Tom Enright eyes to the county's future
THE next two years will see dramatic changes in County Wexford and Wexford County Council CEO Tom Enright believes the time is coming when the county will finally reach its potential. Armed with funding stretching into the tens of millions of euros, Mr Enright is confident that the county will benefit hugely from Brexit and from town centre regeneration over the next few years.
Mr Enright said: 'We will be spending up to €30m over the next three to five years to facilitate property solutions for business and to provide quality community and amenity projects and tourism projects.'
He said with Brexit coming down the tracks in the next two years the time is right to put the necessary buildings and infrastructure in place to attract multinational, national and local companies into our town centres.
'There is a huge amount of interest from British finanical companies who want to set up Irish operations. One of our real benefits is that we already have a cluster in the county with Zurich and BNY Mellon which employ around 300 people. We have a number of other major players like Creane & Creane, Wrights and Sheridan insurances so I think we have a very attractive proposition to take advantage of all of the opportunities that will come with Brexit, but we need suitable office space.'
To this end Wexford County Council is developing - in conjunction with developers - hatch labs and business incubation centres across the county, where companies planning to set up here can base themselves in the short term.
The centres, like the Hatch Hub opened in Gorey last week beside the Amber Springs Hotel, will be attractive to information and communications technology companies and to start-ups alike.
Citing Google as a model for the type of work environments which can be developed in the county, Mr Enright said the Trinity Wharf development planned for the south quays in Wexford town, could accommodate 1,000 employees.
A master plan for the €50m development is due to be completed by this summer by architects Scott Tallon Walker and Mr Enright is confident the project will go ahead in two to three phases.
'There is a lot of private money out there and in recent years deposit rates have been very, very low, so people are looking for a safe investment. I think we will do this in two to three phases, even though a potential investor would like to do the whole project in one go, as we need to build it up.'
Among the plans for Trinity Wharf are a four- to four-and-a-half star hotel to meet the demand that exists in the town and office accommodation.
'The Stonebridge property that was acquired as an apartment hotel has delivered 73 apartments into the tourism market and it's going very well which shows the capacity for further bed nights and it would add to the mix of accommodation on a fabulous location. As you come across the bridge Trinity Wharf will be a really nice development on the banks of the harbour.'
Mr Enright said the project will take some time to come to fruition, adding that work will start on Wexford quayfront in early 2018 and on a 50-berth marina in 2019.
'The quayfront will happen first. We have €1m in European Regional Development funding which has to be used by the end of 2018 and we are putting €2m to €3m into this. We have a plan to improve the flow of footfall into the Main Street and to improve traffic at the junction with the bridge.'
More car parking is also planned.
'We will be making the quay area more pedestrian friendly with better linkages between the quayfront and Main Street. There are a lot of unsightly, derelict and semi-derelict buildings, five or six, along the quay, and we have spoken to all of the owners, some of whom are developing plans for their sites. We need a mix, not just apartments. It's about creating a better public space while creating a private development on the quayfront and fitting that into the town's development plan.
'We will build the marina as it doesn't have enough of an economic return for investors. We will develop all of the infrastructure for the site as well.'
As in Gorey, the council aims to attract people into the town centre. 'In Wexford people drive to work and drive home. They don't come into town (during the day). If we get 1,000 people into Trinity Wharf it will have a hugely positive impact as people will go for lunch and stay in town in the evening.'
Between €20m and €30m will be invested in towns, particulalry town centres, to improve their appearance and enhance their tourism offering, with a focus on job creation.
Plans to attract businesses and established companies into the centre would provide a catalyst for the economies of the county's four towns to grow. Creating jobs is at the top of the council's list of priorities, he added.
'Our strategy for around the four towns is trying to attract jobs as the unemployment figures for the south east are the worst nationally. We are still 3 per cent behind the national average.
'When you look at unemployment, it puts huge pressure on social housing and on various services. We are losing young people who go to college and who don't come back. I think Brexit will impact on all areas and Wexford is probably better placed than most counties to capitalise on it with our international port in Rosslare, which might be able to attract significant investment to upgrade the port, which has direct connections to France and Britain.'
Several large buildings are planned across the county for start-up and established businesses, many of whom it is envisaged, will be information technology companies.
Using Gorey as an example, Mr Enright said there are plans for two further ICT facilities, to create a hub in the town. Meanwhile 38 acres of land are being used for development in Enniscorthy.
'We have acquired a 23-acre site in Enniscorthy and because of the interest in it, we've acquired a second 13-acre site near St Senan's. We will develop a business and technology park and we are talking to three companies at the moment about locating there.
'We are expecting a planning application for one of these buildings in the next couple of months so we see this as an exciting opportunity for Ennisorthy which needs a focus to attract jobs there. We are not doing the same thing in every town as if we did they would be competing (too much) with each other.'
In New Ross the county council are piloting a unique project to attract companies into two advance factories.
'We are hoping to build the larger of the buildings. Work should commence at the end of this year or in early 2018, but it's a quick build. We are talking to a developer. It's a unique approach but it's much more effective. If we build these buildings it adds cost. Through public procurement bonds we will bring in private investors and developers.
'We will guarantee them a lease rate much lower than the market value for several years. We have done this in Gorey. Once the place is built we will market it and find a suitable tenant and after that we will withdraw our commitment.'
High end and quality manufacturing jobs are the focus.
'The financial services companies are very happy here. Their staff have a great quality of life here. What is important is that we leverage on these companies to relay their positive experiences of the county.'
The opening of the Carrigfoyle activity centre and the planned development of Greenway routes, will add to the county's appeal for companies with young employees to locate to the area.
'Carrigfoyle is a €2.5m project in Forth Mountain. Along with the new Min Ryan park in Clonard, which tender documents are almost ready for, they will add to the area's appeal. The activity centre at Carrigfoyle will have canoeing, zip wires, mountain bike trails and more. We have an established operator and funding is allocated for it. If you have 1,000 people working at Trinity Wharf they need leisure activities and a mix of things. Carrigfoyle will be under construction in the next 12 months.' A 48 km Greenway along the Rosslare to Waterford line, to rival the Dungarvan to Waterford Greenway, is planned, along with a Wexford to Curracloe Greenway, following the coast, and a Wexford to Rosslare Greenway.
The construction of the Enniscorthy and New Ross bypasses will change the way traffic flows through County Wexford forever in 2019 and to this end, Mr Enright says it is imperative that between €5 and €10m is spent in the town centres of the struggling towns.
'You have €250m being spent on a bypass in New Ross and €400m being spent on a bypass in Enniscorthy. It seems to me not right to be spending all this money bypassing these towns without significant investment going into the town centres. I would say both the town centres of New Ross and Enniscorthy need between €5 and €10m each. Some of that will be private.'
The development of visitor centres for tourists in both towns will happen over the next two to three years.
'We want to create focal points in both towns. The Dunbrody Visitor Centre in New Ross is a huge success with 66,000 visitors each year but we need to get these visitors to come up into the town centre.
'We need to look at all of the buildings on the quayfront and develop them. With the bypass all of the trucks and a lot of the traffic will be gone from the quay. A proper tourism trail will be developed up to St Mary's Church and a public park will be built on the site of the old Royal Hotel.'
A business incubation centre is planned on John Street, which Waterford Institute of Technology are keen to partner on.
'It will be similar to what we're doing in Gorey. None of these projects are 100 per cent grant funded. We will seek grant funding but the council will have to put significant resources to make the projects happen. While there can be various grants, sometimes it can take years to get the funding so at some stage you need to bring in private investors to make things happen quickly.'
He said it is easier to secure private investment in Wexford town, adding that there has been a lot of interest in the Enniscorthy projects.
'I didn't expect that would happen so quickly. We will be advertising for consultants in the coming months to develop property solutions in the town centre for tourism and community projects. We own the castle and we helped to renovate the Athenaeum. We have someone who has an interesting commercial project and we are facilitating that at the moment.'
Mr Enright said one of the big advantages of New Ross and Enniscorthy are their underdeveloped town centres.
'You still have the wonderful old buildings and streets. Many of them need a lift but there is a quaintness and an attractiveness about that. I had a lot experts look at Eniscorthy and they were really impressed with the potential of both it and New Ross because of the attractiveness of the streetscape.'
The council has ambitious plans to attract tens of thousands of more tourists to destinations like Hook head and the Dunbrody Visitor Centre.
'If you look at Kilkenny, they have 250,000 people visiting the castle and it's the same in Waterford with Waterford Crystal and the Viking Triangle. The most we have coming to an attraction is 65,000. We need to try to develop our tourism product here - then all of the other smaller attractions will benefit.'