. The problem now is that there really isn’t any reason – beyond Penneys – for people from the South East, nevermind Dublin, Cork or Galway, to come to Waterford City.

Arguably the most important, and most depressing issue of all is the lack of a University in Waterford and the South East. We’ve been campaigning hard for one since the 1930s (and possibly earlier) and for some reason, invisible forces have been preventing it from happening all this time. For those who are not in the know, the Technological University of the South East is like being offered a trip to Trabolgan, when you’ve been campaigning for years to go to Disneyland Florida. They are asking us to lump in with a vastly inferior college – without telling us in advance why we should do it (i.e. how much funding and investment Waterford will get from the deal). At the same time, they’ll take existing faculties that are in Waterford and break them up across the South East (to justify the title of the college). 

Regardless of what anyone says to you, until we see what’s actually on the table, this is not an idea we should be going anywhere near.

And then we have 24/7 cardiac care. When Simon Harris was Minister for Health, this is the stock answer that he used to give me when I asked him about the most sensitive issue that Waterford and the South East has faced for many years. “Investment in cardiac cath labs and other cardiac services infrastructure nationally will be informed by the outcome of the National Review, which is expected to be complete by June 2019.”

That’s a year ago and the general consensus as to why it hasn’t been published is because it’s expected to find another reason to not provide 24/7 cardiac care to the South East, and no Government – especially one that was about to face the electorate again – wanted to be the ones to make that decision.

Sorry to be so depressing but it’s important that everyone knows how serious things are in Waterford right now and how much pressure is on our Tds, especially Junior Minister Butler and Deputy O’Cathasaigh.

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