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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Holding the line is not easy

The forced closure of TK Maxx outside the city last week caused an understandable stir. The retail outlet is popular and employs people locally. Although I support the court decision I do so understanding that shoppers are demanding more top end retail in the city and that people face losing their jobs. This is a sorry saga that should never have happened in the first place. It’s what happens when people play games with the planning process. It’s what happens when neighbouring authorities compete for retail space without having regard to proper and sustainable development. It’s what happens when one local authority tries to get ‘one over’ on another.

Competition and policy means nothing to the average shopper. They rightly demand the very best in retail whether inside our outside the city centre. They want choice and convenience and who would blame them. However the situation is more complex then this and policy is needed to regulate the market. The correct policy is one which strikes a balance between being overly protective on the one hand and allowing the market to go crazy on the other. And let’s face it, during the Celtic tiger years the market went crazy.

The retail policy of Waterford City Council is clear. It is a policy of sequential preference which protects the city centre first and foremost. However contrary to recent debate and commentary it does allow for what’s called ‘out of town’ shopping through a number of strategically placed District Centres. These include centres like the Hypermarket, Ardkeen, the Lisduggan Shopping centre, Poleberry and the Tesco Centre on the Dunmore Road. This is where the balance is achieved. However the failure to build a sufficient critical mass of retail in the city centre is the policy’s main fault line. The city centre is crying out for more top end retail and the council is desperate to see it happen. Site assembly is difficult but not impossible. The Brewery or New Street site would have worked if the developer had got it right from the beginning. The original proposal was so off the wall that it was always doomed to fail and played into the hands of those who would object to anything.

Holding the line on a worked out and sustainable policy is not easy. Overall the policy has not worked out as it intended due to site assembly and planning issues and over zealous developers. However there are a few tricks up the council’s sleeve. We may well see a scaled down but significant development in New Street yet. And we have the option of building out onto the river either side of the clock tower as part of the relocation of the House of Waterford Crystal. All is not perfect but all is not lost either.

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