Kieran Walsh

The impact of Covid-19 on retail and the failure to meet contractual obligations will mean that Waterford City & County Council will begin to end its contract with Falcon Real Estate and put the North Quays site on the market.

Michael Walsh, Waterford Council CEO, said the Council had met its conditions to the contract but funding from Falcon was not secured despite an extension from six months since last November.

There was a further extension to Saturday evening but that deadline was not met. Councillors were told of the circumstances last week and again this week in a statement.

Mr Walsh said he would conclude the business relationship with Falcon at this point but they could enter the sale process again in the coming months when the site comes to the market and when they have funding.

Mr Walsh expressed his disappointment that the project has not gone forward and that contract details were not concluded. He and his team put tremendous effort into this project.

Council CEO Michael Walsh.

The Council had met all its conditions on the contract in terms of site, he said. There was a provision to terminate the contract if certain conditions not met.

He said he could not go into too much detail due to confidentiality but funding was the main sticking point and contractual conditions were not met. Mr Walsh remains confident that the project will proceed.

Senator John Cummins, FG, expressed his regret but believes also it will go ahead and shared the optimism of Mr Walsh and hopes to see a transformative development in this special development zone.

Time has not been wasted with the site now ready for sale and development.

New major road plans and relocation of the train station are all ready to go too, so many elements are in place, said Senator Cummins. He expressed confidence in the Waterford Council team to move the project forward.  A new bridge is a priority, he said.

Green Party TD for Waterford Marc O Cathasaigh said there is still Government commitment and the future is bright for the project and for Waterford.

The need to go to the market will be a blow to the project as it will delay matters but great work has been done by the Council in getting all the pieces in place, in terms of legal title, public ownership, transport infrastructure.

There has been no comment from Falcon to date on the situation.

Across the world, the retail property development sector has been difficult and many projects have been halted and funding is proving difficult as shoppers do more online. Going forward, Michael Walsh feels market conditions will get better with the economy re-opening.

At one point there was a figure up to €500m being mentioned on the whole Waterford development, but €250m was more recently stated.  This would have been transformative with the city centre to be extended across the river. A deal had been done in 2019 initially and a great joint venture was planned. Much public money has gone into the scheme, €23m in total expended of which €15.6m has been recovered. €7.9m to be recouped said Mr Walsh and €5m would come from the site sale, which would be normal in the circumstances, as expenditures are recovered in arrears from the site value.  Some property experts think this could be a great bargain.

Michael Walsh is still confident that this will go ahead and that they can make it happen.

There was some suggestion that speculators might come and buy it to resell it but they would need to sign up to a caveat to complete the development so this is unlikely to occur.  The members of the Council would have a say in the site sale, said Mr Walsh who spoke with Councillors last week at a Council meeting, where they were updated on the contract.

An image of the proposed development on the North Quays.

The Council has not yet approached other developers yet but will in the near term.

Back in the post 2000s era, O’Flynn Construction of Cork were to buy into the North Wharf from the Harbour Board. Legal delays and other matters affected that sale.

Responding to the news that Falcon Real Estate will not be developing the North Quays, Gerald Hurley, CEO Waterford Chamber said: “We need to see this for what it is – a business decision and it is important to note that the North Quays remains one of the most attractive sites in Ireland, if not Europe and is prime for development. This is by no means the end of the road, in fact it’s just the beginning. Covid-19 has changed the world we live in and by extension, it will have a major impact on the type of development the North Quays must now become and I’ve no doubt it will take into account current and future requirements. It remains a significant element of Project Ireland 2040 and despite the news this week, that hasn’t changed. We are much further down the road than where we were when it was designated an SDZ. The land is under the ownership now of Waterford City & County Council with a good marketable title and all the site environmental issues have been resolved. Above all, Government funding has been secured and the site is now ready for a developer to come in and deliver a new vision.”

He added: ““Waterford Council are wholly committed to the project, as we all are as a business community, so let’s not lose heart. This is this nature of business but it is still prime real estate and I have no doubt many developers will see that Waterford is a city of opportunity, with tremendous potential. Waterford Chamber will continue to work with stakeholders and do everything we can to ensure a prosperous skyline for the North Quays.”