Elected members also hoping to see more developments with the Hook Lighthouse project
Concerns were raised at the New Ross Municipal District meeting on Wednesday about progress on developing two landmark buildings on the quay in New Ross into a Norman themed visitor centre and Hook Lighthouse into a more modern tourism offering.
Fintan Ryan of Wexford County Council’s Special Projects team was quizzed by councillors on what they feel is a lack of progress with the visitor centre.
Mr Ryan said Kantar have been appointed to undertake stage 1 and 2 concept testing research for the Norman Centre for tourism concepts/ideas to ensure that resources are focused on ideas that have genuine potential and consumer appeal. He said uncovering stories about the Normans in New Ross and The Greatest Knight William Marshal is a key aspect of their work.
Mr Ryan said the building has been surveyed in full and the space has to accommodate what the architects and concept people desire for the building. This includes immersive experiences including themes based on the World of the Normans and Norman Wexford.
“When this is completed we will move on to the architectural design and consultancy and detailed design.”
Cllr Michael Whelan said he doesn’t believe there is enough urgency around the project, adding that Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly was in New Ross for the Kennedy Summer School and is ready and willing to support the funding of the project, along with Hook Lighthouse.
“Are we happy that the Wexfordia project is where it should be or should we be pushing them on stronger? The Hook Heritage project for the lighthouse took a hit in 2017 and I was assured that this would be pushed on.”
He expressed disappointment that the head of the special projects team Brian Galvin wasn’t in attendance, despite being asked to attend.
“Should the New Ross tourism project be further ahead? Because Fáilte Ireland are giving us the impression that they are ready and willing to support it and fund these projects. We’ve had setbacks with Hook Lighthouse so we need to get back on track,” Cllr Whelan said. “Is it a lack of staff or is it not a priority?” he asked.
Mr Ryan said between staff being out sick short and long term, the Special Projects team has been especially affected lately.
“We have been struggling for resources over the summer period. It certainly has slipped in regards a month or two but I am confident we have a very good company to get our interpretive design on board and to push on with it.”
He said a significant amount of work has been done on the concept.
“We’ve had external valuation and evaluation of the building and its layout for what we require for the application. Fáilte Ireland and Kantar want to make sure the experience is world class. We are working with them to ensure the testing and concept are going to deliver with the building is exactly what we need for New Ross. There is no point moving on to construction stage without that.”
Cllr Sheehan expressed concern that it could be a decade before the visitor centre opens, but Mr Ryan assured him that much will happen over the coming months.
“In the next number of weeks we should be in a position to look for architectural services to bring this project on to tender stage. I can assure you the project is not sitting on the shelf in Special Projects. I went to school in New Ross and am from the area. These projects are being driven and they are moving on.”
He said the projects should be ready to go to tender over the coming months, adding that it has been challenging recruiting companies in the current climate to give Wexford County Council quality guidance from an international tourism perspective.
Mr Ryan said TDI Associates architectural firm have been appointed for the Hook tourism project to provide advice to Wexford County Council on everything from the concept to a shop and food space. He said the project was delayed when the original tender didn’t work out in 2017. On the design of the attraction, Mr Ryan said a decision has to be taken regarding how much of the current centre will be used.
“We need to make sure that this is a worldwide attraction.”
He said environment and traffic studies will have to be completed, as well as a detailed look at parking and access to the attraction.
“This is a very important tourism project for ourselves. Our next step is to engage with the stakeholders.”
New Ross district director of services, Eamonn Hore said: “It’s disappointing to say nothing is happening. Fáilte Ireland are involved centrally with the Norman centre.”
He said there are three preferred names for the centre, which, he said, will have a wow factor to make people excited about New Ross.