The prospect of rejuvenating city centres across Europe was the focus of a recent seminar held by the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels.
This seminar focused on Liverpool, Barcelona, Malmo and Gothenburg (Sweden), Poznan (Poland) and Hanover (Germany).
At the event, Liverpool University’s Paul Gaunt told The Munster Express about how such rejuvenation can bring about a welcome employment boost, particularly in disused dock areas, bringing Waterford into the equation regarding its future (and hopefully pending) renewal.
“Winning the City of Culture was a huge boost for Liverpool, given that the city’s image had suffered for decades, particularly given the renewal of the dockland area.”
Mr Gaunt said the port is being currently expanded and within a few years will be able to accommodate some of the world’s largest passenger liners upon completion, serving major European ports including Rotterdam and Antwerp.
Liverpool, just like Waterford, is undergoing a post-industrial transition and is now re-positioning itself from a marketing and branding proposal, with the Beatles and harbour tours proving a great draw.
Now attracting a larger student population, graduates are staying in Liverpool and helping to create new jobs, while the ‘Graduate to Merseyside’ programme has proven a great success.
But there’s some distance to travel yet, said Mr Gaunt, who is UK North West’s Head of Careers and Employability. Three out of four unemployed in Liverpool have been out of work for more than a year, so as is the case in Waterford, a hard core of disadvantage remains.
Incomes and skills are both below national averages and the city’s revival is still a work in progress.
“Image is important,” he added. Crime levels are similar to the British average, but the exterior perception of Liverpool doesn’t always reflect reality on the ground, again something we in Waterford can empathise with.
Local newspaper The Liverpool Echo reports on a more balanced basis, reflecting the positivity which its readers wish to see highlighted.
Raising the level of apprenticeships for school leavers is a goal in Liverpool, with boosting maths seen as key in that ambition, as is getting more women into science and engineering.
Other key areas include jobs for advance manufacturing, creative and digital, the finance sector as well as the port.
The Swedish city of Gothenburg suffered in the wake of lay-offs at its Volvo plant and with industries such as shipbuilding winding up, it too has had to adapt – but it has done so impressively.
The city is home to a significant level of immigrants, and many of them have started new businesses; food has become a major employer (eco-lunches for poorer families) while social businesses for youth have also been enacted.
Agro forestry (a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland) is a major business in rural areas, helping to bring new products to the market.
A mentor programme in Gothenburg where older people and the semi retired train young people and immigrants how about business start-ups, along with inter cultural groups for integration reflects how progressive a city it is. And to be fair, Waterford measures up quite well on that front through educational, cultural, artistic and sporting initiatives.
The city also helps to re-habilitate young offenders, and seeks to former criminals back to work via the ‘Way Out’ programme, similar to the success achieved by Ferrybank’s U-Casadh Project which we have frequently reported upon in recent years.
Holding fairs in harbour/dock areas was discussed at the seminar, and perhaps there is scope here with respect to the North Quay area – be it as part of the Harvest Festival, Winterval, Spraoi or Imagine, for example.
Fellow Swedish city Malmo also lost their ship building industry and had to come up with new ideas after such industries essentially re-located to low cost Asian countries, like Korea.
According to Malmo Director of Urban Planning, Jann Hakk, there are now more people working in the former shipping area of the harbour than there was during its industrial pomp, an area now home to a range of SMEs.
The docklands have become a vibrant, ‘happening’ leisure area for tourists and students alike. Catering is strong there, as are craft business, many of whom now supply to IKEA. Mr Hakk told the seminar that “eight new firms open daily in Malmo,” a city which benefits from its proximity to the Danish capital of Copenhagen, as well as its international airport.
Can Waterford learn from such case studies when it comes to planning the North Wharf’s future?
Admittedly Waterford does not have the population or scale of the Swedish cities or Liverpool, but its water frontage and industrial heritage are quire similar.
The Polish city of Poznan (unemployment: 3%) is seen as one of the most successful city regions in getting great plans over the line, and maximising European Union regeneration funding.
Poland currently receives €82 billion for a country of 40 million people, funding secured for the 2014-2020 period; this is similar to Ireland securing £5.5 billion (€8 billion) in the 1990s during Albert Reynolds’ brief time as Taoiseach.
Poland is to invest such monies on boosting innovation, entrepreneurship, transport systems, R&D, green energy, the information society and social inclusion, according to Sylwia Wojcik, Director of the European Social Fund (ESF) for the Wielkopolska region.
Schools are obliged to spend on expansion only if there projects fit into EU funding, said Ms Wojcik. Poland spends considerably on promoting child care and pre-school education, a trend that also encouraged in the recent Irish budget
The Brussels seminar made repeated references to getting inactive members of the labour market back to work.
They look at population projections and invest in youth to get the key15-to-20-year-old sector active in education or work. The school system might need to be adjusted to make sure the skills sets suit the job market.
The mobility of youth was another issue, i.e. to get them to go where the jobs are. Spanish speaker Josep Rodriguez said that a jobs drought can be a chronic condition in former industrial cities.
The problems associated among people with disabilities and joblessness was also mentioned, which also proved the focus of a conference recently held in Dooley’s Hotel by the Waterford Disability Network (WDN).
The real goal, the seminar concluded, is the delivery of quality and sustainable jobs, to give civil society a say in the process, to examine the areas that are hard hit and see what can be done.
There also seems to be a big push for SMEs to be supported with long term loans in a further boost to the regions.
The new EU Cohesion Plan seeks better involvement of cities and regions to tackle the jobs crisis, with seminar speakers declaring that cities and regions can be more effective than central government in generating better jobs with more sustainable results