In what Wexford County Council is calling 'one of the most significant milestones in the history of Wexford's economic development', An Bord Pleanála has approved Wexford County Council's plans for the ambitious €120 million Trinity Wharf project. Despite concerns over the financial impact of Covid-19, the council aims to get work under way on the ten year project by the end of 2020, with the first phase to be completed within 12 months.
Having acquired the ten acre site overlooking the harbour in Wexford town back in 2016, a masterplan and preliminary designs were drawn up for the creation of a 'high-quality mixed use development of modern office space, hotel accommodation, multi-storey car-parking, a landmark cultural and events multi-use building together with 60 residential units, a 61-berth marina and a new boardwalk linking Trinity Wharf to Paul Quay and the Crescent'.
Following three years of work, a planning application was first submitted to An Bord Pleanála in February of last year and now they have been given the green light to proceed with the massive project.
In a statement, Wexford County Council said: 'Trinity Wharf is the flagship development in the Council's overall proposals for the long-term regeneration and enhancement of Wexford town and environs, and has been designed to create a new urban quarter for the south of Wexford town with new links to the Crescent and town centre area. It will provide much-needed modern, attractive office space with the capacity to attract foreign direct investment and high-quality employment opportunities.'
The first phase, to begin before the year's end, is to consist of the construction of an access road and associated automated railway level crossing and services, carrying an estimated cost of €2.8 million which will be funded through a mixture of the council's own resources and government grants.
Detailed design is also to commence shortly for the new sea wall to surround the site, site development works and services such as water and sewerage infrastructure, electrical supply and technology related services. This segment of the work is to commence in 2021 and will result in the existing brownfield and derelict site being transformed into a fully serviced and ready to go development site.
Chief Executive of Wexford County Council Tom Enright has described the project as 'one of Wexford's most exciting and ambitious economic development projects ever proposed' and was delighted to see it take a major forward step.
'Trinity Wharf is an example of what can be achieved when ambition, opportunity leadership and partnership combine to create a progressive, modern fit-for-purpose business park designed to meet needs of those employers seeking to develop new business or expand existing operations here in County Wexford,' he said. 'I want to particularly thank the Elected Members of the Council for their courage and conviction in supporting this project from the very outset and we can now look forward to construction work getting under way in the coming months.'
Mr Enright revealed that over 200 jobs will be created in the initial construction of Trinity Wharf and when fully operational, between office space, a hotel, cafés etc, it has the potential to accommodate up to 2,000 jobs.
While economists are predicting that the Covid-19 pandemic has us looking squarely down the barrel of another recession, Mr Enright pointed out that Trinity Wharf is a long term project and is hopeful that it will progress and be a driving economic force for the county. He said that while economic activity is currently at a low ebb, he is confident that Trinity Wharf will prove an attractive draw for investment once the economy starts to emerge from this current crisis.
'We already have some of the funding and there's a further call for funding applications under the government's Urban Regeneration Funding this month. Now that we have planning permission for the project, we can make a stronger case for significant funding. The Minister for Finance has said that the government intends to proceed with projects identified as part of the Project 2040 plan and I'd be hopeful that the funding will ultimately be there to avail of.'
The council CEO added, with Trinity Wharf being a ten year project, that it would be his hope that the economy will have recovered sufficiently by the time private investment is sought. He said that, prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, there was interest from 'four or five' hoteliers in a hotel at Trinity Wharf and he would be hopeful that by the time the site is ready, the hospitality and tourism sector will have recovered enough to renew interest.
'If you go back five years ago there were lots of empty hotels around Ireland,' he noted. 'The sector was really struggling. Then very quickly things improved and hotels were doing very well. I'd be hopeful that things will change quickly over the coming 12 to 18 months and that by the time we're ready to bring in private investment, the economy will be back on track again.'
'In some ways, times like this are the best times to plan a project like this. It gives you time and space to get everything ready and in place. Trinity Wharf is a really beautiful site and I think this will be something there for generations of Wexford people to enjoy, not to mention the massive potential economic impact. It's a huge project for the whole county and has the potential to really put Wexford on the map.'
These were sentiments shared by County Council Chairman Michael Sheehan, who said: 'The development of Trinity Wharf will create significant capacity to attract high quality jobs in the technology and financial services sectors over the next 5 to 10 years and I have no doubt this fantastic project will help to bring a welcome increase in prosperity and economic activity to the county.'
Mayor of Wexford Cllr George Lawlor described the approval from An Bord Pleanála as 'a most welcome shot in the arm of positivity at these globally trying times'.
'This site is one of the most fantastic locations in the country and will not only provide a wonderful opportunity for development in the heart of the town but also an extremely attractive location for inward investment and job creation,' he said. 'This decision offers prospective employers and employees the chance to locate to the heart of one of the best towns on this island, on a site with wonderful vistas. It will be a terrific selling point for Wexford and a chance to bring much needed investment and new job opportunities for our people.'
Addressing the current economic climate, Cllr Lawlor added: 'We are going to bounce back from this and we have to be ready and plan ahead. This is a ten year project. Just look at the projects that we've had come to fruition in recent years that were conceived and planned in the previous recession.'