Tuesday, July 14, 2020

PLANNING approval for the North Quays was inevitable given the Strategic Development Zoning (SDZ) granted under the Fine Gael/Labour coalition. Now comes the tough part.

The follow-through on the initial promise that the Falcon Real Estate Management plan for expanding Waterford’s city centre was always likely to prove a more onerous task, all the more so during a pandemic.

As we report this week, our two coalition TDs, Mary Butler and Marc Ó Cathasaigh, have voiced their fulsome support for the delivery of Government funding which would signal the go-ahead of the €500 million project before the year’s end.

Both Deputies David Cullinane and Matt Shanahan are four square behind the development, while Senator John Cummins has categorically backed the North Quays plan from day one.

With three of our five Oireachtas members now part of the new Government and given Deputy Shanahan’s vote for Micheál Martin as Taoiseach, there’s also a great deal of political capital riding on the delivery of the project.

While the €6m allocated towards the development of the Sustainable Transport Bridge in November 2018 via the Urban Regional Development Fund (URDF) was welcome, it only represented a sliver of the State’s required funding pie for the North Quays.

At least €100m will need to be released from those coffers to make this remarkable proposal a reality. Now is the time for prompt Government action, not something Waterford has historically benefited from. If anyone across the city and county remains slightly cynical about this project materialising, one could hardly blame them.

The numbers in relation to the North Quays are astounding: almost 3,000 full-time jobs are envisaged within the site by 2023, while 4,500 indirect posts are also projected.

According to Falcon, the project, if fully supported, would benefit from “over €139m of public infrastructure funding and over €350m of private investment up to 2023 which will see over €272m returned to the exchequer in the build phase, and upon opening, will create a net annual benefit to taxpayers of over €107 million a year.” Truly mind-bending stuff.

The blank canvas which the North Quays has represented for so, so long now has a wealthy developer with a comprehensive design plan in place. The SDZ site now has planning approval by Waterford City & County Council, which has already pumped millions of Euro into readying the site for its transformation.

The linking of the Waterford and Kilkenny Greenways via the Sustainable Transport Bridge, the realigning of the road network accessing the site in addition to the relocation of Plunkett Railway Station all make for tantalising prospects.

Delivery on this site would not only ensure a brighter future for this city and region, but it would also ensure that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would face into their respective futures in Waterford with an enhanced level of confidence.

Should this project not be delivered on their joint watch, then the fate of their future local and general election candidates in particular would rest on wafer thin ice. For its part, the Green Party would also surely be swept out in such a wash.

However, the only flag anyone should be flying when it comes to this project is white and blue. Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar, it’s over to you. We’ll be watching.

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