Big plans to make north quays shipshape

 

When the English horticulturist and author Arthur Young visited Waterford more than two centuries ago, one sight above all impressed him, the city's north quays.

"The finest object in this city is the quay, which is unrivalled by any I have seen," he wrote in his book, A Tour of Ireland.

"It is an English mile long, the buildings on it are only common houses, but the river is near a mile over, flows up to the town in one noble reach, and the opposite shore a bold hill, which rises immediately from the water to a height that renders the whole magnificent . . ."

The quote is reproduced in Tom Fewer's book, Waterford People, but if Young was to return today what would he write about? Perhaps a desolate dockland, disused grain stores and unsightly cattle ships which render the whole, well, very grim.

However, all that is set to change with a development programme which will transform not just Waterford's north quays but the whole city.

"The general feeling locally is that this is probably going to be the biggest thing that's ever hit the city," said the chairman of Waterford Harbour Commissioners, Mr Ben Gavin.

In the next few weeks, developers will be invited to tender for the 15.5-acre site, part of which is owned by the harbour commissioners and the remainder by the IAWS group.

Only when developers come forward with specific proposals will the future appearance of the quays begin to take shape. However, a conceptual plan has already been drawn up by the Office of Public Works, with the involvement of Waterford Corporation and Waterford Harbour Commissioners.

It provides for developments along an 800-metre stretch of the quays, from Rice Bridge to Abbey Church, including a new hotel, a marina and residential, retail and office buildings. There would be a further half mile of walkway with picnic areas.

Also proposed are a civic centre with conference facilities for 800 people and a docking station for cruise liners.

A key element is a passenger ferry service across the Suir as the project aims to provide better links between the north side of the city and the south, where commercial and social activity is concentrated.

The president of Waterford Chamber of Commerce, Mr William O'Brien, said that while the plan is still "aspirational", the concept involved is "a very exciting one".

"We have been waiting for the development of the north quays for some time and we certainly welcome this. It's a good mixture of housing, recreational and commercial activity and would balance the life of the city on both sides of the river."

Mr Gavin said the harbour commissioners are now "in the process of going out to the market, and advertisements for tenders will be placed in the next few weeks". He stressed that there will be no question of selling to the highest bidder without regard to the plans envisaged; Waterford Corporation will be consulted about any sale; and the chosen developer will have to meet the planning authority's requirements.

Alternatively, he said, Waterford Harbour Commissioners could retain an interest in the site in partnership with the successful developer.

While the value of the project has been estimated at £200 million, this is just guesswork. The final shape and cost will depend on what those seeking to develop the site come up with.

The Minister of State for Finance, Mr Martin Cullen, has said that, while it is intended that the development should be financed commercially, consideration might be given to public funding.

However, what Waterford people now want to know is when the plan will move from aspiration to concrete reality.

Mr Gavin said there will be no delay in implementing the proposals, and the specific development plans should be known before the end of this year. However, it could be several years before the north quays again provide a vision for a modern Arthur Young to enthuse about.