Almost ten years after an ambitious development “vision” for Waterford’s North Quays was first revealed, the scene is finally set for literal groundwork to get underway within another twelve months.
Planning permission is to be sought before year’s end for a €250 million development in the heart of the quayside, on the prime five acre site formerly occupied by millers R & H Hall.
That has been announced by site owners Zella (Waterford) Ltd., a joint venture between McInerney Homes Ltd. and Kent-based property developer Starnes plc. The development as proposed includes a major retail component, offices, apartments, leisure facilities and two hotels.
Zella has welcomed a revised Urban Design Framework Plan for the area, containing changes from the original concept prepared for the City Council by Loci Urban Design Architecture and Planning, of Dublin. Amendments and modifications were adopted by the Council members at their monthly meeting last Monday night, subject to further public consultation – the altered plan goes on public display for a month starting next Monday.
Speaking on behalf of the McInerney/Starnes partnership, McInerney Regional Director Mr. Gerald Hurley said Zella was happy it could work within the framework proposed. “Everyone is agreed that the North Quays is an exciting opportunity to create an iconic development, one which will put Waterford at the forefront of people’s minds not just here but throughout Europe,” he said.
According to Nicky Fewer of Fewer Harrington Lawlor & Partners, Project Managers engaged by Zella: “The Urban Design Framework is a valuable piece of work which ensures that development of the entire area will be undertaken with a strong vision of the important role the North Quays should play in this gateway city’s development in the 21st century.”
Mr Hurley said Zella had deliberately not commented publicly on its plans before now. “It was important that the framework should be completed first,” he said.
Following the City Council debate on Monday night Zella confirmed that it now expected to be in a position to apply for planning permission before the end of the current year.
“Our own plans are consistent with and supportive of the Council’s hopes for the area. We have already had initial discussions with the planners and have received a most encouraging response. We are happy our proposals for a well integrated development reflect fully the aims and vision set out in the framework plan,” Mr Hurley said.
Zella points out that development of its landmark site will set the tone for adjoining sites on either side. “We have spent two years preparing a fully sustainable proposal for this site. Now that the framework has been amended we are determined that an appropriate mix of use will ensure that this is a ‘living’ and vibrant development in the truest sense,” Mr Hurley added.
“People have been waiting for the development of the North Quays for a number of years. Both we and the Council now feel strongly that it is time things got moving.”
The Council has indicated that it will ensure suitable permanent access is provided to facilitate development of the site. It will also pursue funding for a proposed bridge to link the redeveloped North Quays with the existing city centre.
The original Loci plan, published in January and put on public display, attracted a fair amount of public criticism and thirteen written submissions, from Zella, Starnes, Waterford Chamber, Port of Waterford, Bishopsgrove Residents Association and Gryphon Waterford (a group of local business people) among others. It was arising from those – and further consideration by the Council and officials – that the alterations were made.
City Manager Mr. Michael Walsh reported to the Council members, inter alia, that while redevelopment of the area would be carried out by the private sector, public investment and leadership in a number of key infrastructural projects would complement the private investment.
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In that regard, for instance, the proposed €25 million “iconic” bridge across the river is expected to be 80 p.c. funded by public money and as for the 20 p.c. which the Council must provide, the Manager hopes to recoup it from North Quay developers.
He said that once the money was sanctioned the bridge could be built in about two years. And while it had originally been proposed as a pedestrian and cycle bridge, it might well now also accommodate a light rail structure which would form a link in a “loop” transport system.
Mr. Walsh said development of the South Quays was also a major objective. That would be considered as a matter of urgency and he hoped to return to the Council within a matter of months with his thoughts on the matter.
Open for business
Cllr. Tom Cunningham welcomed the fact that following years of difficulties relating to the North Quays site, there was now a great deal of fresh interest by potential investors. He wanted the message to go out that Waterford was very much a forward thinking place which was open for business and the framework plan was indicative of the city’s ambitions in terms of development.
The Manager told Cllr. Davy Daniels that central funding was being sought for the city’s Viking Quarter as well as the iconic bridge, but Fianna Fail leadership and Cabinet changes had delayed consideration of the matter. He was hopeful however that a decision would be handed down sooner rather than later, to facilitate progress on both fronts.
Cllr. Mary Roche said it was crucial that the South Quays were developed in tandem with the North Quays and she expressed the belief that the latter would anchor the city’s overall growth. She was of the view too that the North Quays would be an ideal location for a Marks and Spencer store.
She recalled also a commitment given by Martin Cullen when he was a Junior Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, that the government would fund a national conference centre on the site. She wanted that commitment honoured.
In an appeal clearly directed at Brendan McCann of The Green Party, Cllr. Pat Hayes voiced the hope that the North Quay development would not be held up by unwarranted objections. He said the City Council should be trusted in its endeavours to get the best possible results in terms of planning. “No individual should have the right to disrupt the city’s progress”, he commented to supportive utterings from other members.
Cllr. Davy Walsh said there was dereliction on the north side of the river and this was a hugely promising solution. “This is an honest attempt to bring something to fruition which could attract investment of up to a billion euro and hundreds of jobs”, he said.
Cllr. David Cullinane said the plan represented an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate the city centre, of which the North Quays was a natural extension.
He said the design framework committed to a minimum of 30 p.c. residential development, which was vital as they needed to encourage more people to live centrally. He welcomed the decision to increase apartment floor size for family comfort and also the possibility of development of air space over the railway line.