SEVERAL weeks into the start of his tenure as the Chief Executive of Wicklow County Council and Frank Curran already seems at ease with his new surroundings.
The Waterford native had been Chief Executive in Leitrim County Council from February 2014, and was the chosen candidate to take over as Chief Executive in Wicklow, where the position had been temporarily filled by Bryan Doyle since the retirement of former County Manager Eddie Sheehy in 2015.
Speaking from the confines of his office in County Buildings, Mr Curran speaks enthusiastically about Wicklow and the reception he and his family have been afforded since moving here.
‘We are really enjoying it. We moved from Leitrim to Wicklow town. Our two children are attending school here. One is in first year in the Dominican College while the other attends third class at the Holy Rosary. We have been made so welcome by everyone, including council staff, councillors and the wider community. We are all really impressed with the county.’
He started his new role with Wicklow County Council on September 15, having previously served as a Director of Services with Waterford County Council from 2007 to 2014, as Senior Executive Officer from 2004 to 2007 and Senior Executive Engineer from 2002 to 2004.
Prior to that he was Assistant Resident Engineer for the Southern Cross Motorway with Dun Loaghaire/Rathdown County Council from 1998 to 2000.
Now his mind is firmly set on advancing Wicklow’s position as a tourist destination and a county to operate a business from.
‘Like I said, it’s a stunning county with plenty of potential, particularly tourism-wise. Wicklow is very much the Garden County and has everything you could hope to offer, from blue flag beaches, to the mountains and woods,
‘Then you also have the urban influence and Wicklow’s proximity to Dublin. You have thriving town centres in the likes of Arklow, Greystones, Bray and Wicklow town. As a county, Wicklow has a lot to offer.
‘The Local Enterprise Office is now part of Wicklow County Council and plays a very important role. We will be liaising with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland about attracting business to Wicklow.
‘We also have a tourism strategy with Wicklow Tourism to take advantage of Ireland’s Ancient East. Basically we want people visiting the Hill of Tara to continue along Ireland’s Ancient East on to Wicklow. The big aim would be to keep the tourists here for a number of nights, rather than just a day-visit.
‘The county has so much to offer, from Glendalough to the Wicklow Way, Powerscourt and Russborough. There are also a number of very interesting projects lined up which could help improve tourism numbers. Avondale Forest Park are working on plans for a forest experience. There are a number of greenways across the county under development, with the greenway in Blessington already proving a success.
‘I think we could also look at creating cycle routes around the county. The next tranche of funding for greenways will be coming through soon and we need to be right at the front.
‘We need to provide an experience so that when tourists are here in Wicklow, they don’t just visit somewhere like Glendalough and then leave. When visitors come to the county there needs to be a link between outdoor activities, heritage and food.’
Marketing the County as an ideal location to establish a business, from small start-ups to international companies, is another priority for the new Chief Executive.
‘We are very close to the Dublin market so Wicklow would be ideally suited for the establishment of incubation hubs. We need to really push ourselves as a county so companies in Dublin looking for a second site choose Wicklow, or a company relocating because of Brexit regards Wicklow as the best option.
‘We have a lower cost base, close proximity to Dublin and the provision of third level education. Wicklow is already very well positioned regarding investment from the movie industry. Obviously we have plenty of competition, especially from Belfast and Limerick.
‘The abolishment of seeking development contributions from film studios seeking to expand or set up in the county was a good move and the elected members should be commended for that.
‘Wicklow has done very well recently from the likes of Vikings and Penny Dreadful. We have been in talks with other groups, such as the Film Board and other experts, about forming a steering group so we can expand on what Wicklow has to offer.’
‘Also at the moment 21,000 workers commute elsewhere to work. We need to try and provide possible solutions to encourage someone to set up a small business. We have been in discussions with the IDA and will be surveying commuters travelling to Dublin for prospective employees located in Wicklow.’
Housing is another prereq- uisite, with Mr Curran emphasising the need to build communities rather than just simply construct houses without any nearby services.
‘We have an ambitious Social Housing Programme which we will be delivering. Currently we have 200 units in various stages of the planning process, with one or two already on site, from now up until 2019. We will have to 500 by 2022. We are also working alongside voluntary housing bodies’.
Frank Curran, the new Chief Executive of Wicklow County Council.
Travel agents from New Zealand with Mary Galway from Tourism Ireland (left).