There’s a CD-ROM (remember them?) from 2002 on my work desk which by now I ought to have labelled: ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’.
It details the then Government’s hopes (via the Office of Public Works) to rejuvenate the North Quays in Waterford, which it promoted via a €250,000 international architectural and urban design competition, ultimately won by London firm, IDOM UK.
It’s worth remembering that the 2002 competition attracted 99 entries, the majority of which were indigenous, but also drew submissions from Argentina, Canada, Japan, Italy and Switzerland.
All of 16 years ago, several companies, based thousands of miles from the north bank of the Suir identified a site with enormous potential, an area left largely derelict after container traffic had moved four miles downriver to the new port at Belview.
Now I can’t be the only person to have noticed a Saudi Arabian-registered car in a city centre car park over the last few months – regularly just a few spaces from where I park my slightly cheaper vehicle!
It may well be purely coincidental of course, but it’s difficult to conceive that Fawaz Alhokair haven’t had some additional boots on the ground over the past few months, to get a better handle on the city and region they’re committed to pumping in, around or over €300 million into.
The company has yet to officially speak about the project, which might seem odd to our western sensibilities, but Fawaz Alhokair paddles its own canoe and that has to be respected.
What also ought to be respected is the right of anyone to object to a planning application, and let’s face it, as planning applications go, the North Quay project is unprecedented in our city’s history. Objections were inevitable.
Pat Moran (Cheekpoint) and Eddie Lynch (Passage East) have copped some flak online over the past week for filing their respective objections, some of which, I suspect, might be related to previous objections made by others on a range of different proposals.
Mr Moran, speaking to the Waterford News & Star, said he doesn’t believe that “Waterford Council have provided enough assurances that cruise ships – and indeed the Tall Ships – will be able to come into the city anymore. I think that Waterford loses with this development, and I had to do something about it”.
However, Waterford City & County Council has already made a clear comment on the new bridge and any potential impact it may have on a future staging of the Tall Ships Festival.
Replying to the seventh of 11 points made in Mr Moran’s submission to the Strategic Development Zone’s (SDZ) Draft Planning Scheme (“Clearly no ships or boats here, no Tall Ships – no cruise ships either”), the Council states: “It is intended to retain the possibility of berthing medium and small cruise liners on the Frank Cassin Wharf as part of the development of the North Quays as a visitors’ centre. The possibility of providing other berthing for small craft along the North Quays will be kept open for future consideration. It would be in the context of the usage of the existing moorings on the Southern Quays which are currently under utilised and in the context that future moorings for small craft on the North Quays could not be allowed to cause any risk to commercial traffic on the river.”
Responding to a public submission made by Joe Lonergan of Halfwayhouse (in Section 10 of the Chief Executive’s Report on the SDZ’s Draft Planning Scheme), the Council states that the new bridge “will have an opening centre section equivalent in size to that currently available at Rice Bridge”.
In addition, “The bridge will be provided with an opening span with a navigation channel width suitable for the passage of tall ships to the berths west of the bridge location.”
Reading through several of the Council’s communiqués in the Draft SDZ, the local authority makes clear its commitment to respecting the area’s maritime past, while not negatively impacting on existing river traffic.
Now, perhaps my eyes are playing tricks on me, but I fail to see where the Council’s plan suggests that the creation of any new North Quay infrastructure would make staging a future Tall Ships event here a non-runner.
However, if there’s a need for some re-communication clarity on any marina or berth-related issues, then one suspects such fears can be rapidly remedied.
The second objection is based on a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of Eddie Lynch’s Top filling station on the Ferrybank Dual Carriageway, and Mr Lynch’s contention that “this is a deliberate attempt by Waterford City (& County) Council to try and acquire my property at a fraction of the actual market value”.
One suspects that this is hardly an insurmountable obstacle either and both matters ought to be resolved promptly.
During their visit to Waterford on March 9th, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohue met with two representatives of Fawaz Alhokair (the meeting was arranged by Senator Paudie Coffey).
I’m reliably informed that the investors were struck by the “superb commitment” of both Mr Varadkar and Mr Donohue to the project and that the filing of some objections was of no great surprise to the company.
Further to that, those driving the project had also factored potential objections into their timescale when it came to deploying shovels on both the Michael Street and the North Quay sites.
Let’s hope the queries of the objectors are dealt with promptly because, unlike 2002, this time we’re talking about a plan with real financial muscle behind it. It might just be time to archive that ageing CD-ROM.