A Waterford firm of architects has criticised as “conservative, blinkered, unimaginative and lacking in joined-up thinking” the framework plan for the local North Quays prepared by the Dublin firm Loci Urban Design Architecture and Planning, in consultation with the City Council.
Kenneth Wigham Architects have said that although the plan has many good points, “its restricted scenario will result in Waterford not reaching its full potential”. And they add: “It seems to be a desktop study that doesn’t have the intuition of those with local knowledge”.
The Loci plan came before the Council members in January after which it went on public display for eight weeks and City Manager Michael Walsh prepared a report on submissions received during that period. That report was presented this week to the councillors for their consideration, prior to being aired again at their May monthly meeting.
But once that “vision” for the 14-acre site became public some local business people voiced concern over aspects of its content and felt so strongly that they got together to commission a response from Kenneth Wigham. That response is scathing.
Wigham prefaces the response – prepared by partners Kenneth Wigham and Kevin McGrath for a group of about 25 business people headed by Padraig O’Griofa – by emphasising that the North Quays were of extraordinary importance to the future of the city and their significance could not be overestimated.
“The planning and urban design parameters are critical and we must get it right”, they stress. “The site represents the future heart of Waterford and it must be the subject of much forward thinking. It must have a robust, well thought out strategy to exploit its enormous potential for future generations. We must think fifty years ahead, be inventive and optimistic. We must think way outside the red boundary line on a map. We must examine all aspects of the project, not just the site itself but the integration of the whole city in terms of public transport, lifestyle, facilities, bridges and ecological issues, among other things”.
Wigham goes on to say the Loci document proposes mimicking the shape and form on the south side (of the river) with low plot ratios and tight blocks of accommodation with little 21st century inventiveness. “Look at what’s happening around the world, this framework will not maximise the possibilities”, the report states.
“We must recognise that the current generation will see Waterford become Ireland’s most important gateway city to Europe. We must cater for the future demands that this will make. We already have a thriving airport and commercial port, let’s create the transport hub, the shops and the offices, the hotels, plazas, cruise ship terminal, bridge, trams, auditorium, sports hall and houses. Let’s plan for the long term future, let’s not miss the opportunity.
“We have a unique chance to create a stunning new addition to the city, complimentary to the old city. It should be done on the scale and vision it deserves and with robust ideas that will stand the test of time”.
Specifically, the Wigham report describes as “inconsequential” Loci’s proposals on urban and block structures within the framework. And the report states: “Of note within this section is the reliance upon the new pedestrian and cycle bridge across the river from The Clock Tower to achieve ‘the expansion of the city centre to the North Quays’. Walking across the existing bridge is hazardous in wet and windy conditions and to imagine this (pedestrian bridge) as a vibrant business connection is fanciful when possible footfall and security are considered. The need for a bridge is not questioned, but it must be in the context of some other heavy people-moving system”.
Suggested is a “closing of the circle” with a new lifting span bridge at the end of The Mall with accommodation for m vehicles and a one-way dedicated rapid public transport route to carry passengers around the South and North Quays with frequent stops. That circular route would form the core of extended transport systems to outlying park and ride areas and would also provide, as a matter of course, bus and rail connections.
Elsewhere, the report points out that there is no accompanying rationale for the view that “a robust block structure is necessary”. Also, it contends that Loci’s Movements and Access section is “absurd”, posing as an example a question as to how direct access to the train station is to be provided.
Further, it asks why road engineering and grade separation solutions are not acceptable in the context of vehicular access to the North Quays. “This excludes any real possibility of maximising the site potential for owners and for the city”, Wigham submits.
The analysis of the document also accuses Loci of “flying in the face of contemporary building patterns and commercial realism”. And on the subject of housing mix and standards it states “the usual unsatisfactory and unsustainable apartment sizes are specified but there is no proposal to provide really sustainable apartments for family living or mention of an ambition to provide the highest quality accommodation”.
Wigham additionally decries a lack of provision for significant and important civic spaces while it claims there is insufficient attention to parking requirements. And as for a “harbour baths” proposal, the analysis points to the danger of swimming in a bottomless pool in a swiftly moving tidal river and concludes that inclusion of such an idea was sufficient to cast doubts about conclusions generally within the framework document.
As for the river foreshore, Wigham expresses surprise that there is no mention of it in the Loci document. “This has been a continuous feature of South Quays development for the past twenty years and now provides the bulk of the South Quay car parking adjacent to the city centre. Such foreshore addition may add as much as ten acres to the North Quay.
“All North Quay development will use a form of piled construction (as at present) so the intrusion of decked structures to extend the narrow and restricted development area must be actively considered.
“The curved quayside envisaged will mimic to a degree the existing form but, more importantly, provide a contrast, a counter point to the regular rigid form of the South Quays and create a pleasant, varied and interesting riverside walk as well as the provision of a softer edge to the Waterford “pool” and sufficient space to turn the largest visiting cruise ships.
Wigham also outlines other plans for “maximising the development opportunity”, all of which can be checked out on www.visionwaterford.com
Finally, the Waterford firm of architects, based at Wyse House, Adelphi Quay, points out that the purpose of its proposals is not to achieve a definitive scheme but rather to explore approaches which have not been considered within the existing framework document.
“We saw advantages in stepping outside the narrow brief and viewing Waterford from afar, presenting a vision of the future within a long time span. We considered that presenting broad aspirations without excessive prescription or detail would allow the principal determining factors to be made manifest.
“It is clear that constraints of ownership, existing physical features and the nature of terrain and the river conspire to create difficulties, but we consider that with a united approach the city can create a unified vision of sufficient carrying power to overcome bureaucratic, political and legal impedimentia. The primary intent shall be to ensure that the broad plan is of a type to encourage participation by those whose finance will be the driving force and who will foresee a reasonable return.
Reacting to the Wigham report, Padraig O’Griofa said he was enormously impressed by it. While the Loci plan was too narrow in dealing solely with the North Quays, Wigham broadened the concept and presented their ideas from a city-wide perspective.
Also, their proposals for the North Quays offered reasonable opportunities for profitable development while some of Loci’s were “undevelopable” and would not make money for investors.
He argued that both ends of the Quay were virtually dead because people won’t walk any worthwhile distance to do their business or their shopping and they needed to be revived. He felt the Wigham document tackled that issue.
Mr. O’Griofa emphasised that neither he nor any of his colleagues who sought the new report had any commercial interest in the North Quays but merely wanted informed debate and a long term perspective, rather than stand back and see mistakes made which could not subsequently be rectified.
The Wigham report has been submitted to the City Council for consideration and it is understood there are twelve others, including one from Waterford Chamber which according to CEO Monica Leech sees the Loci plan as “a mundane solution to a spectacular opportunity for our Gateway City”.
Ms. Leech said it was vital the framework plan for the area was visionary and flexible, that it took into account economic realities and did not act as a straitjacket to potential relevant development.
The Chamber strongly believed that the North Quays had potential to be a regional driver of economic growth and presented a singular opportunity to revitalise the city, offering an opening for large scale developments and projects, both commercially desirable and visually attractive.
She said the Chamber represented 750 member businesses in Waterford and its broad brush observations, submitted to the Council, were based on achieving full micro and macro economic benefits from what was a unique site.