The chief executive of Waterford City and County Council has defended the local authority’s decision to end its contract with a developer for a multimillion euro project to redevelop the city’s North Quays.
Michael Walsh told local radio station WLR that the decision did not mean the end of the project and that the local authority remained committed to the development of the mixed use site.
The council had met all of the conditions contained in the contract which had been extended last year to facilitate the developer Falcon Real Estate Development Ireland, said Mr Walsh.
“We achieved all that was expected of us,” he said, but explained that because of confidentiality clauses in the contract he was constrained in what details he could give in the interview.
The council had given every opportunity to Falcon to satisfy the local authority's preconditions, he said, one of which was that funding be pre-committed and that the money be available for the developer before the council would hand over any land.
'We want to make this happen'
There had been preconditions on both sides, said Mr Walsh. “We had to CPO the lands, we had to do the planning scheme, get the infrastructure funding in place, they are the big picture items, we have all of those achieved since October-November last year.
“Since then we've given every opportunity to allow Falcon to satisfy their preconditions, one of which, and would be absolutely standard in any contract of this type, is a funding pre-commitment to demonstrate that the money was in place to actually do this development before we hand over any land.”
That deadline had been extended from November to now, he added.
“We're making the decision today on the basis that if we don't do so we lose further time — our view is that the market is going to come back and we want to be in the marketplace, we want to make this happen.
“If we were seeing a realistic proposition on the other side of the table we would be taking it, but we're not seeing that and as a consequence we're deciding to move on.”
It had been with “a heavy heart” and with “disappointment” that the decision had been made, but equally, the council was “extremely confident” that a significant development would happen.
Mr Walsh said that the council would honour and maintain confidentiality: “That hasn't always been the case with the other side of the fence. We want to act responsibly here — we will be going to the marketplace in a few weeks. We want people to see we are a really responsible partner to have in this environment.
“Come and join us to make Waterford a better place and equally do well for your own business. That's the message we want to convey.”
Mr Walsh said that the council had to move now so they would be in a position to act when the market improved. “We are literally shovel-ready. We intend to make all these things happen.”
The council appreciates Falcon’s commitment to the project over the past number of years
In a written statement, the council explained the contract with Falcon for the North Quays development had already been extended to allow Falcon time to source alternative funding partners, “given the obvious constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Correspondence received from Falcon over the weekend had failed to demonstrate that the developer had “fulfilled its contractual conditions.”
The statement continued: “As a consequence, this council will not be extending the contract further in the coming week/s and will be in discussion with Falcon to conclude our relationship on an agreed basis.
“The council appreciates Falcon’s commitment to the project over the past number of years; and the considerable resources, time and effort committed to the project by the company.”
Mr Walsh told WLR that he “genuinely believed that Falcon had been on board” for the project and despite an extension to allow Falcon secure other funding, that had not been achieved.
There was no reason why Falcon could not re-enter the process if they secured funding and “if they can demonstrate evidence of the things we are seeking.”
The council’s statement added: “While this position is regrettable it is by no means the end of the project.
“The Council’s position remains the same: it is fully committed to the development of the North Quays and is confident that an exciting and transformative proposition can be brought to bear and it is our intention to immediately go back into the market-place to secure other development partners.”