Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Urban Regeneration and Development Fund

9:50 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted this matter is being taken in the last week of the Dáil session because a decision will have to be made quickly on this important development. It is an iconic development on the North Quays of Waterford. Anyone who is familiar with Waterford will know the South Quays is where most of the development is. The North Quays has been underdeveloped for a long number of years. It provides a tremendous opportunity for positive development and there is a plan to transform the North Quays that, in turn, will transform the heart of Waterford city but also the south-east region.

Investors are prepared to put hundreds of millions of euro on the table to make sure this project is delivered. It will involve a hotel, office accommodation, high-quality accommodation and retail. It must include, and hopefully will include, the relocation of the train station in Waterford city to the North Quays.

I am disappointed the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is not here because he hosted a meeting last week in his office with all Oireachtas Members with the exception of myself. He took that decision because he said he was only going to meet with, as he put it, or as the local Fianna Fáil Deputy put it, representatives of the Government and those who support the Government. Of the five Oireachtas Members in Waterford, I was the only one not present at the meeting, not by choice, but because I was excluded from the meeting which was unfortunate.

Having said that, I raised this issue on the floor of the Dáíl with the Taoiseach several weeks ago and asked him to raise this with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and, indeed, with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The funding for this project must come from the urban regeneration and development fund.

The Minister of State is from the south-east region and he will be aware of the iconic nature and importance of this development, not just for Waterford and the south-east region, but also the fact that the ask on the State side and the need for funding from the Government has been on the table for years. This development was put forward several years ago. It is strategic development zone, as the Minister of State will be aware. The ask from the Government side is more than €100 million. It is significant investment but it is obviously an investment that needs to happen if we are serious about Waterford being a gateway city and the driver of economic growth, which it can be, needs to be and is for the entire south-east region.

When will a decision be made to ensure all the funding which is necessary to deliver this project is granted by the Government? A letter of comfort was given to those Oireachtas Members who were at the meeting held by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government last week where he said the Cabinet will make a decision when it comes back in September. Will that decision be the entire quantum of money which is needed? The developers are looking for funding certainty. They have put an awful lot of work into the planning application, the design and into this project. It cannot be a missed opportunity. It is hugely important that this funding is forthcoming. Without that funding from the Government the project does not happen and it cannot be let slip.

Will the Minister of State who is present give a commitment that when the Cabinet discusses this issue, it is the full quantum of money that will be either agreed or not agreed, and that this project can have the funding certainty it needs?

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Cullinane for raising the matter. I am fully aware that it is an important project for the south-east region and not just for Waterford city.

The North Quays was subject of a strategic development zone, SDZ, order made by Government recognising the social and economic importance of the site to the State, and designating the Waterford North Quays for mixed-use development, subject to the preparation of an SDZ planning scheme, which has been done.

The national planning framework, launched in February 2018 as part of Project Ireland 2040, includes objectives to achieve both more compact urban growth within Ireland's cities and the significant further development of Waterford city. The urban regeneration and development fund is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040.

Under the stewardship of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the fund was established to support more compact and sustainable urban development, through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland's five cities and other large towns, in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and national development plan. This is to enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and towns and to ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people choose to live and work, as well as invest in and visit.

As part of the first call for proposals under the URDF Waterford City and County Council submitted a bid for Exchequer grant funding in respect of a major multifaceted proposal for the North Quays in Waterford. It is intended that the proposed largely transport-focused infrastructural works will open up the North Quays site, making it more accessible, and ultimately supporting the achievement of the broader objectives of the SDZ planning scheme.

On 26 November 2018, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government announced initial URDF supports of €100 million for a total of 88 projects across the country, including €6 million of initial support for the Waterford North Quays proposal. Furthermore, in June 2019, URDF support of €30 million was ring-fenced in respect of the advancement of the overall North Quays proposal, pending further clarification of the project detail.

The URDF support of the North Quays project, as with all other successful URDF proposals, is approved in principle subject to appropriate appraisal, and justification and advancement in accordance with the public spending code and other conditions appropriate to the approval of very high cost projects under Project Ireland 2040, including the requirements for a cost-benefit analysis of the project to be carried out.

11 o’clock

Since June of last year our Department has been working with Waterford City and County Council with a view to assisting in its advancement and development of the appropriate appraisal of this high-value and complex project to meet the requirements of the public spending code. In that context, on 30 June the council submitted an updated economic and cost-benefit appraisal of its proposals, and this must now be considered by our Department in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform before a recommendation on further whole-project URDF support can be considered.

Our Department has already recouped €5.7 million in respect of costs incurred by Waterford City and County Council on the planning and development of this project, and further funding will be made available as the project advances through its various stages of development.

10:00 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister of State's response is a bit disappointing because there is nothing new in this that was not included in responses to parliamentary questions by anyone who has been raising this issue in recent years, except from the part stating that a new economic appraisal was submitted by the council which is now being evaluated. I do not know how many evaluations, economic or otherwise this project has had. I know there is deep frustration by those involved locally, including those on the council, that time and again this seems to be subject to economic appraisal, assessment and review. The people want delivery, and those looking to invest in this project in Waterford city want certainty that the funding will be forthcoming.

It does not even chime with what I call the letter of comfort that was given to Oireachtas Members from Waterford this week. It still states that only €30 million has been ring-fenced, which is welcome but a long way short of the overall quantum of money that is needed. I know that part of the transport element of the funding will come from elsewhere. However, between €65 million and €70 million will be required from the urban regeneration and development fund if this project is to go ahead.

I welcome that it references the transport element of it. I spoke to the Green Party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on this. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, knows the train station in Waterford as well as anyone else in this Chamber. It is in the wrong location. It would be fantastic and a game-changer if that train station was moved over to the North Quays. However, we do not need more reviews and appraisals; we need the money. Now is the time to show us the money and deliver this project to ensure that for once and for all Waterford and the south east get certainty rather than, time and again, announcements that are not followed through with the money that is necessary.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I agree with the Deputy entirely on the train station. I am very familiar with it and strategically its location is wrong for the future advancement of Waterford city.

The Waterford North Quays project is a very complex and high-cost project in a strategic development zone, SDZ. Therefore, it is critical that careful consideration is given to its planning and development, and the establishment of the correct combination of supports required to facilitate successful advancement and completion or the right blend of interventions that will contribute to the achievement of the broader objectives of the SDZ.

Following Waterford City and County Council's recent submission of an updated economic cost-benefit appraisal of its proposals, our Department can continue its work in consultation with colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on evaluating the council's justification of the proposed project composition cost, sequencing, and requested RDF funding support.

There has been a significantly changed environment in recent months and it is important that the robustness of the cost-benefit appraisal stands up from a public spending point of view. That is why we are ensuring we get the right blend here.