Historic Waterford's ambitious bid to build for a brighter future
For historic reasons Waterford is lopsided, all on the south side of the deep River Suir which runs through the heart of the city. The north side was once the industrial port but when it moved to a new purpose-built site at Belview, in the early 1990s, the land on the north side of the river became largely redundant. Since then the city has continued to expand southwards into its Waterford hinterland.
Now all is about to change with the implementation of Project Ireland 2040.
Something as simple as a bridge in the centre of the city could join the main area to the old mills and warehouses of the former port and change the dynamic of one of Ireland's oldest and most historic cities. The proposed bridge near the Clock Tower on the south side is the gateway to 8.3 hectares of land that is largely lying idle, ripe for development, making it one of the pivotal projects in the Government plan aimed at unlocking the potential of the run-down and undeveloped areas of cities and towns.
"I think the bridge is really important," says Maria Clifford, a local estate agent and member of Waterford Chamber of Commerce. "This is the catalyst for so much change. We are going to get a new city from this and it isn't happening by accident."
Clifford, who is a director of Liberty Blue Estate Agents in Waterford, sees the re-development of the north quays as opening up new opportunities for the city and its people. "I believe it will make us a strong contender for tech companies and banks looking for a gateway to Europe."
It would also be pivotal in rebalancing the city to face the challenges of the new century.
"Even during the recession we never had enough retail space in Waterford," says Mayor of Waterford Sean Reinhardt. "As the capital of the south-east, with a big catchment area, retail has always been less than what it should be. This changes everything."
The Government-sponsored Project Ireland 2040 has identified the bridge and the consequent redevelopment of the disused north quays into a vibrant new community with apartments, shops and an entertainment quarter directly linked to the historic centre of Waterford. The bridge will allow pedestrians and cyclists easy access to either side of the river without adding to the traffic problems associated with such a large new development.
It will give "a new urban experience on the north side of the River Suir", according to the plan, to be enjoyed by locals, businesses and tourists.
"The redevelopment has to happen in tandem with Michael Street in the heart of the city. A bridge is vital, it joins up the spine of Waterford with the other side of the river," says Reinhardt, who is a supporter of the redevelopment of the site with one kilometre of frontage on the River Suir facing the city.
"If you compare it to many other cities you go to, what you have in Waterford is unique," adds Reinhardt. "There are 20 acres right in the heart of the city."
Waterford is, he says, one of the few ports where ships can come right into the heart of the city, something which makes the Tall Ships Festival such a major success when it comes there.
For years the expansion of Waterford has been bound up in the complicated geography of the region, with the river acting as a county boundary with Kilkenny. It seems ridiculous in this day and age that a city with the potential of Waterford, as the capital of the south-east, should be stifled by what GAA jersey people wear.
According to Maria Clifford, the new development zone will add vibrancy to the city, making it a very exciting and attractive place for young professionals to live. "We already have a great quality of life here," she says, "but we need to attract high-value jobs to Waterford and this development will make it happen because of the stunning location."
It also makes economic sense with the cost of accommodation €8,000 to €10,000- a-year cheaper than prices in Dublin. For employers the attraction, she says, is that staff retention in Waterford is extremely high compared with Dublin.
The new plan also envisages a transport hub, including rail and bus terminals and a car-pooling facility that would also offer substantial savings to new residents, although the new trendy apartment blocks would be only five minutes' walk from the current centre of the city.
"It would reinstate the primacy of the river," says the Waterford plan. The constructing of the new quarter, on the other side of the river would be "in proximity to the city's historic core" with panoramic views and a diverse mix of uses to include apartment blocks, retail and entertainment resulting in a "dynamic space for living, working and socialising" in the inner city.
The bridge would also be a direct link from the city to the 47km Greenway which is now one of Ireland's top-10 tourist attractions.
"This is the lucky break we have been waiting for in Waterford," concludes Maria Clifford, "but that said, there is no such thing as luck. It is opportunity meeting preparation."
For more information on Project Ireland 2040 visit the official website