Council won’t go into Ebrington handover blind: TEO

A  sketch showcasing the plans for the Ebrington site.

A sketch showcasing the plans for the Ebrington site.

The Executive Office Infrastructure chief, Siobhan Broderick, told members of the council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday that “expressions of interest” or plans to bring more dilapidated buildings up-to-occupation standard are well-advanced for the entire Ebrington site ahead of a proposed handover to the local authority in April.

Ms Broderick also promised committee-members the council will have ‘open book’ access to TEO’s accounts for Ebrington in order to ensure it meet its “due diligence” requirements during the transition.

Briefing members about progress at Ebrington, which has been led by TEO since April, Ms Broderick, walked the committee through the entire site, which runs the gamut from thriving occupation to as-yet-unfit-for-use dilapidation.

The committee heard how buildings such as 57 to 59, which house Ollie’s restaurant, 71, which is home to the Walled City Brewery, and 80 and 81, which house the creative hub, are already Ebrington success stories.

The original expression of interest for Ollie’s, she said, had projected 14 jobs but this had been exceeded substantially. Twenty-four people are now employed on site and this could rise to 40.

Mr Broderick also pointed to how the Walled City Brewery’s appearance on the RTÉ ‘Nationwide’ programme as a measure of its success.

She said TEO expected further announcements in the New Year on the back of expressions of interest for the Clock Tower and the Guard House, Barrack Store and Barrack Master’s block on the south side of the square.

Ms Broderick told the committee that plans are also being advanced for 80 to 90,000 square feet of proposed Grade A office space on the enabling platform on top of the multi-storey car park bounded by King Street.

One or two of the buildings, including the Cunningham building and building 40 - the old canteen - which is the first thing you see on the left when you enter Ebrington from the Peace Bridge, need a full “shell-to-core” fit-out to make them suitable for occupation.

Committee members broadly welcomed the developments but sought assurances on the financial implications for the council.

Independent Darren O’Reilly asked Ms Broderick if the cost of ongoing maintenance works would result in additional costs for the local authority.

Ms Broderick said TEO would envisage providing council with the necessary support to complete any outstanding works that survived the handover period although this would be subject to discussion.

She also said there would be “open book access” for council officers during the transition period, saying “we want the site to work”.

Waterside Alderman David Ramsey said he was encouraged by the ongoing development but referred to the importance of council meeting its “due diligence” requirements.

He said he wanted to know the “full benefits and liabilities” before handover.

Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Cooper said he wished to be positive and that he believed the proposed Maritime Museum had the potential to be a game-changer for tourism in the city and district.

He said the proposed Grade A office space could also be transformative for the Waterside.

But he cautioned that proper utilities and infrastructure needed to be in place to avoid a repeat of the electricity issues, which dogged the 2013 City of Culture celebrations.

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said he hoped the new developments would generate extra year-round footfall at Ebrington and he agreed that the Maritime Museum could be “game-changing”.

But he said he wanted to see expressions of interest transformed into permanent tenancies as soon as possible and urged caution, saying “we want to get it right”.

Independent Gary Donnelly cautioned that the city had had a number of “false dawns” and that he didn’t want the council to be burdened with another “white elephant”.

He said any development would be an improvement on its previous use as a “British military barracks”.

Council Chief Executive John Kelpie told the committee that the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) would be undertaking joint work with the council and TEO looking at issues around the handover.

He said this independent report would be brought back to the committee as part of the transition process and that council officers would also be going through the open book process as described by Ms Broderick before the handover of the site next year.