A three-phase tourism strategy for Enniscorthy that would see €30m being invested into developing the town, has been outlined to the members of the Municipal District Council.
Brian Galvin, Wexford County Council's Head of Special Projects, introduced the members to the Enniscorthy Tourism Plan Report and said the aim of the project will be to create a public space in Enniscorthy that will link up the key tourism assets of the town.
He introduced the people involved in compiling the report including Alan Sherwood, of Sherwood & Associates, who gave a comprehensive presentation outlining what each phase of the project will entail, with the overall ambitious nature of the plan highlighted by the proposal to develop a cable car system over the River Slaney between the Turret Rocks, in Templeshannon, and Enniscorthy Castle.
The 'master plan' was compiled by Sherwood & Associates in conjunction with Denis Byrne Architects, Behaviour & Attitudes, Bright3D, and Storyline.
As highlighted in this newspaper last week, an application for €15m in funding has already been submitted by Wexford County Council with regard to the first two phases of the plan, which will see an interpretive centre being developed adjacent to Enniscorthy Castle.
In his presentation, Mr Sherwood said Enniscorthy is 'a fantastic place' and that it also has 'fantastic potential' and that the bypass has opened up the town to potential opportunities and the impending flood relief scheme will do likewise.
'They are huge steps and put the town in a different light,' said Mr Sherwood.
In outlining the methodology behind the master plan there were three stages in the delivery of the tourism plan: Baseline research; Scoping, assessing and selecting the plan; Developing and articulating the plan - The Enniscorthy Tourism Plan Report.
As part of the study process the consultants looked at various aspects of Enniscorthy's current position and its potential, including defining 'the offer of value' to visitors, assessing the key challenges and understanding the visitor market.
A number of key objectives were also outlined to the members, with the main aim of the plan being to develop Enniscorthy as a long-term sustainable tourism destination capable of attracting in excess of 100,000 visitors annually.
Another objective will be to use the heritage and natural assets of the town to develop unique experiences aimed at encouraging visitors to stay all-year round.
Denis Byrne, from Denis Byrne Architects, said a lot of time was spent analysing the town. He emphasised the strong potential of linking the town, the castle and the river.
'Old maps always showed the castle out on its own,' he said.
Mr Byrne said the castle and its grounds have the potential to be opened up 'like they once were'.
He said the focus of the town would be placed on the castle, Market Square, Abbey Square and 'church square', based around St Mary's Church.
He emphasised that because the 'squares' in the town are within close proximity, yet each have their own potential, as a whole they could be greater than the sum of their parts.
Mr Byrne also said it's very unusual for a town in Ireland to have a water meadow so close to it and that also offers potential for development in Enniscorthy.
The members were also told there is a 'huge amount of interest' in the impending flood relief scheme - which includes proposals for alterations and sculpting of the water meadows landscape. Mr Byrne said that the water meadows could be explored for potential recreational and amenity use.
'We had thought there might be a Slaney River Festival,' said Mr Byrne. In the presentation to the members it was highlighted that the Irish name for the Slaney, 'Abhainn na Sláine', translates to 'river of health' and that such a festival could be based around that theme.
He said analysis was done on how to use cultural and heritage assets to their maximum. Mr Sherwood then added that part of the plan will be to develop the key assets of the town.
Mr Sherwood said there is a national swing towards moving tourism out of traditional hubs like Killarney and Galway, and Enniscorthy is perfectly poised to capitalise on that.
He said people enjoy things like retail cafés - a proposal for which is included in the plan - and he added that such a development could become a catalyst for expanding on tourism potential.
'Wexford has a good food reputation and there is a new phenomenon called the immersive experience,' said Mr Sherwood.
He said the approach those behind developing the plan took was to consider all possibilities and then 'whittle them down to what is possible to do'.
'The idea was to bring it down to the things that are possible, while not discounting the more ambitious ideas, because they might be achievable down the line,' said Mr Sherwood, who added that the initial aim of the plan will be to deliver 150,000 tourists into the town each year.
'All of the things that were discussed could happen in the future,' said Mr Sherwood.
'We are at the stage where this report will look at Enniscorthy through a tourism lens and see the best projects that we feel can be brought forward,' he added.
He said the plan will need to align to national strategies and, in the case of Enniscorthy, the Norman story will play a big part.
'That is not to say that everything has to revolve around the Normans,' said Mr Sherwood. 'There is 1798, the battle of Vinegar Hill as well.'
Siobhan O'Neill, from Wexford County Council, then reminded the members that an initial consultation took place with the local authority in January, 2019, and it was agreed that Enniscorthy Castle would be put at the centre of any proposed development plan.
'It was agreed that it was a key asset in Enniscorthy and we should make the most of it,' she said.
She also said the Slaney river is another important asset for the town.
Mr Sherwood then said the aim was to look at the castle, the grounds around it, the river and Vinegar Hill.
'You fit all of the things together so that you have key assets,' he said.
'It's about bringing things back and the bypass has been very positive,' he added. 'However, we need to be assured that we are providing something that visitors want.'
The councillors were told that the Fáilte Ireland international visitor segmentation model can help define how the offering in Enniscorthy can be tailored to meet the needs and expectations of 'best prospect' visitors.
They also heard the culturally curious segment is a key target market area for visitors to Ireland.
With regard to the domestic market, the members were told that 'connected families' make up 23 per cent of the domestic market and they are 'an extremely appropriate segment for Enniscorthy'.
The rejuvenation of the castle will include updating the entire visitor experience. Visitors will be offered guided and self-guided tour options of newly designed exhibits.
A wide range of interpretive techniques will be used to appeal to different audience groups and visitors will be able to interact with dressed actors, participate in medieval games, view projections on the castle walls and witness Ireland's rarest art coming to life through digital animation. They will also get to hear medieval music.
The redeveloped castle site will include a state-of-the-art interpretive centre which will form the focus of a 'welcome hub' which will include a cafe, retail offering and an interactive immersive experience called 'the Black box'.
The proposed new centre will be constructed over three levels and will provide lift access to the castle itself.
The centre, through its cafe and retail offering, will provide world class design and visitor amenities along with visitor information.
The councillors were also told through the presentation that the centre could host tastings and special events.
The key project elements will be developed in three phases: Phase 1 - the castle courtyard and castle upgrades; Phase 2 - the welcome hub within regained curtilage space and newly built interpretive centre; and Phase 3 - development of innovative and sustainable transport which would include development of a cable car to the castle from Templeshannon.
With regard to the overall cost of realising the plan, the members were presented with the following breakdown: Phase 1 - castle enabling works and courtyard development (€4,975,000); castle interpretive design and enhancement works (€3,250,000); Phase 2 - development of the Welcome Hub, cafe, retail and Blackbox (€9,100,000); Phase 3 - Turret Rock car and coach park, and visitor experience cable car (€13,100,000).
In terms of visitor numbers, the projected numbers for Phase 1 were 50,000 representing tourist expenditure of €1,755,000; Phase 2 - 140,000 with tourist expenditure of €9,940,000; and Phase 3 - 400,000 people with tourist expenditure of €28,400,000.
The presentation was welcomed by the members, who said it was ambitious and extensive.
In response to a query from Cllr Aidan Browne regarding the timeframe involved, Mr Galvin said land acquisition will be required but work could potentially begin in the third quarter of 2022 and the Phase 2 works would follow on from that.
With regard to Phase 3, Mr Galvin said it would likely involve the private sector.
Councillors also heard about plans to regenerate the Templeshannon area of Enniscorthy to the tune of over €8m.
The presentation was made by Mr Galvin, who was assisted by his colleague, Executive Engineer, Michael Jones.
Mr Jones outlined proposals to develop a new pedestrian bridge over the river Slaney from the bottom of Slaney Street.
He said the new bridge would rise above the proposed new flood defence scheme work and would lead to the car park at the swimming pool in the Templeshannon area.
'It has to be above the proposed flood defence scheme and an arched bridge is proposed,' he said.
The members were told the objective of the regeneration project will be to develop a plan that will outline and support urban renewal and development opportunities in the Templeshannon area.
Improved accessibility and traffic management scheme was also included in the presentation made to the members.
With regard to infrastructural works the plan makes provision for ways to improve the public realm and streetscape and manage the progressive transformation of the swimming pool and leisure centre car park to create a new public space and car park.
In addition to the proposed new pedestrian bridge the creation of three new urban development blocks will provide the main focus of attention within the overall project.
The councillors were informed that in May this year an application was made by Wexford County Council based around three specific projects: Templeshannon; the Tourism Project and a Community/Food hub.
It's proposed the three projects will be delivered in a coordinated way to support urban regeneration and economic development within the entire town.
The members were told that successful delivery of the projects will require state, public and private sector funding.
In the presentation, Mr Galvin and Mr Jones highlighted to the members that the preliminary design and planning of the Templeshannon regeneration master plan will be best achieved by developing an overall masterplan to coordinate all of the public works and the development of the new urban blocks by the private sector.
With regard to the cost of the project the breakdown was comprised of: Phase 1: Templeshannon Street Enhancement work (€1.26m); Adaption of the Leisure Centre car park (€1.97m); Urban block development enabling works (€.98m); Templeshannon Food and Community Hub (€1.41m).
Costing of Phase 2 of the Templeshannon project included: Pedestrian bridge construction (€3.5m); and development of Blocks A and B (private sector).
Phase 3 of the development would see Block C of the urban block being constructed through the private sector.
Cllr Cathal Byrne asked if a pedestrian crossing at the bottom of Slaney Street could be implemented 'immediately', and said he would have concerns about a two-way system operating in 'such a confined space' near the pool.
With regard to the situation at the bottom of Slaney Street Cllr Owens said: 'The situation for pedestrians at the bottom of Slaney Street hasn't been looked at in 20 years.'
'It should be put in now for the safety of pedestrians,' he said.