Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Waterford City


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


IT has become common during the current war in Ukraine for people to ask “what would a peace settlement look like?” Or “what would success for Ukraine look like?”

There are enough opinions on either without this column adding to the chatter. Readers will hopefully forgive the focus on the local as a comforting diversion from harsher international realities. Waterford has to know what it’s aiming for, what success will look like. We have had many plans and many promises locally, which suggest that A or B should or will be done, but what is our aim in Waterford city? What would success for Waterford city look like to us? It has been designated as the “Best Place to Live In Ireland” by an Irish Times committee and that is success, but does that tell the whole story? Is that enough for us, are we happy with that? The answer to that rhetorical question is, obviously, no! We therefore have to ask what do we want as I still don’t know what success for Waterford city would look like.


‘The population for this area suggest a retail demand, which is not being met here, leading to a huge leakage of retail spend to other areas’


This column started from a palpable feeling that something was not right when Waterford was the fourth city and the third port in size in the country. A deeply held feeling was evident across the city that we were not at the races.  We lagged in state investment, job creation, in third level education, in health provision, in retail and commercial provision, strategic access and so on.

In the interim, vast sums of money have been spent here on public infrastructure, health, education and foreign direct investment. The general perception of the city has changed immeasurably. Still, the feeling persists that for Waterford there is a bridge yet to be crossed or a target attained.

There are five official cities in this country, Waterford being the smallest. Anyone who pays attention to the national media will have seen lists, which mention Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, without reference to Waterford. This really grates with locals as complaints on the subject have often been met with a smirk.

The population of the city has grown strongly in recent years but even when Waterford was much larger than Galway city in the 20th century, the western town had a higher national profile and the university and hospital facilities to go with it. State investment there was much higher than here. Remarkably, when the Regional Technical Colleges were established in the 1960s, Galway’s RTC was almost twice the size of WRTC, despite the former having a large university. Something about being perceived as sexy?

Most locals would agree that success in medical terms would be if UHW had the staff and infrastructure it needs and deserves as one of only nine Model 4 hospitals in the country. Our hospital has done extremely well in handling emergency department attendances. Trolleys are rarely, if ever, used. David Cullinane mentioned this success when questioning Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly recently.

“Why are the lessons learned in Waterford not being rolled out nationwide?” Indeed. Something to do with our profile and our hospital in the national media? Or just plain being ignored or dismissed as “another small country hospital” looking for services it should not have?

Remember the onslaught of negative Dublin led publicity when the second cath lab and 24/7 cardiology services surfaced in 2016? Remember the mortuary debacle with 20 CUH pathologists doing 800 post mortems in 2018, while four of their UHW brethren did 600? Was that glaring contrast ever mentioned in the national press?

Success for UHW management and staff would look like being acknowledged as the large, well run and extremely busy Model 4 hospital it is. No one can explain to me why Drogheda’s Model 3 hospital for example, with 200 beds less than UHW, has 100 more staff, but such disparities go to the heart of the matter.

UHW deserves an appropriate share of resources and capital development to meet its remit and role under Sláintecare and the Trauma System report, the fear being that efficiency will be dismissed with a pat on the head, while  HSE favourites will be rewarded, as always, with more staff and investment.

If SETU is to be Waterford’s university and if it is to work then it must have resources. There is no sign of the money train. Success would look like the Glass site being bought and the “new” engineering building being started with an expansion of courses into medicine and pharmacy. Anyone interested in what university success looks like should read an article in an on-line page called Limerick Live by Prof Stephen Kinsella of UL. It graphically highlights the extent to which Waterford is being short-changed.

Anyway, while we wonder what success for Waterford would look like, we all know what it does not look like. It does not look like the dreadful wreck of the glass offices, an old motorway service station canopy on the quay, the wreck of Powers Seeds on the Dunmore Road, or empty sites in Exchange Street, Thomas Street, Park Road etc. You can make your own list as you look to the future!

A pre-pandemic analysis showed Galway had the retail pull of a town of 300,000 people. A study by RIKON on retail in Waterford, highlighted in our last week’s editorial, showed a large deficit in local high end retail provision. The population for this area suggest a retail demand, which is not being met here, leading to a huge leakage of retail spend to other areas.

Success would look like having appropriate volume of high end retail in the city centre. The space is there in Arundel Square and City Square, and the names of the preferred retailers, ZARA, H&M etc are well-known, even in this age of internet retail. Success in my view looks like being politically treated like our one time peer cities of Limerick and Galway. The North Quays is a first step in that process.

The business motto says that “retail follows, it does not lead.” Much remains to be done by our own “developers” to demonstrate their view of what the future of this city looks like.

By Phoenix
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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