Waterford moves step closer to becoming a ‘walking city’ with launch of North Quays project

‘Transformative’ €170m scheme aims to rebalance city so 30,000 can live immediately north of river with easy access to city

A planning future that begins to offer the prospect of car-free living in the State’s cities, or at least one where the car no longer plays such a public role in the life of cities has been unveiled in Waterford by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Under the plan, the city’s Plunkett train station will be relocated to a new site on the north side of the river Suir, where it will be the lynchpin of a new public transport hub, with rail and bus access and bike parks and cycle lanes.

Meanwhile, the development will also include up to 300 apartments in the first phase, but with the prospect of more to come; along with 6,000sq m (64,600sq ft) of shops, a hotel, visitor centre and direct access to an expanded greenway that will link Waterford to New Ross, or even Cork in the longer term.

And it will be linked to the city centre by a bridge crossing the Suir that will only be usable by pedestrians, cyclists and eventually an electric driverless shuttle bus, which means that motorists wanting to get to the railway station will have to cross the Suir northwards over Rice Bridge.


“This has been coming for a long time but it’s now a reality,” said Mr Varadkar at the launch in Waterford on Monday, adding that he wanted “to see many more projects of this scale breaking ground all across the country”.

The “transformative” €170.6 million transport project for Waterford provides a “practical example” for how cities can reduce their dependence on cars, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan told those gathered to see the North Quays project launched.

Parts of the plan have changed since the project first emerged amid a mix of excitement and a degree of local scepticism in 2016, including the retail element which has been “significantly scaled down” from the original, ambitious €500 million vision involving a Saudi Arabian investor.

“The world has changed since Covid,” chief executive of Waterford City and County Council Michael Walsh told The Irish Times. “Really significant retail development is not going to happen there – and that’s good.”

The vision now is all about rebalancing the city so that up to 30,000 people will be able to live immediately north of the river with easy access to the city. “The whole notion is to eliminate the need for the car,” Mr Walsh said.

Key to this ambition is the integrated transport hub, which is due for completion in 2025. With €100 million in funding from the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund and the rest coming from the National Transport Authority, the hub will link up to an extended Waterford greenway, which will run all the way to New Ross in the east, with proposals for it to eventually stretch as far as Youghal in the west. Car parking will be provided, but commuters who want to get to the station by car will have to travel via the old Rice Bridge. In the future, a driverless shuttle bus will connect the new transport hub to the city centre across the sustainable bridge.

Waterford is already on its way to becoming “a walking city”, said Mr Walsh, adding: “We’re not fully pedestrianised, but there’s a lot of it pedestrianised or semi-pedestrianised.” Although he has his doubts about the “15-minute city” label, Waterford “is not far off it”.

Mr Varadkar said that the vision for Waterford and other cities is not about “banning cars or crucifying motorists, but it is about designing our cities in such a way that they’re not like those big American cities, where everyone sits in traffic for two hours, but that they’re much more like European cities – liveable, walkable and cyclable.”

Congestion charges aren’t on the agenda at the moment, he added. “Until we have public transport and cycling or walking facilities like London or Amsterdam, I don’t think a congestion charge is something that’s going to happen in the near future.”

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O’Connell is Opinion Editor with The Irish Times