03 Jul 2022

‘The Brewhouse will have a positive impact on businesses in Kilkenny City’

Day in the Life of Colette Byrne, Chief Executive Kilkenny County Council on new developments

We are blessed here in Kilkenny with all our outdoor amenities, and are extremely grateful to have them during this pandemic.

From walkways, cycling paths to outdoor eating areas, we truly are lucky to live in such a beautiful city and county.

For a very special Day in the Life column this week, I caught up with the woman who has helped shape this new landscape — Colette Byrne, the Chief Executive of Kilkenny County Council.

Originally from Dunlavin in County Wicklow, Colette moved around the South-East and Midlands since she started working in local authorities in 1982.

She began working in Kildare County Council, and moved onto Waterford County Council in 1991, where she spent over 20 years. She has an impressive resume working in urban environment responsible for planning, environment, water services, housing, and community development.

In 2014, Colette became Chief Executive in Offaly County Council and came to Kilkenny in August 2015 as Kilkenny County Council’s Chief Executive.

Colette lives with ‘her boys’ in Waterford, but Kilkenny is proud to claim her as one of our own. Her drive and passion to ‘get the job done’ is unmatched. She has the tenacity and unrivalled desire to make Kilkenny a better place to live and do business in.

I met up with Colette on the Abbey Quarter site recently to ask her about her greatest achievements and obstacles in the role to date. I also discovered that ‘standing still’ is not an option in Colette’s world…

Colette, we are standing here on the former Smithwick’s Brewery site. In its day, it employed over 1,000 people. What are your plans for reopening it as the new Abbey Quarter?

In January, the people of Kilkenny will get to come on to the Abbey Quarter and see for themselves the work that has taken place over the last couple of years. The public realm on Horse Barrack Lane and the new Brewhouse Square will be complete by the end of January.

I know people in general liked what they saw on the Riverside Park, so I hope they will like what they see here. We are creating new public spaces for people to enjoy.

I am really looking forward to seeing how our Festivals grow into these spaces over the next few years.

How many people will the Abbey Quarter potentially employ?

The first workers should be sitting at their desks in the Brewhouse by Easter. Having over 400 people working in the Brewhouse will have a significant positive impact on businesses in the area. It will be a sign of what’s to come over the next five to 10 years.

As more buildings get delivered, there will be more people working and living in the Abbey Quarter.

I know you are keen to help the city centre, so how will the site complement what’s in the city already?

It connects well to the city centre; the Riverside Walk will link to the new park at St Francis Abbey and the new urban street will link from St Francis Bridge to Bateman Quay. There are many paths and lanes from Parliament Street to the Riverside Park.

There will also be two and a half acres of a park around the Abbey. That park is well designed, and it will complement what we have already done.

So far, we have had good engagement with the festivals and event organisers to ensure that the Park can accommodate them. The first ambition is to have an ice rink for Christmas 2023 in the park.

I think the new public spaces will provide a counterbalance to the Castle and Parade and bring people to Irishtown and provide footfall for business.

How much capital investment is the project expected to cost?

There are two elements to the project, the public realm and library that the council is responsible for and the remaining buildings that are the responsibility of the Abbey Quarter Project (AQP) to deliver.

he council’s investment is probably in the region of €25 million and the AQP will invest over €100 million over the lifetime of the development. You are looking at 10 to 15 years delivery timeframe.

Thankfully, the council has had good success in attracting grant aid from a number of sources to date and we provide matching funding from our own resources. Without the grant aid we would not be able to deliver the public realm in the required timeframe.

You are building this in partnership with the Irish strategic investment funds. How does that partnership work?

The council is responsible for the public realm and the public library, the Partnership is responsible for the remaining buildings. The Partnership borrows money to build the buildings and lets/leases the buildings to bring in the income to repay the loan.

All of the public realms will remain in council ownership, which is over 60% of the site purchased from Diageo. We must work together as the buildings and public realm must be delivered in the same timeframe to give access to buildings.

Will we have a third level presence here?

I certainly hope so. The last couple of years have been challenging while the application for the TUSE was made. It was difficult to get a commitment from either WIT or ITC while that process was ongoing.

With the designation announced and the TUSE to come into being in May 2022 we will have renewed effort to engage with the new governing body.

We need to play to our strengths to attract third level provision that will add value to Kilkenny.

How are we going to house potential new employees basing themselves in the Abbey Quarter?

There will be some residential units in the Abbey Quarter itself, but they will not go anywhere near meeting the demand. That is why we worked over the last number of years to deliver the infrastructure to open the Breagagh Valley for development.
We are now seeing the planning applications for residential developments work their way through the system and one development have come to the market in recent weeks.

It is also great to see the ETB lodge the planning application for the two secondary schools in the area.

What will be open to the public and when?

The Riverside Park and Skatepark opened in May 2021. Horsebarrack Lane and Brewhouse Square will open in January 2022, and the Brewhouse will be occupied by Easter.

We should be able to buy a coffee at the Tea Houses by Easter. The library should open early in 2023 and the park and street will open by end of 2023.

The first new building on the site should be ready by the end of 2024 subject to planning permission which was lodged before Christmas by the AQP.

We have been planning the next phases which will include residential, offices, some retail, and services and hopefully a home for part of the TUSE.

It is an exciting time for the project.

Since the pandemic landed on our doorstep, people have become more aware of their outdoor spaces. You have introduced multiple walks, eating areas and the skateboard park. Have you more plans for public outdoor facilities?

The Dunmore Countryside Park is something to look forward to. We were successful in attracting €500,000 in grant aid, which will allow works to commence in 2022. It will be lovely amenity just a short distance from the city.
The space at the Watergate Theatre will be transformed next year with an outdoor stage and seating. It will be great addition to the Watergate and will facilitate many of our festivals.
We are planning a board walk to connect Riverside Park to the Bishops Meadows, which will provide a continuous off-road route. In time we would like to see two additional pedestrian bridges across the River Nore.
Bridges are important, they connect people and communities, and pedestrian bridges can play a significant part in reducing car journeys.
And of course, work on the Kilkenny Greenway from Waterford City to New Ross is progressing well and will be a wonderful amenity for Kilkenny.

How proud are you for getting other projects like the Butler Gallery and the Mayfair Library off the ground?

I am proud of all the council projects, big and small. They all take significant effort from the staff involved. It takes a lot of effort to get a bright idea on a page to become a reality and there can be plenty of knocks along the way.

The new Abbey Quarter will benefit the city. What projects are in store for the wider county?

We have a number of projects all across the county.
The pedestrian bridge in Castlecomer opened before Christmas, it is important as it will improve connectivity between the Discovery Park and the Town.

The new amenity area at Abbey Hall in Graignamanagh is another project in the county that is nearing completion. If it gets as much usage as the new amenity area in Thomastown it will be a huge addition to the town.
The Sessions House is Thomastown is being renovated by the Council and will become the new home for the DCCOI School of Jewellery. Works are about to begin on the new Fire Station in Urlingford.
We continue to upgrade the paths and trails in Woodstock, if you haven’t been there recently pay a visit soon and see for yourself. A new library is planned for Thomastown and we are about to prepare a plan for Friary complex in Callan which will be exciting.

What has been your greatest achievement so far as Chief Executive of Kilkenny County Council?

Seeing people enjoy and make memories in facilities and amenities provided by the council is always rewarding.
Bringing new life and uses to old buildings is one of the best parts of the job. Whether that is the development of Broguemaker, Evans Home, the Mayfair, a former HSE clinic becoming a home or converting the former toilets in Graig into a home for the Men’s Shed. They are all achievements that the staff in the council involved in making them happen can be so proud of.
For me personally, I would like to think we are telling ‘our story’ a little bit better and that the public can see the benefit of the council’s work.

What’s been your biggest obstacle in the role?

I don’t see obstacles, maybe just challenges!
Our innate fear as human beings of change tends to hold us back, but standing still isn’t an option.

How do you unwind - or does Colette Byrne ever put her feet up?!

I always have something on the knitting needles for the winter nights and most summer evenings you would find me close to the sea somewhere in the sunny South-East.
I won’t pose any threat to Edward Hayden or Ann Neary but I like to bake!

Colette Byrne chairs the National Library Development Committee and the Communication Working for the local authority. As chair of the Civic Trust in Kilkenny, she was delighted to see the success of the Catwalk Project, that was launched on Kilkenny Day 2021.

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