As previously reported in The Munster Express (June 14th and 21st), the development of four ‘Atlantic City Regions’, namely Waterford, Cork, Galway and Limerick has been identified as a counterbalance to the “dominance” of the Greater Dublin Area (GDA).
The Academy also intends to prepare “a single summary report as an input to the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government in its preparation of the proposed National Planning framework for the Republic, and to the three Regional Assemblies in preparation of new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies”.
Noting that an estimated one million people will live in a corridor it has identified between Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford by the 2030s, the IAE believes this population increase “will put a significant strain on essential services and associated infrastructure”.
Listing housing, transportation, water services, energy, health and education, the report states that the aforementioned largely “suffered from under-investment not only during the downturn in the economy, but in some cases for years previously.”
The IAE’s Working Group met with key stakeholders in both the private and public sectors in Waterford when compiling its comprehensive report, in which it stresses that “a city should not be seen in isolation from its region”.
Profiling Waterford, the report states that the south east has “a burgeoning internationally trading services sector, in particular in precision agri-services and business process outsourcing”.
While the city has “been affected by the erosion of competitiveness in lower-skilled manufacturing sectors and the economic downturn”, it has “produced some figures which contradict this trend of decline, most notably in the amount of new firms established in the Gateway since 2006”.
The designation of the eight-hectare North Quay site as a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) is also referenced in the report, which notes that the City & County Council is currently devising a design framework for the project.
Regarding other infrastructural issues impacting upon Waterford, the report notes the need to upgrade both the 125-kilometre N25 route between Waterford and Cork and the 128-kilomtere N24 to Limerick.
Delays on the N25 are common, particularly through Castlemartyr and Killeagh, with the report contending that there’s a 110-minute average travel time between Waterford and Cork. “It is recommended that this road corridor is upgraded on a prioritised and phased basis, primarily concentrating on improvements to the level of service provision in terms of journey-time savings. This will involve the implementation of bypass schemes on the main towns of the N25 and the upgrading of a number of connecting road sections, particularly on the western end of the corridor on approach to Cork.”
Regarding the N24, the second poorest inter-city road route in Munster after the N20 (Cork to Limerick), of which only Clonmel is locally bypassed by a ring road, the 110 minute travel time is “relatively slow considering the two cities are only 129km apart”.
According to the IAE: “Connectivity improvements between both cities by road will need to be delivered through the continued improvement in the alignment of the existing road (i.e. its expansion to either dual carriageway or 2+1 roadways and the delivery of localised bypasses along the entire route)”.
Calls for the upgrade of the N24 have been repeatedly made by Councillors from both Waterford and Kilkenny, with South Kilkenny Councillor Tomás Breathnach (Lab) mentioning the need to improve the road as recently as last Wednesday’s Piltown Municipal District meeting in Ferrybank.
Noting the delivery of the M9 connection to Dublin, the N25 bypass to the east and west of the city, along with the Outer Ring and Carrickphierish Roads, the report references proposals to improve the N25 “on approach and around New Ross”.
It adds: “There are preliminary plans for a new river crossing downstream near University Hospital Waterford. This will greatly assist traffic flows from the N25 New Ross access to the east side of the city. There are also preliminary plans for a Park and Ride facility from the N25 New Ross access.”
In a latter section of the report, the IAE claims: “It is evident that the lack of a motorway network in the Munster region and beyond is hindering traffic growth and makes Dublin Airport a viable alternative for airport users from the region. The current state of the N20, N22, N25, N27 etc, and the lack of journey time certainly lessens the attractiveness of both (Cork and Shannon) airports.
“Cork Airport estimates that they could increase passenger numbers by up to 0.5m annually with a proper motorway infrastructure. In the Academy’s consultations with private industry, ease of access to the airports in the region (i.e. Waterford and Kerry) was also an important issue.”
Interestingly, the report notes that annual rail passenger numbers from Waterford to Dublin “is the only one that has not recovered fully (from pre-recession figures) and is also the closest of the four cities to Dublin by motorway”.
In 2007, numbers using rail from Waterford to Dublin stood at 1.4 million. This dropped to 1.1m in 2012 and had made a tentative recovery last year to 1.2m, which contrasts with Cork (2007: 2.9m, 2012: 2.1m, 2015: 2.9m), Galway (2007: 1.6m, 2012: 1.0m, 2015: 1.6m) and Limerick (2007: 0.8m, 2012: 0.5m, 2015: 0.8m).
“(Plunkett Station) also has many stops and a less than satisfactory arrangement at Kilkenny Station,” the report notes.
Regarding public transport, the IAE contends that “the current network of city centre bus services and bus priorities is limited. However, Waterford City and County Council recently received Part VIII planning for bus lanes along Parnell Street and Manor Street”.
In a further reference to the North Quay, the report states that the “potential to deliver a new transport hub which would include the relocation of the existing train station in the city”.
While the report feels that the principles of the 2004 Planning, Land Use and Transportation Study (PLUTS) for the city remain relevant, “an up-to-date PLUTS for the City Region is recommended which should include the potential for additional public transport commuter services”.
As for the Port of Waterford, the report states that its priority is to further grow its container business, noting that total tonnage at Belview increased by eight per cent in 2015, with bulk and Lift-on Lift-off (Lolo) cargo up buy 10 and three per cent respectively.
“The port is working on a masterplan and is very positive about regeneration of the North Quays in partnership with Waterford City & County Council and other stakeholders.”
Among its recommendations, the IAE believes that there should be “an appropriate element of regional autonomy in investment decisions. Funding similar to the previous proposal for a Gateway Innovation Fund should be introduced, with some of the funds ringfenced for joint projects between the Atlantic City Regions…
“Place-making needs to be a priority in increasing the attractiveness of the urban regions in which to work and live.”
Many of the issues raised in the IAE’s detailed report have been echoed in several leader writers and opinion pieces in this newspaper over the past five years. Promoting inter-regional initiatives and highlighting the quality of life and prospective employer available in Waterford are causes worth rallying behind. And we will continue to beat that drum loudly.