Well.. it’s happened! Ilex, Urban Regeneration Company, have produced their
daft ooops… draft plan for the Old Fort George site in Derry. Situated at the junction of Strand Road and Buncrana Road the site holds the key to economic regeneration for a desolate part of the city. Where once some 2600 men toiled in the 1800s making iron ships and, later, workers spent pressured days fixing damaged American, British and Canadian convoy escort vessels, Ilex propose we build a mecca to commercialism and consumerism. No part of the proposal has anyone making anything, no shred of the paper outlines any uses where real Derry people earn real money from real activity. Instead? As the Derry Journal puts it:-
The draft masterplan for the Fort George site – which includes the construction of a hotel, bars, restaurants, shops, apartments and a public park with floating pavilions – forms part of the proposals set out by Ilex, the city’s urban regeneration company.
And Social Development Minister Margaret Rickie is quoted as saying:-
“The draft masterplan shows a range of exciting development possibilities for this important site which commands the northern gateway to the city. These include a potential mix of technology/knowledge-based industry, innovative office and residential accommodation, education, leisure and public space that could be accomodated in a new, exciting and sustainable urban environment of real presence.
Now.. call me an auld cynic, if you want, but I’m just about to contact Ladbrokes for a quote on this bet. Of the 4500 jobs that may be created by this development less than 30 will be in the lucrative “technology/knowledge-based industry”. The rest? All low-paid service industry employment with high turn-over, poor prospects for promotion and with all profits going to outside multi-national conglomerates.
It’s also a fair bet that, given our track record in attracting employers, most of the leases will be given to “high street” names who will faffe the leases around amongst themselves for a few years to launder several billion quid towards the secret shareholders’ personal off-shore bank accounts before reneging totally on their public debt by claiming bankrupcy. Along the way they will no doubt fleece the public purse for millions of pounds on set-up fees, construction grants, consultancy scams and bogus fact-finding missions to Dubai to see how the Arabs are doing waterside developments!
The end product will be a concrete jungle incorporating the worst that outdated American architectural practices can bring. The sprawling urban creep of shopping malls, down-at-heel drinking dives and bargain basement emporiums will take over Strand Road and head, unmercifully towards Culmore and Buncrana.
Meantime the commercial heart of the city will be cleaved in two. Not strange enough that already we have the Cityside/Waterside dichotomy, we are about to allow the planners to add a third centre of focus to a small city! It’s hard enough to support one crown, two we have a historical rational for but… do we really, really need a third?
I may be all wrong here – it’s been known to happen – but I suspect that:
- in an era where global warming is predicted to add a few feet to the sea levels we might want to build somewhere that will be sustainable at high tide;
- the particular site might do best as a city leisure area with the emphasis on exploitation of the fantastic resource that is the River Foyle;
- cultural activities need to get some recognition and this site is perfect for a BIG development along those lines;
- in a country obsessed with explosions of rampant commercialism we cannot win a race based on shopping malls and low income retail jobs – an economy built on rotating the retail pound through as many pockets as possible will ultimately flounder as the manufacturing base declines;
- we must build our future on high tech, high value knowledge operations, even computer and chip manufacture will leave us in a few years, whipped off by Seagate and other such blood-sucking companies to India’s cheaper labour force. Our strength, and the future of our children’s employment, lies in the six inch space between our ears and new developments ought to be looking at that as a priority;
I’d like to respectfully suggest that the lads at Ilex shred this plan and think again about what the future ought to hold for Derry and not what the future holds for their partners in the building trade as they erect the proposed jungle of concrete and glass. I know there might be a cut up for grabs here but it needn’t be cutting the throat of our city’s future.
Of course, as I said, I have been known to be wrong but you have nine weeks of this Ilex consultation process to examine the plans and make your voice heard before the government give the green light and the pile-drivers are plopped on site to begin thumping through the sand.
You can download the full plan from the website of the ILEX Urban Regeneration Company and make your voice heard here when you’ve had a read.
But .. be quick ‘cos nine weeks will disappear faster than tenner in Waterloo Street on a Friday night!