Port at Belview is the real object of Waterford's deepest desires

Grasping, late-in-the-day advances on south Kilkenny are entirely unwanted

Port at Belview is the real object of Waterford's deepest desires

With all the frustration of a persistent suitor whose advances are entirely undesired, Waterford can't keep its hands to itself when it comes to Kilkenny's nether region.

We've said 'no' over 19,000 times at this stage, but who knows if they're listening. This unrequited love affair with south Kilkenny has been going on for years now, with Waterford formally proposing back in 2005. They were rebuffed, but still the desire lingered.

It was not always so. There was a time when the good people of Waterford were more than happy with their lot.

At the beginning of its own submission to the boundary committee, Waterford City and County Council points to Cork and Dublin as examples of other port cities whose development has not been constrained on one side. It neglects to mention, however, that the River Suir in Waterford is five times the width of the Liffey in Dublin.

This sheer physical distance was, of course, a factor in how the city developed historically. Unlike the other examples given, virtually the entire city was built on the south side of the river - even the historic city wall was built along the south quay, enclosing it.

Indeed, there was no bridge crossing the Suir in Waterford until the end of the 18th Century, when a toll-operated drawbridge was put in place. The story goes that this would be drawn up every night - the city effectively shutting itself off from its north. The toll system continued until 1908, and a new bridge was built in 1911 (Kilkenny local authority put up 22% of the funding for it).

So, why the apparently new-found interest in the northern quays and south Kilkenny? As with a lot of things, much of what this whole issue comes down to is money. Perhaps more bluntly, it's the port at Belview and the revenue it generates, and the predicted future growth of the industrial zone there.

Five miles down river from Waterford, Belview is the nearest major Irish port to mainland Europe, and is also within two hours of most of Ireland's cities. Originally based on the quays in Waterford, the port re-located to Kilkenny in 1992 to have more room for expansion.

Kilkenny County Council has invested financially in the port and the general industrial zone there. The local authority has carried out, facilitated and supported significant upgrades to infrastructure in the region, including to the road network, and the provision of facilities like the wastewater treatment plant and water supply scheme.

There are around 100 rate-paying properties operating in the so-called 'area of interest'. Among those that Kilkenny has facilitated in setting up is the Glanbia plant, representing the largest infrastructural investment in Ireland by an indigenous company since 1929.

Kilkenny has a partnership with the Port of Waterford company and the IDA. It says that Waterford City and County Council was repeatedly invited to join the partnership, but chose not to. Kilkenny says Waterford now wants to 'unjustly enrich itself' through the boundary review process.

The loss of the port and industrial area to this county would be a devastating blow. Belview accounts for about 70% of the Commercial Rates income of the €2 million generated in the 'area of interest'. That €2 million represents 13% of the total rates income for Kilkenny.

Income has increased significantly in recent years, and - in its submission to the boundary committee - Kilkenny County Council says it expects economic activity there to double in the next 20 years.

To lose this in one fell swoop would set a serious precedent. As Kilkenny points out, the arbitrary transfer of so significant an asset from one county to another would be a major disincentive for local authorities to invest in infrastructure in certain areas.

Kilkenny's submission estimates the value of the lost income to Kilkenny County Council of €110 million. It highlights the loss of Local Property Tax, Commercial Rates and development contributions that would be lost, and also notes that this loss of income will result in an increase in the cost of public services here.

In its submission to the boundary committee, Waterford acknowledges that there will be a 'limited financial consequence' on foot of a boundary change. It suggests that it could mitigate this by paying 'fair and equitable compensation'.

But Kilkenny maintains that its financial standing, coupled with the investment programme, puts it in the superior position to work with the port and the IDA.

It's also important to note that Belview is Kilkenny's only real access point to the sea. In this context, it is essentially irreplaceable to us.

Obviously, 'limited financial consequnce'' is hardly a fitting description of the €110 million figure estimated by Kilkenny County Council as the loss. It's also hard to see where the compensation money would come from, as Waterford City and County Council is in a constrained budgetary postition, and already has bank borrowings in the tens of millions of euro.

It's unlikely that the cost could be borne by Government either. The boundary committee's remit is clear in that any arrangements recommended must be financially sustainable, and should not result in an ongoing additional cost to Central Government.

Furthermore, while its previous location is unsuitable for the current port activity, Port of Waterford CEO Frank Ronan recently said the company was 'very positive about the prospects for regeneration' of the former hub on the city's north quay.

Maybe that will soothe a few brows. Otherwise, Waterford's lust for south Kilkenny might never go away. Time for a restraining order perhaps.