Waterford city set to secure largest FDI in State history
For every €1 the Government invests in the regeneration of the North Quay and Michael Street sites, a return of €144 will be generated over each of the next 20 years.
That’s the drum being confidently beaten by Falcon Real Estate Development Ireland, which last week signed detailed contracts for the €300 million project with Waterford City & County Council.
Speaking to The Munster Express, Falcon’s Rob Cass stated: “Just consider the return on the investment: for every Euro the taxpayer puts in, the taxpayers will be getting €144 back over the next 20 years. By any stretch of the imagination, that represents a significant return. That, plus the 2,300 jobs on site plus the wider 4,500 indirect jobs across the region sets current and future generations up for a great, positive future and one that we can be proud of.”
Regarding the €104.5 million capital funding application submitted by both Waterford and Kilkenny Councils, he added: “It’s a small ask when you consider the return, with €144 million per year returned to the exchequer for the outlay of (circa) €30m for four to five years, which will enable the future growth of the city, in line with the Ireland 2040 project. That exchequer surplus income then ought to fund our other regional priorities – the Technological University, the Regional Airport, the remaining road upgrades (on the N24 and N25), world-class healthcare (including a 24/7 Cath Lab), renewable energy, rural regeneration along with housing and community projects.”
Mr Cass stated: “In fact, it’s a phenomenal return, relative to say an investment in roads and relative to matters not yet addressed when it comes to the potential developments in both Cork and Limerick. They’re not shovel-ready whereas, come 2019, we are and that’s a huge plus for Waterford, and the South East.”
Meanwhile, Senator Paudie Coffey (FG) has confirmed that a “substantial” Government funding announcement in relation to the project will be made “in the coming weeks”.
City & County Council Chief Executive Michael Walsh welcomed this significant step in the delivery of a project which has been widely hailed as a ‘game changer’ for both Waterford and the South East. “The investors were bringing a competency and an international element to the equation which frankly we were looking for because in terms of doing it on a piecemeal basis at local level, we didn’t feel that was the opportunity that existed here,” he told WLR’s Eamon Keane on Friday last.
“So it was a coming together of circumstances in many respects that were timely but was the culmination of a lot of planning. There’s been work ongoing here for four years.”
While the contract signing marks a significant public development in the advancement of the project, Rob Cass stressed: “The work continues. It has to be continued in the background for two years and there’s an awful lot of work now happening on the design and engineering front. Moving this forward, things will certainly be ramping up over the coming months. About three months ago, the design and engineering team were engaged. The planning application will be in by end January next, there’ll be planning approval from the Council by the end of April. There’s not risk in that because as a development agency the Council are working alongside us rather than, for example, this being a pre-consultation phase in which there’s no guarantee of a successful outcome for the applicant. They’ve been working closely with us, they’ve a dedicated team on this, we’ve a dedicated team on it; you’re talking about in and around 25 people so things are building up.”
The efforts of architects BDP and BMA, in addition to the “superb talent” of Waterford-based Fewer Harrington and Carron & Walsh were also cited in the wake of last week’s contract signing. “The more work we do now, the more risk we’ll take out looking down the line in terms of overspend, scope changes and so on,” said Mr Cass. “All of this will help us to de-risk the prospect of costs over running in the future.”Regarding the €104.5 million in capital funding that Waterford City & County Council has applied for via the Urban Regeneration Development Fund (URDF), Michael Walsh stated: “We’re absolutely satisfied that there’s a compelling case here. We tick all the boxes in terms of the URDF. I’d place the context that it’s over four to five years in which the funding would be required. We expect a decision relatively imminently, by the end this month or certainly before the end of this year and we’re confident that our case is well made and compelling. We’d find it difficult to see that we can’t get a positive answer here, to be honest.”
In the context of the joint URDF application by the local authorities in Waterford and Kilkenny, the regional emphasis of the development was extolled by Rob Cass when he sat with this newspaper on Friday last. “This isn’t a county boundary issue,” he said. “This hasn’t been about what jersey you wear. This is about delivering for the South East region. I’ve met with Colette (Byrne, the Kilkenny County Council Chief Executive) and I’ve not picked up on any level of tension between Waterford and Kilkenny when it’s come to this: if anything, it’s been the complete opposite of that. I’ve seen lots of collaboration going on behind the scenes, and it’s clear that there’s a huge amount being done in terms of developing the South East brand. Kilkenny has made great strides in terms of tourism, Waterford has taken a similar tack when it come to tourism as well, in addition to the Crystal Valley Tech concept and then you see Wexford and the advancements it’s also made in terms of tech in both Enniscorthy and Gorey, and it’s clear to me that there are things being done very well in each county that we can all learn together from.”
Rob Cass continued: “All the enabling issues are ready to go. The planning decision would normally take (A): a lot of time and (B): a lot of money but we’re already getting quite a good return on our spend, taking both of those elements into account. A great deal of work has been done to get us to this point, but there’s a lot more to do, and that’s where our focus is now.”
In a detailed brief issued on Thursday last, Falcon stated: “This transformative development will become a regeneration catalyst for the City and Region able to serve a population of 83,000 (116,000 for Greater Waterford)” and a regional catchment of 603,000 within 60 minutes that’s growing to 750,000 by 2030. It would have national exposure such is the importance and significance of the site and location.
Detailing what will be developed on the 17-acre site, Falcon broke the North Quay project into its respective dimensions:
Retail and Leisure: 37,211 Square Metres (400, 356 Square Feet)
Visitor Centre: 6,800 Sq M (73,200 Sq Ft)
Offices: 11,000 Sq M (118,400 Sq Ft)
Hotel and Conference Centre: 9,310 Sq M (100,210 Sq Ft)
Residential: 18,211 Sq M (196,020 Sq Ft)
Green Open Space: 30,000 Sq M (322,920 Sq Ft)
The initial work on the project will begin on the Michael Street site next year, Rob Cass confirmed. “It will be significant for people to see the project getting underway,” he said. “The Council will also be undertaking enabling works on the North Quays next year once we have planning submissions gone in, but the overall timeline for that element of the project is 2022. Cranes on site will generate further positivity about this entire development so of course, seeing ground broken at Michael Street will be enormously significant.”
The significance of the North Quays’ designation as a Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) was also championed by Rob Cass, who praised the role played by Senator Paudie Coffey (FG) in driving the process forward while he served as Minister of State.
“In hindsight, I had underestimated the complexity of Irish planning,” he admitted. “The zoning was absolutely critical. It was key to moving this on at the pace we wanted it to proceed at, and to have the foresight to see that there could be further obstacles to clear if it went down the planning route was so beneficial. It was critical, even. And the efforts made by Paudie Coffey deserve to be highlighted – he’s been superb in the background.”
According to the Falcon briefing: “The North Quay will foster a sustainable mix of retail, commercial, residential, integrated transport, cultural and leisure activities to support a vibrant enlivened urban quarter. As a new dynamic and enlivened space, it will offer opportunities for living, working and socialising. The mix of uses will be fundamental to the overall success of the North Quays Development and to its integration into the wider urban context.”
Rob Cass concluded: “And here we are; first up and best dressed, so to speak, having put two solid years of work in with both Waterford City & County Council and behind the scenes with the Government to ensure that we make this happen in Waterford city. There’s been an alignment of values and ambition in the development of this project: it’s now coming to fruition and that’s why I’m so confident about the (State) funding because the numbers stack up, because the project aligns with the Government’s National Planning Framework and because the other cities haven’t got the SDZ that we have here. We’re actually ready to press the button and go and that’s a huge comfort.”