Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Taoiseach Leo Varadker, speaking at the ground breaking ceremony for Waterford’s North Quays development. Photo: Joe Evans


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


IN what was a great day for Waterford, Taoiseach Varadkar and a gaggle of ministers turned the sod for the North Quays project. The SDZ for the area was announced seven years ago with Paudie Coffey to the forefront in securing that designation. In the interim, our council bet the house on the project. Everything on red, a massive gamble! Had it not happened, the blow to the city would have been immense. The relief was emotional and palpable.

Darragh O’Brien, who was present with Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan at the ceremony, came across as a good minister and would make a good Fianna Fáil leader. Michael Martin has been a good Taoiseach but is unable to countenance anything in Waterford’s health or education agenda that might impact in any way on UCC or Cork. Rural Taoisigh carry too much baggage.

Investment of this magnitude has been very scarce here over the years and all parties are keen to share in the credit, but this city is either a cornerstone (no matter how small) of national, regional development policy, or it is not. If it is, then much else should follow. We need headline investment in health, education, IDA Foreign Direct Investment and public infrastructure. The North Quays investment falls in the latter category. Overall, the picture is rather like the curate’s egg, good in parts!


‘Investment of this magnitude has been very scarce here over the years and all parties are keen to share in the credit’


No place in Ireland waits for Waterford. We lag dramatically behind our once peer cities of Galway and Limerick and the gap is obvious. Our entire council should be bussed to both places to see the gap.

In pursuit of the North Quays project, the lapsed Michael Street shopping centre was unfortunately linked with it, with resulting development inertia as retailers postponed decisions on locating in the city centre for fear of being in the wrong future retail core. The results are glaring.

The past seven years has been very unkind to New Street, Back Lane, Browne’s Lane and so on. It is upsetting to see a site under the city walls in Browne’s Lane used as a car sales lot. We must do better than that.

Vacant sites in Exchange Street, Jenkin’s lane, Bolton Street, Rose Lane and so on are not barometers of success. The old Post Office sorting shed on the corner of Keizer Street and High Street, a crucial historic location, defies description. The council own it. Why has it not been redeveloped?

The partly developed site at the corner of the Waterside and John Street contains the remains of St John’s Gate. If the work is not to be completed then it should be converted into a pocket park. It can’t be left as an ugly concrete slab. One part of John Street, including the former Delicato’s chip shop, Sinnott’s Records and old Boston Cleaners, is in utterly shameful condition. Have the owners never heard of routine maintenance of property on a public street?

Council has done a nice job on a pocket amenity site in Railway Square, but some sort of scheme for Parnell Street has to be developed. The overhead wires, battered ESB poles of all ages with ugly lamp standards, speak of depressed rural Ireland rather than a city with ambition. Does anyone see this stuff?

If Lombard Street is not to be left to rot then the owners of the former Royal Bar and adjacent property must be tackled. Property formerly in good condition, which could house people, is being allowed to decay. And as for the Ardree Hotel, it has had such a deleterious impact on Waterford. If it dominated the Parade in Kilkenny, local pride would have forced the owners to do something with it. As it is, it is shameful beyond words.

While in Waterford, Mr Varadkar visited UHW. I hope management did not shirk from speaking truth to power. The Archus report on the needs of the hospital is complete but not circulated. UHW has been to the forefront in managing A&E trolley numbers and wait times. Staff have worked hard on waiting lists. The hospital has been praised for its efforts, but the investment in new beds, services and just plain space has not arrived. Prefabs have!

It’s worth recalling that UHW opened in 1993 some 30% smaller than planned. Tallaght Hospital, built at the same time with the same number of beds and basically the same remit, was twice the physical size of UHW. In Ireland, he who shouts loudest gets the attention. Will UHW be overlooked again?

There are four completed planning permissions, which impact on its development. None have made it to construction. Minister Mary Butler announced a new psychiatric unit for UHW three years ago. It has vanished into the ether. The opening of the second cath lab and the delivery of 24/7 cardiology, a pillar of Fianna Fáil election promises, seem no nearer reality. Does Minister Butler accept any responsibility for the delay? Might we ask for a progress report?

Mr Varadkar also visited SETU Waterford last week. He passed the glass site, which has been partially cleaned up. Did he recall his “hints” of February 2021 about the site and expansion of the WIT “footprint”? Now apparently “sale agreed”. Will this evolve into another monstrous delay amid toxic government procurement bilge?

Simon Harris has fled the Further Education scene to play toy soldiers with the Gardaí. A new engineering building for SETU on the Cork Road is nearly two decades in gestation. It was pulled in 2019 from the first tranche of such projects. Harris told us it would commence in Quarter 1 of 2023. Where is it? New courses, such as veterinary, must now be competed for on an open basis between all universities, new and old, without any thought of regional development and funding equity. What chance has WIT/SETU when its existing basic facilities have been so under resourced for so long?

Fine Gael ministers have overseen the non-development of WIT/SETU in three successive programmes for Government since 2011 without a cent being spent there (despite the political garbage you hear locally). When is it our turn?

By Phoenix
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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