Waterford city is steeped in history. We’re fortunate that much of our built heritage remains intact, and I for one am grateful for that.
But have there been missteps over the years when it comes to preserving some of that heritage? Absolutely.
For example, the North Train Station, built in 1864, was a beautiful Victorian red brick building, complete with a wrought iron canopy.
When demolished by CIE in 1966 (and not by Waterford Corporation), to make way for the dull Plunkett Station building, the building was said to be “structurally so unsound that its demolition was apparently unavoidable,” as noted in the ‘Decies’ Old Waterford Society Journal in 1994.
Well, of course CIE would say that, the naysayers would argue – and they’re still making that point a half century later. Nonetheless, that’s what the record tells us.
The demolition of the jail at Ballybricken in 1949 (first constructed in 1727 and rebuilt in 1861) is another case in point.
In hindsight, there would appear to have been merit in retaining some of the jail’s structures – the Jail Gate, for example – imagine it floodlit? – but that too has gone the way of the Dodo.
Another example of a misstep was the demolition of Bishop Foy’s School on The Mall, which made way for the glass and steel ESB building, now occupied by the City & County Council and the House of Waterford Crystal.
The elegant two-storey Georgian building, complete with a limestone facade, was home to a Protestant vocational school, with boarders housed in the Bishop’s Palace directly opposite.
It closed in 1967 and soon made way for the ESB structure, which has at least been aesthetically improved since it was re-titled as the Menapia Building.
No generation of planners has made the right decision every single time, and that goes for any of our cities, not just Waterford. This phenomenon is not unique to Urbs Intacta.
It’s also about as ill-considered as suggesting that the Michael Street development was somehow instigated and developed in subterfuge by Waterford’s illuminati. Here’s the thing: the application for the €17.3 million city centre upgrade (Application File: 16175) was lodged on Monday, March 23rd.
Public submissions could be received by the City & County Council up to Sunday (April 24th) with a decision on the application due from the Council by Sunday, May 15th, to be presumably disclosed the following day.
But why go to the bother of making your concerns or thoughts known to those with a direct say in what becomes of the site when you can take to Facebook instead and deliver gripe after gripe after gripe?
Of course, social media gave some the opportunity to make inaccurate claims about historic sites being bulldozed in the process of this project: what sites, exactly? Where and by whom has it be stated that this will happen as a matter of undisputed fact?
Another: that the monies for this project would be better spent on housing and water service upgrades.
Maybe there’s merit in such a suggestion, but the last time I checked, European Regional Development Funding, such as this project has secured, wasn’t used to repair leaking pipes. This is ‘use it or lose it’ funding specifically earmarked for the project in question; we need to use it, plainly and simply.
And another: that only Waterford block layers, fitters and plasterers should be employed during the construction phase.
Again, this might sound like a noble aspiration, but if we applied this sort of logic to the nth degree, then none of our children, siblings or friends who have jobs outside of Waterford ought to have such work because, apparently, they’re ‘taking’ work from someone in Dublin, Limerick or Galway.
Where does this line of ‘logic’ lead to? Border controls at Youghal Bridge and Sallypark? I can’t say I’ve ever been big on apartheid and I’ve no intentions of converting to that ludicrous cause at this stage in my life.
Am I keen on a repeat of what transpired at City Square, a purely piecemeal display of times past en route to the car park instead of a more suitable presentation of what was discovered, for example, along Peter Street ? Absolutely not.
What was achieved during the construction of the expanded Penney’s store, and the great care that was taken to preserve the 13th Century wall, including what’s believed to be the base of Teregesius’ Tower, shows how new can honour old.
Lessons can be learned from past developments and one hopes that due diligence will be applied should the construction phase of this new retail development unearth new gems from our city’s past.
I can imagine the outcry if we had a local authority that had opted to sit on its hands, just collect rates and do precious little else.
Fortunately, I believe we don’t have that problem when it comes to our City & County Council, and in Chief Executive Michael Walsh, I believe we have one of the better individuals who occupy such a brief in this State.
As things stand, we do not have shopfloor space of sufficient scale to attract some big retail hitters to our city centre. That will no longer be the case once Michael Street is in play. Surely that’s worth getting behind, isn’t it?