Urban design in Derry took a step forward this week with the publication of the Draft Design Guide for the Clarendon Street area of the city.
The guide defines the principles of conservation, building and urban design that will be applied within the Clarendon Street Conservation Area, which includes the Crawford Square, De Burgh Terrace, Queen Street and Great James’ Street districts.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood says the new guide is an important document and “underlines my commitment to the built heritage of Derry”.
“I commend it to the people of the city and hope that there will be a positive response to the consultation,” he added.
The plan asserts that the Clarendon Street Conservation Area and its setting embody much that is distinctive about Derry - physically, historically, socially and culturally.
“The overwhelming impression,” says the plan “is that of a relatively spacious but largely intact network of terraced townhouses stepping graciously up the many hillsides to present an aesthetically and texturally rich image of late-Georgian and Victorian building activity in the city.”
Interestingly, the plan also includes a brief history of the area and its development over the years.
Early maps of the city (1689) show that the Clarendon Street area was primarily rural and that there was very little change until the nineteenth century. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, key roads, such as Academy Road and the Strand Road, had been formed (1799 maps) followed by the creation of Infirmary Road and Asylum Road.
Towards the end of the Georgian era, the Infirmary (1810), the Asylum (1829) and the New Free School and Church (1830) were erected. Great James’ Street was also in the process of becoming developed probably around the Third Derry Presbyterian Church (1837).
Most development in the area took place during the Victorian era starting with the laying of the foundations of St Eugene’s Cathedral (1851), the erection of St Eugene’s Primary School (1854) and the development of housing along the western edge of Queen Street.
By the mid-Victorian era, development of housing began on Crawford Square as well as the Academy Road to serve the Model School (1862), with the new academy being built in 1870. The 1873 Ordnance Survey map also shows that, by this time, Great James Street, Queen Street, Clarendon Street, Asylum Road, Bayview Terrace and Edward Street had been fully developed. Clarendon Street and Great James’ Street’s two new churches and manses were also erected at this time.
Unfortunately, however, the passage of time has seen some of the historic buildings being lost - for example the old Model School was replaced by a new primary school (1914) leaving only the gates and railings. The Asylum and Infirmary have also been redeveloped, and the Ardowen Hotel was lost during the Troubles.
Returning to the present, the plan points out that controls provided by Conservation Area designation are needed to protect many of the district’s buildings which do not benefit from the controls associated with Listed Buildings. Streets such as Asylum Road, Upper Great James Street and Crawford Square are undergoing considerable change “showing various signs of decline”. Much of this is due to pressures for on street-parking between different groups of users (eg residents and nonresidents) and tenure change of more and more houses (some of them listed) from private ownership into the rented sector and change of use to offices and houses for multiple occupation.
The plan says the relative high density of the “grand and modest terraces” is relieved by a number of key public spaces - such as the open spaces around St Eugene’s Cathedral - which link into Brooke Park and provide an important green corridor. In addition to this there are two other key green areas at Crawford Square and De Burgh Terrace.
Focusing on Crawford Square, the plan describes it as an interesting and distinctive example of urban form.
“Despite the renovation of some of its buildings, the Square has a dilapidated character overall. Considerable improvement to the square could be made if the ‘open space’ [green area at its centre] was properly conserved and planting, sensitive lighting and well designed seating installed.”
The plan also points to the green area at De Burgh Terrace which, it says, provides a “leafy oasis” created by the seventeen private gardens.
The plan adds that it is important that spaces such as these are retained as they contribute greatly to the overall character of the area, which is enhanced by the dense tree canopies and plants.
Turning to extensions and alterations to historic buildings, according to the plan, these need to be very skilfully handled to avoid dominating (or even obliterating) the original.
The thoughtless positioning of additional equipment (such as satellite dishes, burglar alarms and flues) on buildings within the Conservation Area can have a “very negative impact on an otherwise aesthetically high quality environment”.
The Draft Guide is now available from the Area Planning Office or at http://www.planningni.gov.uk/conservation_londonderry_clarendon.htm
Anyone wishing to comment on its content should do so in writing before February 17, 2012 either by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to Conservation Team, Northern Area Planning Office, Orchard House, 40 Foyle Street, Derry.