Fewer Harrington & Partners, in association with the directors of Waterford Chamber, recently prepared a submission for the draft stage of the Waterford City & County Development Plan 2022-2028.
FHP and Waterford Chamber previously collaborated in 2020 for the preparation of a draft submission during the strategic issues (pre-draft) stage of the Waterford City & County Council plan.
The eventual development plan, now in its (stage two) draft phase, was open to public consultation during the summer months and in that time, Waterford Chamber and FHP Architects prepared a new submission.
The submission was informed by the needs and insights of the wider business community, and focuses on five main areas that have been identified as critical to Waterford’s economic development:
- Waterford Airport
Our submission takes into consideration the ambitions for Waterford as outlined within Project Ireland 2040 – both in terms of reaching them, and exceeding them.
With 75 multinational companies who are supported by IDA Ireland, and 550 businesses that are supported by Enterprise Ireland, Waterford City & County hosts a number of businesses across diverse industries.
The following opportunities exist for the future of Industry in Waterford:
In recent years, Waterford has become renowned for its position as a leading ICT & Innovation hub – regionally, nationally and internationally, through initiatives such as Crystal Valley Tech, and this is something that Waterford should continue to leverage going forward.
Software as a Service (SaaS) Business Support
With a significant increase in the amount of SaaS-based start-up companies in the US, there is a clear opportunity for them to build out Sales, Customer Success and Operations teams within Waterford City & County so as to support potential European expansion.
Early engagement by IDA with US venture capital investors could identify SaaS-based start-ups that have growth potential across Europe.
High-Value Financial & Business Services Roles
According to statistics from 2018, uptake in courses relating to Finance and Business is proportionally higher than the volume of available graduate roles within the region. To address this, it has been suggested that efforts be made to attract more financial services companies with the promise of a consistent supply of highly skilled graduates. A greater WIT-Industry engagement is required to create graduates with relevant skillsets to service new industry requirements.
We believe a vibrant city centre to be key to the future growth of Waterford City. This is best achieved by the development of complementary districts, all of which convey clearly distinctive characteristics.
These districts are as follows:
Tourism & Heritage Area
The proposed ‘Tourism & Heritage’ area should include a distinct retail community that models ‘The Lanes’ experience in Brighton. The small streets around the Viking Triangle are perfectly positioned for this type of experience.
Its proximity to key tourism locations would create a symbiotic relationship for both. In this area, retail units should be small and focused on independent retailers, with rental rates matching this. Streets should be pedestrianised and building owners should be incentivised to provide ground floor space for smaller retail units.
By way of contrast, the proposed ‘Cultural’ area should promote street food and alternative experiences including music venues, art galleries and more, modelled after Camden in North London to encourage individuality and create a unique community feel to an already ‘edgy’ area.
We would suggest encouraging this by offering affordable, multi-purpose units, leveraging the existing cultural initiatives by Spraoi, Waterford Walls etc. to enhance character, provide permits for street retailers and street food providers, and allow for ‘peak pedestrianisation’ times.
With the size of ‘Core Retail’ within the development plan in mind, an opportunity exists for an ‘in city’ outlet experience, distinct from the main High Street shopping location. The development in New Street or the new retail units on the North Quay could be used for this.
While still accessible to and from the High Street retail experience, distinct locations for Outlet V High Street allows the city to attract higher-end retailers into the traditional high street locations with the promise of increased spill-over footfall created by outlet offerings and vice versa.
Although the South East region ranks 4th of the seven regions for visitor numbers, it is 7th of the seven regions with regard to tourism revenue, with visitors spending less than visitors to any other region.
This is both a concern, and an opportunity.
It is known that Waterford City & County has a significant shortage of hotel beds compared to other countries, as well as a lack of self-catering accommodation. The majority of overseas visitors to Ireland arrive via air. This means that when they arrive, rail and bus become important methods of transport.
The first impression visitors have of Waterford City, is coming over Rice Bridge. Presently, this is drab, uninspiring and indicative of dereliction. Changing this is paramount.
The key objective for tourism is to increase spend per visitor in the region by improving the standard and variety of visitor accommodation, attractions and retail offerings, but mainly by increasing supply of visitor accommodation to increase visitor numbers. The response to the draft development plan also suggests to:
- Facilitate the development of visitor accommodation through zoning, planning policy and incentives – particularly through incentives to convert older, vacant large buildings into visitor accommodation.
- Extend the Greenway into the City Centre as a matter of urgency, with simple signage and road line-painting.
- Facilitate passenger flights in and out of Waterford Airport.
- Facilitate building façade improvements, including painting and container planting, through incentives.
- Convert driving streets into shared space for drivers, walkers, cyclists and on-street parking by converting two-way streets into single-lane one-way streets.
- Develop Park & Ride facilities to remove some of the city centre parking needs, and alleviate traffic congestion.
On 11th August 2021, there were 15 properties available to rent in Waterford City & County in total – seven of which were student lets, and two of which were holiday lets.
On the demand end, according to Regina Mangan of Liberty Blue Estate Agents, a rental property in Cherrymount generated 68 enquiries within the first 48 hours – a significant mismatch between supply and demand.
A key requirement for Waterford is to deliver more housing, utilise vacant homes and improve the rental sector. The need for robust, accurate, consistent and up to date data for vacant property has been noted within the draft plan.
This data, and collaboration with other sectors such as estate agents, is crucial to regenerating empty, unused space for both private and social housing as a matter of urgency.
The following opportunities have been identified:
- Bring vacant apartments, houses and retail space back to life in the city centre in order to create a vibrant city. Incentives like finders fees for parties who introduce a landlord to the repair, and a leasing initiative, would help.
- Explore a fast-track planning system for property owners or buyers of properties that could be converted into multi-unit dwellings to address critically low stock.
- Ensure that stakeholders work together so as to minimise delays.
- Introduce a planning by-law that a sub-let of a private house (for Airbnb or for student use) requires planning permission.
- Introduce a one-stop-shop self-certification solution to simplify the process of assisting owners in understanding how to bring over-the-shop back into residential use.
- Create a property register to identify vacant properties.
- Address the affordable housing market in the city centre, as the social market is over-saturated and the tenure mix is unbalanced.
- Identify suitable city-centre locations for student accommodation.
- Consider how to create smart communities so that Waterford City & County is at the forefront of remote working potential.
- Create a planning exemption policy for the provision of working from home garden rooms/offices.
5. Waterford Airport
Considered to be a key piece of infrastructure to be enhanced and expanded upon, Waterford Airport is an essential tool to assisting the primacy and growth of the South East Region, as acknowledged within Project Ireland 2040.
Before now, Waterford Airport has primarily focused on passenger travel, private aviation, training and coast guard services (limited by the length of runway available, lack of investment and infrastructure, airport-related activity and services.
However, needs are changing (independent of COVID-19), and there have been huge technological advancements in distribution, global thinking and local action, speed and ease of connectivity.
Waterford Airport can and should be a driving force of tourism growth, positioning the region as accessible, and Waterford City as the 5th largest English-speaking city in the EU.
The Chamber’s opinion is that the Airport’s masterplan as set out in the draft development plan is not ambitious enough and sets out criteria without identifying opportunities for the public and private sector to maximise on these.
In order to ensure and enhance the value of the airport, the following suggestions have been made:
Waterford City & County Council should commit to providing mains water and sewerage facilities to the lands suitable for all future development.
Waterford City & County Council should extend the metropolitan fibre network to Waterford Airport.
Waterford City & County Council should establish an energy policy around the airport and its carbon footprint.
Delivery of the runway expansion.
Waterford City & County Council and the Waterford Chamber should undertake a detailed economic evaluation and planning exercise in order to establish the type of airport and airport business the region needs, and the type of airport the international partners would want in the region.
Waterford City & County Council, IDA Ireland and Stakeholders should create a Strategic Development Zone-type planning solution around the airport. A detailed masterplan should be prepared to include roads/services and building types so that it is almost shovel-ready for investors or end-users to deploy capital and get immediate traction for investment, and be assured of building programme delivery. This masterplan should also address environmental issues and put in place any mitigations identified to close this issue out.
Waterford City & County Council and the Waterford Chamber should engage in a targeted marketing programme for investors, and to establish relationships with key industry leaders to understand/promote and shape the future of the airport.
Research & Development
Waterford Airport can engage with Walton Institute in terms of research and development for emerging aviation technologies to be best-placed to be a leader in this field.
Waterford Airport can leverage its geographical location in Ireland.
It is agreed that Waterford City & County is in a prime position to develop, and the opportunities above (as well as those within the current draft development plan), will ensure a vibrant city, county and wider region for all. Waterford Chamber and Fewer Harrington & Partners look forward to working closely with Waterford City & County Council and associated stakeholders as we move forward in delivering on the ambitions for Ireland’s oldest city.
This is an extract of the full submission made by Waterford Chamber & Fewer Harrington & Partners which can be viewed in full here.
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