Lo voices ‘serious’ Prehen concerns

The sign and entrance to the new development at Prehen Wood indicating 'luxurious new addresses' this week. 1008JM39
The sign and entrance to the new development at Prehen Wood indicating 'luxurious new addresses' this week. 1008JM39

The head of Stormont’s Environment Committee says she has serious concerns over the decision to allow a housing development to proceed at Prehen Woods.

Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who visited the site last week as a guest of Prehen Historical and Environmental Society (PHES), told the ‘Journal’ there are “serious questions to be asked” about the four house development.

“I believe serious questions need to be asked about why a development was allowed to be built so close to an important part of Derry’s and indeed Northern Ireland’s environment.”

Ms Lo says she will back any complaint to the Ombudsman in regard to the planning permission at Prehen - if PHES decide to do so.

“I would be willing to sponsor a complaint to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman by the Prehen Historical Society about the decision by the Department of the Environment to give planning permission to this developer.”

Work has resumed at the woodland site this week. Planning permission was granted in 2007 for four houses at the edge of the Wood. PHES have long campaigned against development at the woods - home to the protected red squirrel, long eared owls and bats as well as a mass of flora including bluebells.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ yesterday PHES’ George McLaughlin says making a complaint to the Ombudsman is one of a number of measures open to the campaigners.

“It is among a number of options we are considering to achieve justice for this community. Throughout this whole process we have seen little natural justice, instead we have politicians and planners hiding behind a cloak of power.”

Mr McLaughlin says campaigners have been made to feel like “upstarts” during the fight to protect the woodlands.

“We have always acted in a business like and dignified way, but in turn we have planners, politicians, enforcement officers and even the Environment Minister who will not reply to letters, return phone calls or address any of our issues. We have been treated with a total lack of respect,” he claims.

The Foyle branch of the Labour Party has also this week expressed concern over the development.

In a statement the party says: “The Party sees this case as part of the continuing underlying and systemic problems within the Planning Service and the need for an Environmental Protection Agency for Northern Ireland.

“There is a need for the transformation of the Planning System into one which is accessible transparent, accountable, and just and this will require legislative, policy and cultural change together with focus, vision and leadership – something which hasn’t been apparent in the case of the vandalism of Prehen Wood,” he claimed.