The View from the Blue, which appears in this week’s edition.
I’M possibly the most cynical person in Waterford. As a journalist, there are times when I’m accused of being too negative. Certain business people don’t like the News & Star because they think we’re obsessed with bad news. They want positive stories on the front. Ones about (here are some suggestions I’ve received) – beaches with blue flags, a corner shop celebrating 25 years in business, a child winning an Irish dancing competition and a company that makes the handles for something or another. Don’t get me wrong, these are good, valuable stories, but they don’t sell newspapers. Then, on the other side, there are people who accuse us of inflating stories about the North Quays, Michael Street, The Ard Ri etc. Apparently we create “unreal expectations”.
Well, let me tell you, somewhere in the middle of those two worlds, you have me, not looking for a positive or a negative story… but an original one. From day one, that’s all I’ve ever cared about. Whether it’s good news or bad, I honestly don’t care.
I do take the point though, about splashing big stories that will probably never happen. Let’s take the North Quays as an example. Whenever we post a story about the North Quays on Facebook, about 30% of the people who reply will say “it’s never going to happen”. Another 30% will go on about the Ferrybank Shopping Centre, which of course has absolutely nothing to do with Waterford. But anyway.
I’m starting to lose patience with the North Quays development, and I’ll tell you why. Last week, when planning was approved, it was positive, yeah, but it was hardly earth shattering news. The Council – who are major stakeholders in this development – were hardly going to refuse planning permission now were they? That’s not the news we’re all waiting for. When it comes to the North Quays there are only two questions I want the answers to.
For those that don’t know – and there are a few out there – in order for the North Quays to happen, the infrastructure around the development needs to be appropriate. Roads have to be widened, access needs to be created and, essentially, it needs to be future proof so that it can manage millions of visitors a year. At the moment, the Ferrybank dual carriageway struggles to manage a busy Friday afternoon so you can see why so much work is required.
The Council and other stakeholders applied to the Government’s Urban Regeneration and Development Fund in 2018, seeking €104.5 million, so that they could build that infrastructure (which also includes a new pedestrian bridge). So far, they’ve been given €6 million and the National Transport Authority have also given a little over €13 million. That’s still a far cry from €104.5 million.
One of the Directors of Falcon Real Estate Management is on record as saying that if the Government don’t commit to the money by November 2019, they’re out of here. That was extended to March, and then Covid happened. No further funding was forthcoming. So here’s question one: Are the Government going to commit to providing the funding, and if so, when?
I don’t want to frighten anyone here, but the Government really don’t care about this project. You know how I know that? 22 months ago, they issued a statement to me, essentially saying why they haven’t committed to funding yet. Last Wednesday, they issued a statement to David Cullinane telling him why they hadn’t committed to the funding – and the f**king statement was the exact same – WORD FOR WORD. This means that they haven’t moved on this project, even an inch, in 22 months. What’s more worrying is that even though they highlight the North Quays as a key project in their Project 2040 plan, they have said on the record that “the advancement of the North Quays Project is, in the first instance, a matter for Waterford City and County Council”. That’s not very supportive now is it? So yeah, that’s question one – why aren’t you publicly supporting the project?
Question two is about the developers. They seem to talk a good talk, and there’s no doubt that they have spent a few bob to date on this development, and they’ve certainly been more than patient… but… let’s be honest, how much do we actually know about them? If they were a billion euro company that was so sure about the success of this development, why don’t they loan the infrastructure money to the council? I know it’s not your job to build roads, but if the North Quays is going to be the game changer that you say it will, why not build a bridge, and the roads, and then we’ll pay you back with all the rates that we’re sure to earn in the first few years. I don’t think that’s so far fetched, especially when the group thought that they’d have the thing built and all by December 2019.