In what’s being seen by most people as a Godsend for the local building industry and ailing business sector, the €280 million ‘Newgate Centre’ development in Waterford city centre has finally got the go-ahead.
An Bord Pleanála granted permission to KRM Construction Partnership this week after an exhaustive planning and appeals process. The project is expected to create approximately 600 jobs during the construction phase – commencing next spring – and a further 1,300 on completion.
The news comes at a time when building activity is at a standstill. Countrywide there was a fall of 16 percent in construction employment in the year to the end of July, with workers being laid off daily since then.
The 5.1-acre mostly-derelict site borders Stephen Street, Alexander Street, Michael Street, New Street and part of John’s Lane / Castle Street. Drawn up by Waterford architects CJ Falconer & Associates, the design approved by the City Council in July 2007 was subject to 33 conditions, some of which have been revised by the planning appeals board.
In addition to 50-plus retail outlets, with three anchor units, the four-star hotel will now be 107-bedroom (rather than the original 152), together with a substantial conference centre and leisure facilities; arts, cultural and community amenities, and underground parking for over 600 vehicles. 28 homes are also included, as is a rooftop viewing area that will offer “unrivalled panoramic views” of the city.
The sprawling mixed-use scheme will involve the demolition of several properties, including a number of houses, buildings on the WIT site, the old De La Salle social club, Kiely’s Brewery bottling plant and New Street car park.
Protected Structures are to be preserved/incorporated into the development, including the old De La Salle Hall, which will be refurbished as offices; the 17th-century house in Kiely’s Brewery, to be preserved as part of an exhibition hour, and the area of St Stephen’s Graveyard which will become an urban garden.
Appeals were lodged with An Bord Pleanála by Brendan McCann, the Waterford Alliance for Sustainable Inner City Development, Waterford Council of Trade Unions, the Department of the Environment, the Patrick Street & Stephen Street Traders Group, and businessman Noel McDonagh.
WCTU President Dick Roche had said “a thousand years of Waterford history will be buried underneath this shopping centre”. Such “shallow consumerism” would, he claimed, give rise to “massive, continuous and ongoing problems associated with traffic, overshadowing, loss of light, noise and air pollution” – not to mention “a serious loss of amenity which will depreciate the value of properties in the general area.”
Yesterday he said he was glad the matter had been resolved – and that he didn’t regret the Trades Council’s objection.
An oral hearing was held over three days exactly a year ago – two months after the intended start date – with arguments heard for and against the project. Waterford Chamber were among those who backed KRM’s case, citing the near-€20m leakage in retail spending each year to rival centres in the region. Also, such obstacles sent a regrettable signal to others considering large-scale investments in the city, its CEO Monica Leech added. City Manager Michael Walsh has also supported the project strongly.
With the board’s verdict repeatedly put back due to ‘further information’ queries and resultant public consultation requirements, in August the consortium said it addressed “each of the issues raised by the board” and hoped to deliver the scheme “as soon as feasible.”
In effectively upholding the Council’s decision, An Bord Pleanála considered the City Development Plan’s zoning objectives for the site, and its location, as well as relevant architectural and archaeological guidelines. Its order was given in the appeal of Mr McCann and others.
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His lengthy submission objected to 23 elements of the scheme, predicting potential traffic problems, overshadowing and heritage impacts. The developers’ “over the top” plans were more concerned with profit than the heritage of the site and the surrounding townscape, he said, maintaining the revised proposal was “another missed opportunity to provide an appropriate and sensitive re-development of this important site.”
However, the Board was satisfied that, subject to compliance with the 30 multi-part conditions attached to the permission (which can be viewed in full on the website – www.pleanala.ie/lists/2008/decided/index.htm – from next Wednesday), the development would “constitute an appropriate use for this site”, and be both “acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience” and also in relation to residential amenity in the environs.
Also, it “would not unduly affect the character of protected structures”, nor “seriously injure the visual amenities of the area”, and public health would not be prejudiced. Thus, it was in accordance with proper planning and sustainable development.
KRM chief executive Paul Miskella said it “cleared the way for work to begin” on the project “which is seen as hugely important to revitalising Waterford city centre and underpinning the city’s status as gateway to the southeast.”
The developers’ agents, Bannon Commercial Property Consultants, continue to report “strong interest among potential tenants in Ireland and overseas, even in the current economic climate” – something that “underlines the dearth of suitable retail space currently available in the city centre”, Mr Miskella told a Waterford Chamber conference last month.
He said yesterday: “I know that I also speak for the southeast businessmen behind this scheme” – who assembled the site over a number of years – “when I say how delighted we are with this outcome.”
They had expected objections from day one, though perhaps not the extent of the delay that ensued, despite their emphasis on information and consultation from the outset. The result of the arbitration “vindicates our own plans” and also Waterford City Council’s decision over 16 months ago “after very careful consideration and analysis,” he said.
Waterford Minister Martin Cullen is “delighted with the decision… which will allow work to commence without delay.” He feels the development, as well as attracting “key brand retailers, shoppers and visitors back in to the city centre… will enhance our cityscape, bringing life back into under-utilised areas and is a real vote of confidence in Waterford.
“I would encourage the developers to move now on the project build of this exciting large scale investment… I hope too that we will also see movement in granting permission for other redevelopment proposals for the city which are in the planning process,” the Minister said.
Chamber President Colin McGookin echoed those sentiments, saying he was pleased that “commonsense has finally prevailed… It’s great to see that KRM are committed to such a massive investment” in such uncertain economic times.”
“This is a huge vote of confidence in Waterford. At a time of endless bad news stories, it is great to get some good news… We look forward to building starting as soon as possible and to an early opening.”
Anne Marie Caulfield, chairperson of the Chamber’s retail committee, added: “It has been a priority of ours to see major investment of this kind in the city centre. This development will expand the retail offering, help generate footfall and enable the city centre to better compete with other cities and towns around the country.”
From the promoters’ perspective, Dan Kickham of the Enniscorthy-based DKG Group said it had been “a long journey” since the current application was lodged in December ’06. (A previous plan for a slightly smaller complex called ‘The Brewery’ was submitted a year earlier, but was deemed ‘premature’ and “seriously injurious” because of its scale.)
Throughout that time, “we have been encouraged by the level of support we have received in Waterford and by the appetite that clearly exists… for the type of large-scale development that can attract big name retailers and large numbers of shoppers and visitors to the city centre which, I think it is generally agreed, is in need of significant regeneration to respond to currently unmet demand and to allow Waterford take its rightful place in Ireland’s retail hierarchy alongside the other major cities.”
City Square was the last significant investment in the city centre and that was 15 years ago.
His partner on the project, Ciarán Redmond of Bunclody-based Redmond Civil Engineering, added: “The outcome… now allows us move ahead with our plans for site clearance and construction” – adding that they will “obviously be engaging in a considerable public information and community liaison campaign.
“We can also now proceed to the next stage of our negotiations with various potential tenants for the retail element of the project as well as discussions with hotel operators and management companies,” he said.
Mr Redmond – who is also involved in developing the championship-standard Bunclody Golf & Fishing Club due to open in March – thanked the entire team, led by Paul Miskella, who have worked on the project to date, and all those who’ve been supportive of it.
“In acknowledging the support we’ve received from a wide range of third parties, I also want to recognise publicly the courtesy generally shown to us by those who took a different view of the proposals. We have also consistently sought to reciprocate that courtesy and will continue to do so,” he said.
However, the 16-month saga has been bitter at times, with a well-documented public spat between selling agent Des Purcell and Brendan McCann. Also, given that construction crews working on the site will be estimated to make €1.5m and €2m a month in wages, the opposition of the Waterford Trades Council was strongly criticised by the Waterford Building Group of Unions (including SIPTU) who made the point that “these objections have placed our members job security – the little there is – in jeopardy.
Mayor Welcomes KRM decision
“I am delighted to welcome the decision of An Bord Pleanala to grant permission to KRM for the development adjacent to Michael Street in the city centre”, said the Mayor, Councillor Jack Walsh, on hearing the good news. He said the size and scale of the development wass commensurate with the Gateway status of the city.
“The development will give the City Centre substantial additional attractive retail space which will cater for high and middle order retailers and this will add considerable value to the retail offer of the city centre”, he predicted.
“In these difficult times, it is most encouraging to see the level of investment proposed for this project and it is a tremendous vote of confidence in Waterford City”, he concluded.