In 2030, Waterford city could be an economic focal point for foreign investment for the south-east, according to a recently published report – as long as those responsible for its future planning prepare adequately.

The city shall form the end point of an ‘eastern economic corridor’ running to Belfast, predicted to provide Ireland with “its best opportunity to maintain a competitive position among the city-regions of an increasingly competitive Europe”.

‘Twice the Size? Imagineering the future of Irish gateways,’ which was compiled by the Futures Academy at the Dublin Institute of Technology, details differing socio-economic forecasts for Waterford’s future.

In the report’s foreword, Professor John S Ratcliffe and Conor Skehan write that changing socio-economic factors will lead to two-thirds of the island’s population being concentrated within 25 kilometres of the east coast.

However, they continue, “there is no evidence of any plans to provide for this future”.

The authors believe that the current National Spatial Strategy is counterproductive “because it will divert resources away from the (eastern) region that will probably sustain the economic growth necessary to transfer funds to less advantaged areas”.

Ask Ratcliffe and Skehan: “Are we damaging the future prospects for those concentrations of economic activities that sustain the rest of the country through fund transfers?”

The benefits of strategic planning

The report adopts a ‘future studies’ approach, in the belief that “time and effort spent on strategic thinking prior to strategic planning ultimately pays enormous dividends”.

The first future economic scenario detailed in the report foresees the following major developments in Waterford over the next two decades:

* A new pedestrian/cyclist city centre bridge (already envisaged by the City Council)

* WIT’s long-awaited upgrade to University status in 2013, and its subsequent emerging reputation as a leading school of archaeology given the Viking finds at Woodstown

* The city population exceeding 100,000 people by 2025, and

* The development of a 30,000 seater, covered GAA stadium on the north bank of the Suir.

However, a note of caution is also sounded, as climate change will increase the risk of flooding along the south east coast while “Ireland continues to ignore the elephant in the kitchen”.

The second scenario outlined in the report foresees the closures of Waterford Crystal, Hasbro and Bausch and Lomb “to name but a few”, leading to increased local investment in “intellectual and social capital”.

On a more optimistic note, this scenario entails university status being secured by as early as next year and the development of a high-speed rail network and tram system linking the east coast.

Interestingly, this scenario envisages the development of a ‘super-rural’ municipality running from Saint John’s College into South Kilkenny.

With the focus firmly on the hinterland, the city centre will suffer “following a noticeable exodus of businesses from the city centre to radial and ribbon business parks”.

This less optimistic outlook states that anti-social behaviour, ghettoised estates and a rise in crime levels will lead to calls for new leadership “to rethink Waterford’s future”.

Potential future struggles

The report’s third scenario foresees Waterford’s continued struggle to exploit its growth potential, as it continues to lag behind the country’s richer regions.

“The ambitions plans for northern city expansion over the last decade have failed to come to fruition . . . Waterford is a divided city…the Waterford Bypass due to be completed in 2012 has been abandoned due to insufficient funds, and only the first leg of the Waterford to Dublin motorway has been given the go-ahead.”

However, this scenario sees tourism booming by 2025, by which the time the region shall have tapped into its “massive hydro-electric potential”.

The report adds: “Dreams of transforming Waterford into a garden city are potentially becoming a reality as the increasing costs of keeping cars on the road is forcing the city to look to more sustainable modes of transport.

“By 2030 community spirit in Waterford has been ignited as people are beginning to realise their capacity to engineer reform.”

By assembling such a report, DIT’s Futures Academy hopes it can be “used to inspire future national policy planning processes and gateways thinking and action”.

Write Ratcliffe and Skehan: “Immature city regions are led by infrastructure. In mature and successful urban areas, proactive visions about quality, identity and competitiveness set an agenda which is served by infrastructure, not visa-versa.

“The inversion of priorities can lead to the costly re-evaluation of earlier decisions. With foresight, Ireland’s Eastern city region may be able to anticipate and avoid this problem.”