Wexford councillors ‘blown away’ by ambitious €9m ‘neighbourhood destination’ project for New Ross
Wexford County Council are planning a €9m ‘neighbourhood destination’ in New Ross in the form of an enterprise centre beside the river on John Street, with a cafe, garden, mezzanine and hot desk spaces.
Designed by ODKM Architects, ‘The Grain Store’ was initially going to be an enterprise centre but is now going to be more open to the public.
Speaking at Wednesday’s New Ross Municipal District meeting, Sean Meyler of the council’s Special Projects team said: “For many years this project was talked about as being an enterprise hub. It will be that but we are also proposing to create a neighbourhood destination by pulling together the various strands of public realm, arts, community, active travel etc.”
An attractive destination venue located over four floors is planned, connecting John Street with the river.
"We want a building that is busy all day long, seven days a week. It’s a major building in very good shape. It’s nestled into a cosy setting beside the beautiful Barrow river and it perfectly compliments the ongoing South East Greenway project.
"We will see people on bikes across the river and people on bikes will see the grain store and the loop will have the effect of drawing people back into New Ross."
Acknowledging that the project is very ambitious, Mr Meyler said it will be completed to a high class design and build.
"It’s a project that will not only reinvent and transform the John Street area but will become an example not only in New Ross but in Co Wexford of how urban regeneration should be done. It’s not just a build project, it’s a public realm opportunity. We would like to connect the North quays with O’Hanrahan bridge. There will be public steps up to John Street itself.”
Described as a new centre for learning and making, ensuring that the historic legacy of the site lives on, the council see the Grain Store as another project to instil pride in the people of New Ross in their historic town.
“It’s not just a shared workspace, it’s more. The Plaza stiches the old building back into New Ross, by way of a new place to visit. A place to walk, sit by the water, have lunch, connect.”
Mr Meyler said the spaces between and around buildings are as important as the buildings themselves.
“Understanding how the Grain Store will interact with John Street, and the courtyard to the rear is key to unlocking the potential of the building. A park provides further opportunity for enjoyment, expansion and adaptation to create an open and inclusive environment where lots of things happen, interconnected through a weave of outdoor spaces, covered areas and sheltered accommodation.
“Great public space will will enhance the setting of the Grain Store at the lower level to the rear. The building needs to be grounded, and given the proximity to the river, it presents the perfect opportunity to create a new public plaza, pulling people into the building, and giving something back. With the change in level between John Street, and the rear courtyard, a tiered landscaped connection between plaza and street could provide an opportunity to connect physically and visually with the river from John Street.”
Breathing life back into what was once a busy building is one of the platforms upon which Rural Regeneration and Development Fund funding will be sought this November, with Mr Meyler hopeful that funding could be secure by next summer.
He said the ground floor extension will mainly be taken up with a cafe, toilets, which the public can use.
Comprehensive internal renovations will have to be carried out, with a plaza planned for the riverside. “The plan is for tiered steps connecting up to John Street.”
A lift is planned to make the venue wheelchair accessible, with a staff kitchen also on the ground floor and a mezzanine area with a balcony space is planned before you go downstairs to the ground floor.
A ‘void’ area will create a high, naturally-lit space which will lead to the garden on the mezzanine level with a rooftop over the cafe for people to sit out and enjoy outdoor dining.
“There will be fantastic views outside looking onto the river and greenway and countryside."
The plan is broken down into two separate projects: the building renovation and extension and the public realm space including connecting John Street to the riverside.
Both will be subject to screening for appropriate assessment as they fall within the Barrow Special Area of Conservation.
Mr Meyler said the council are optimistic that no Natura Impact Statement will be required and that they will both go straight to Part 8 planning for approval by councillors later this year.
Cathaoirleach Cllr Michael Sheehan said the application is exceptional. “Every element of that has been thoroughly researched. Out of all the exciting presentations I’ve seen here this is one of the most amazing projects. I know this has been an objective of ours since 2017 but to see the project is amazing.”
When asked for a timeline for the works, Mr Meyler said the project could go out for tender next summer subject to planning and funding being approved quickly. “That could see us straight on site by the end of 2024. We have ambitions to get capital funding for all of this but we may only get funding for one project or the other.”
Cllr John Fleming said the design looks very impressive and asked if the cafe and hot desks will be leased and let out and if the toilet can be used by the public.
Mr Meyler said yes on all three counts.
He said the car park has been secured also adding that the Compulsory Purchase Order process took a long time.
Cllr Pat Barden said: “I am really blown away by this presentation; it’s absolutely fabulous and is the most exciting thing I’ve seen for a long time. This links back to The High Hill park and Goat Hill. It really pulls it all together. If people are not going to be attracted to work in this place there is something really wrong with them."
Both he and Cllr Fleming said it was difficult to appreciate the size of the building and public area.
Cllr Bridín Murphy asked if the vacant and derelict properties beside and across from the Grain Store will be incorporated into the plan.
Cllr Sheehan said a primary healthcare centre is going to open across the road, leading to further regeneration of the town’s north side.
Mr Meyler said the Grain Store is the only building that will be renovated, along with the yard beside it. “I am sure they (the derelict buildings) will be looked at in the context of the town centre first plan.”
The cost of the building works is expected to run to between €6m and €7m, with €2m expected to be spent on the public realm works.
"We truly believe that this is a transformative project and that the RRDF and department will be similarly impressed and that it will perform very strongly when we put it forward for funding."
District director Eamonn Hore said the top two floors will be ‘semi private’ but the majority of the complex will be open to the public.
Mr Hore said the development ticks all of the boxes required to receive funding. “This is happening at exactly the right time as it fits into the town centre plan. I think it’s fantastic.”