Waterford Chamber of Commerce held a special seminar last week, looking ahead at the future for the city and county.

Some may say that there is too much crystal ball gazing and question how much will become a reality.

The developers of the Brewery Complex were there making a presentation, as were the Galway owners of the Killure Road site near Ring Road. A model plan of a major apartment tower and development in Bilberry was also shown.

Despite the downturn in construction this year and reduced output expected next year, it seems that these developers are very keen to get planning permission for the sites, acquired during better times.

The new road from Dublin and the second bridge, as well as the Ring Road, are adding to confidence in the region.

There may be a current downturn that is proving more serious when combined with the banking crisis internationally, yet people are prepared to invest.

There has been considerable controversy over whether to focus development more in the city centre or on the periphery. Should the consumer have a say in this? This weekend TK Maxx had a great launch promotion in Waterford and attracted large numbers of customers.

When they opened in Kilkenny they were a big draw, now they are here in Waterford. This should mean less business leaving the city area.


City Manager Michael Walsh, speaking at the conference, noted that in these times it is more critical to do what is possible in the city centre. He felt that it had vast potential and that needed to be realised.

The failure of the North Quays hangs over the city and this will be looked at again. There is a movement in population from East to West in the country and Waterford can benefit from this move.

The city is well positioned with infrastructure that is coming or in place, added Chamber President, Colin McGookin. The City Manager also referred to the All-Ireland final appearance of the hurling team as a confidence booster in the summer.

The psychology of the people is important, he added and this sporting success helps. An upgrade of the Waterford Institute of Technology would also be a great morale booster. A vibrant city centre would give people confidence too. The new planned heritage quarter, that awaits Government approval, would be another boost.

The City Manager noted that there had been much public investment in the past decade with an increased asset base compared to 10 years ago. There is a strong core asset.

The city centre should not close at 6pm but should be a place also for entertainment. This has dropped off in recent years with closure of a number of pubs and venues, now the cinema is getting a refurbishment too.

A busy city centre by day for work and retail and a lively entertainment area needs to be strived for more.

A visit to Limerick over the weekend to see Munster showed that city to be far busier than Waterford. Admittedly it is bigger, but they have made the most of the riverside setting.

There are cafes, hotels, shops and restaurants along the riverside giving the place a bigger city feel. What a pity that the North Wharf sale got tied up in a wrangle and fell through.

As the City Manager hinted, a renewed effort needs to be made for this area. Could the City Council do a joint venture here, given the drop in property values it may be more feasible?

In the meantime the problems at the Ferrybank centre will be a deterrent for a major retail development. High quality office and employment would be welcome, but this would require the economic environment to improve.

Finance for speculative building would be hard to find, so some Government commitments may be needed. Not an easy task when the Exchequer finances are in deficit.

There was much to ponder about afterwards, more investment seems to be needed and as Minister Cullen said at the close, the opportunities are there now with the improved infrastructure.

Thank God it is going through and not going to stop now, he said. He agreed that the current situation is challenging. The city and county needs to maximise the opportunity of this and to be brave and bold in moving forward. This seemed to be agreed as a good thing but getting there is not that simple.

Afterwards a number of questions came up about planning and delays. The Minister also queried the current difficulties in planning and added he favoured more daring plans looking to the future.