The Phoenix opinion column has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
THE Dáil is in recess and the “silly season” is upon us. Anything can politically happen while TDs and government are on the hols. The Machiavellian hands seeking to control things never rest and with that in mind it was interesting to see a tender from SETU last week, advertised from Carlow: “SETU is now seeking the assistance of experienced consultants to provide support and advisory services in relation to the development of the first Strategic Plan for the University.
“Additionally, advisory services are required in relation to the design of the most optimal organisational structure appropriate for the delivery of the strategy plan. The contract will be awarded in two lots, namely: 1. Development of the Strategic Plan, 2. Organisational Design.”
Not, mind you, that people in this neck of the woods are in any way concerned about regional politics, but as Sherlock Holmes would say, “the game’s afoot!”
‘The population of our city increased by almost 7,000 in the last census and anything that would release homes for families should be a priority’
The future of Waterford city as a regional city is at stake… again even though Census ‘22 population growth highlights the fact that it is the only urban area in the South East with any legitimate claim to developing critical mass. All the more reason, I expect, why intra-regional politics may get even more difficult and entrenched?
With the new SETU president, chairman and board now in situ, one would have imagined that the SETU Strategic Plan element would have been led from Waterford, even if only for the optics?
Meanwhile, it was good to see a planning application locally from Tony Robinson for a 94-bed student residence in the Lacken Road area. It is obvious, as Templar’s Hall has shown, that student life and normal family life don’t sit too easily together, so expect an outbreak of NIMBYISM in any event. That news was compounded by a story from Carl O’Brien in the Irish Times that the government may have to fund thousands of on-campus student beds because of construction cost inflation. DCU, for example, has planning for over two years for 1,240 student beds but has been unable to proceed for cost reasons.
SETU Waterford Student Union head Patrick Curtin is saying that they are in talks with hotels because on-campus beds are fully booked. Whether this idea is counterproductive in terms of attracting students to Waterford or not is unclear at this stage. It’s all part of the “something’s going to be done” malaise that has hurt this city over the years. Endless promises that something will be done with the old Glass factory site, with the mess behind the old Yellow House pub, with the Ardree site, with the foundry site at Bilberry, with Exchange Street, with Jenkin’s Lane and so on, have evaporated. There always seems to be a reason why something cannot happen. Covid may have delayed things over the past couple of years but it cannot be used as an excuse for the kind of dereliction now obvious at the old Power Seeds building on the Dunmore Road.
The population of our city increased by almost 7,000 in the last census and anything that would release homes for families should be a priority. Purpose-built student housing is obvious in that case, as students could be decanted from domestic type property better used to house families. Maybe Mr Robinson’s planning application is a sign that the development inertia, which has hurt this city, is coming to an end? Wexford papers recently carried news that their county council has commenced CPO proceedings on a 50-acre site at Drinagh, near Wexford town, for a SETU campus. The time scale to come to fruition is anyone’s guess. Current whispers are that nothing can be seen to happen in Waterford until the Wexford site is available, or, Simon Harris being an Fine Gael minister, until Leo Varadkar takes over as Taoiseach. People like Senator John Cummins must be fully aware of how bad the delay appears. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is also being blamed, as they are a politically controlled organisation. The procurement situation for Waterford is really opaque.
In any event, it’s interesting to see how government money seems to be no object to any development in the Dublin area for medical, educational or cultural projects. The money hosed at the Children’s Hospital and proposed for the new National Maternity Hospital are eye-watering. The nominal cost of Metro North at €9.5 billion with a possible €23 billion being the final sum, is literally fantastical. Something is wrong. One billion in investment over a five-year period would deliver everything to UHW and SETU that we might need, but the struggle to attain such investment is endless. In the cultural space, where Waterford City and County Council have led the way with museum development, it is interesting that a museum in Dublin’s Customs House, which cost €1.8 million to create what is described as a “flagship experience in the Dublin docklands”, had attracted 11,000 visitors since opening. It was originally proposed to charge €6 entry per adult but the museum is now free. Just like the National Museum in Collins Barracks. Free admission, while international quality museums in Waterford city are expected to pay their way, or “wash their face” in that awful bean counting phrase!
Another museum is proposed for the magazine fort in the Phoenix Park and for the old Garda Bridewell station. The OPW has also run into bother on the proposed Children’s Science Museum, which had an indicative cost in 2007 of €37 million. Difficulty over contracts mean they may still have to build it at Heaven knows what current cost. Amazing how the OPW seems able to find projects to support there, while their involvement in Waterford city is invisible. The weeds of all sizes growing from the cornice of the Custom House and GPO on our Quay, are testament to that.
It’s easy to understand, in some respects, why local developers are nervous of spending their own cash on any development in Waterford, when the state seems relatively disengaged from the needs of this small city. Serious investment in UHW and SETU Waterford (as politically promised) would break the logjam.