Baffled residents, who have fought with developers for more than two years, say they can't understand a decision to allow houses to be built near Derry's diminishing ancient woodland.
Despite efforts by the Prehen community to protect the area, which contains trees of more than 200 years old, planning permission to begin work on four houses was confirmed this week.
Responding to a letter written by MLA., Pat Ramsey which urged the Minister for the Environment, Arlene Foster to back the council, the decision by the Planning Service to give the go-ahead was upheld.
For more than two years residents and councillors have fought bitterly to stop the development which they say could cost the city one of its only woodland areas.
The addition of four houses in the privately owned land near the wood would devastate the surrounding trees which also contain a colony of red squirrels, say residents.
George McLaughlin, from the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society, said no one in the community could understand the decision.
He said: “I am sick to the stomach to hear this. We have gone about this the right way and did all the correct things. I have found all the information about why it should not go ahead.
“It is bound to be damaging to the area. There will be serious damage during the construction stage and the fact that the houses are being built is creating a future risk to the woodland.Even according to the developers scores of trees will be affected by this development.
“Our council voted against this at the last meeting and planners have decided to go ahead and ignore the wishes of the councillors and the people and the awful thing is over the last five years we have talked about community action and this makes a sham of the whole thing.The Prehen community and the wider community have just been ignored.”
Pat Ramsey said the location and orientation of the proposed development encroached on the Woodland Buffer Zone as set out in the current Derry Area Plan. He added that the people of Derry, and Prehen in particular, had taken great care of the woodland for decades.
He said: “I believe that, given the environmental and ecological importance of the woodland, this decision by the Planning Office should be changed.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the group had not decided its next move but that it would continue to fight to ensure the woodland was preserved for future generations.He added: “The Prehen Wood is one of the last trees of ancient wood in Northern Ireland. We have one of the last colonies of red squirrels in Northern Ireland.and we have a very low tree coverage in Northern Ireland.For these reasons this space should be left alone.”