Council CEO hopeful of further funding
Eoghan Dalton Reports
Waterford City & County Council (WCCC) won’t be pursuing further works on the North Quays redevelopment if the required funding does not arrive from central Government. Council chief Michael Walsh told members at last Thursday’s plenary sitting that the local authority has “no intention of taking more debt” on by borrowing to complete the works, with about €13 million needed for this year’s scheduled works.
Considerable concern was expressed after the Government announced last November that Waterford would be receiving €6 million for the sustainable transport bridge, which will connect the North Quays with the south side at the Clock Tower. The Council had applied for €20.1 million from the first tranche of the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF).
“We simply won’t be doing the work if the funding isn’t in place,” Mr Walsh added.
His comments came on the back of an audit of the Council’s 2017 finances, which show that it has pumped millions into capital projects, including the North Quays, such as urban renewal schemes and the Greenway. The auditor recorded a deterioration in the overall deficit, now at €10.4 million, an increase of €2.6 million from the previous year. The report showed that preliminary outlay on the North Quays for 2017 had been €2.4 million, with Local Government Auditor James Moran noting that the Council is “hoping to source significant State funding” for the project.
This has yet to happen, though Mr Walsh is hopeful that the funding can be received in the next two to three months in a further URDF tranche. He also told Councillors that planning permission for the site is expected to be lodged by the developer in May, five months later than what members were previously told.
Mr Walsh insists that the Council’s financial health is improving, partly thanks to scaling back on the level of capital investment into projects. Its rates base is likely to see an increase thanks to its urban renewal works in the likes of the Apple Market in the city and Grattan Square in Dungarvan.
Cllr Eamon Quinlan (FF) raised concern about the North Quays funding at the Council sitting in Dungarvan last Thursday: “I suppose the elephant in the room is that we can’t really keep going forward, unless we have sufficient capital and support from central Government.”He further noted that Kilkenny County Council (KCC), which WCCC included as a partner in the URDF application, received major backing last week for strategic road infrastructure in South Kilkenny from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII). The €6.3 million is being put towards the long-sought overpass on the N24 Piltown bypass, the Cahir to Waterford road west from Mooncoin on the N24 and the N25 Waterford to Glenmore.
Cllr Quinlan noted that the funding received by KCC wasn’t far behind what the Waterford authority has received for the inception period of the North Quays project, “the most strategic project in the history of Waterford”. He continued: “At what stage do we expect that €6 million to run out? At what stage do we feel we might have to start borrowing to complete it? Will that €6 million cover us until the next allotment of Government funds, because I’m quite concerned that Waterford Council is going to be taking on more and more debt.
“I believe the programme in which they’re going to be giving us money is going to last about three years and if that’s so, for us to get to the €110 million we require, they’ll have to start giving us a lot more than €6 million each time they do a tranche.”Michael Walsh told Cllr Quinlan that roughly €13 million is required this year to ensure the project can continue smoothly. “We don’t envision it becoming a problem until towards the end of the year. But we’ll be equally be hopeful this issue is resolved in the next two or three months. So there’s no immediate issue here whatsoever and I’d be satisfied enough that we’ll be able to resolve certainly the current year’s funding, but I’m more interested in the longer term funding,” he said.
Mr Walsh had told Cllr John Cummins (FG) earlier in the meeting that planning permission for the site is expected to be lodged by the developer in May, five months later than what Councillors were told last year.
Council CEO hopeful of further funding