From the North Quays into a vibrant city’s future

Waterford has big plans to enhance its unique old character with new builds, writes Waterford City and County Council chief executive Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh, chief executive Waterford City and County Council . Picture: Patrick Browne

Imagine you have 17 acres of prime undeveloped land ripe in your city centre. What would you do? What changes would you make? You see, Waterford City and County Council pondered these very questions in the not-too-distant past when €200 million worth of government investment was approved for the North Quays. We had a ‘pinch ourselves’ moment when we realised we could right an imbalance in our city and bring life, energy, interest and community spirit back into a once-bustling part of Ireland’s oldest city.

The North Quays project is a missing jigsaw-puzzle piece in a southeast city that relishes and celebrates its past, but with an eye to the future and an emphasis on greater connectivity within our own county and to neighbouring counties. The old port site has for so long sat silent and empty as the River Suir flows past, watching the South Quays on the opposite bank excel within its careful, long and accomplished preservation of its heritage while making the public realm a place for all to enjoy.

Waterford’s regeneration work now has the opportunity to do a sort of juxtaposition of modernity on one side to counterbalance a city of small streets which has this unique character and ultimately is its strongest selling point, with a thousand protected structures within one square mile – a compact collection of our proud past.

Waterford is working – and although united in our efforts to revamp the North Quays, we will also physically unite the area with its southside sibling with a new bridge connecting both banks and completing our city and county’s connectivity. We have the integration of transport with a new sustainable transport bridge that reflects European best practice and we’re following that with initiatives like the new Greenway to New Ross, a new sustainable transport right through to Kilkenny.

The North Quays project is a missing jigsaw-puzzle piece in a city that celebrates its past

Soon to be a reality on the North Quays is a 15-story hotel and conference centre, 300 apartments, a major open public amenity space, retail, a transportation hub, and office blocks. When ground was broken on the site in March, it sent a ripple of excitement throughout the city and county.

But the North Quays is only one element of the equation. Historically, Waterford city is a city of small streets which is a unique selling point, and we’ve placed a lot of emphasis on the regeneration of the city centre over the decades, like the Viking Triangle, and bringing in Waterford Crystal, investing significantly in public-realm works; and that’s a continuous activity. We also now have urban regeneration funding of €30 million for key buildings in the city centre. We have the South East Technological University (SETU), and we are regenerating the old Waterford Crystal site on the Cork road.

Waterford has always been a city and county of firsts. In June, Waterford City and Council Coucil celebrates ten years since an amalgamation of two councils formed a united front in the development of the south east region. What could have been a challenge was viewed as a positive change with an emphasis on the greater good for everyone in this beautiful county.

It gave us the opportunity to refocus and look strategically at things, with fresh eyes looking at different elements. The city looked at the county and the county looked at the city. There were specific projects that focused the minds and allowed us to delve in straight away, like the Waterford Greenway, which links Dungarvan with the city – an umbilical cord in many respects. We also focused on strategic regeneration of core urban areas of the city, and towns like Dungarvan and Tramore. In these ten years, we’ve experienced a population growth. Waterford city now has 60,000 people, with Dungarvan and Tramore in excess of 10,000 people in each.

We have gotten more people working in the city centre and elsewhere and are doing the same in Tramore and Dungarvan as main employment centres, and then regenerating our urban towns and villages. We have about €600 million investment growth across the whole area, in terms of capital programme and that is spread across the county.

We put a lot of emphasis on our housing projects in terms of affordability and there are a whole load of parameters that feed into that. We lead the country in terms of lease and repair of old properties and affordable properties – in fact, we were the first county outside of Dublin to lead on regeneration issues. Our performance on social housing is also very strong. The emphasis we put on quality-of-life objectives has helped increase our attractiveness as a place to live, work and invest in. Think Waterford first, because we do.