Save us from the madness of Council versus Stormont

Queen's Quay Car Park and River Foyle Walkway. DER1915MC010
Queen's Quay Car Park and River Foyle Walkway. DER1915MC010

Last week’s front page lead story in this paper raised many questions. It was truly strange.

Last week’s front page lead story in this paper raised many questions. It was truly strange.

“Over £6.4 m will be needed to safeguard the future of the ‘eroding structure’ that Queen’s Quay car park and popular walkway have been built on, it has emerged,” wrote Brendan McDaid. His story emerged after a senior (unnamed) official told a council committee that he had “concerns” about the cost implications of car parks, particularly the one at Queen’s Quay. “…This asset is situated on an eroding structure as opposed to solid ground and at some stage will require significant expenditure,” said the official. The potential problem arises because the new council has taken over responsibility for car parks and public realm areas from Stormont’s DRD.

Presumably the city’s new waterfront was developed on the foundations of the former quay. It had already stood the test of time as the quayside was there for generations before the port was shifted downstream to Lisahally. The new riverside pathway was only constructed in the last couple of decades and the public realm scheme and car park at Queen’s Quay were re-modelled even more recently. Either the foundations were adequate then to support the new development or they weren’t. Wouldn’t it have been foolish in the extreme to proceed with hugely expensive quayside development without ensuring the foundations were adequate for the long-term?

I’m not an engineer but common sense suggests the river bank is likely to be fine for many years ahead. River banks have been extensively developed and built upon in cities all around the world with no evident problem. Consider, for instance, Dublin, London and Paris. All those cities, and many others, have huge buildings and major roads running alongside their rivers.

According to the council official, a report on Queen’s Quay quantifies potential expenditure at £6.40m. (How much did it cost to produce that report?) It’s just that £6.4m would buy an awful lot of steel or concrete shuttering along the water’s edge. Isn’t that sort of reinforcing pretty standard along riparian development in cities?

Never go for a modest scheme to spend public money when an extravagant one will do, seems to be the first ‘rule’ for public spending everywhere.

Of course the council is right to raise the issue with Stormont and to try to protect its interests. In the longer run, however, central government can’t expect local government to maintain car parks and public realm schemes if they don’t have the funding to do so. Ultimately, if car parks are to remain in public ownership then adequate funding will have to be found from somewhere.

In the meantime, it’s just playing silly so-and-sos for two branches of government to conduct a phoney war on issues like this. What’s the point in councils and Stormont lobbing expensive feasibility reports at each other? Wouldn’t that only reinforce the notion that government in the North isn’t working?

Well, that’s four or five big questions raised by this so far. That’ll do to be going on with.

Could it really be that we have descended into the madness of the new councils conducting fights with Stormont over who pays for what; based on the most expensive options available? Wasn’t the whole idea of the super councils to save money for the public purse?