Green light at last for Factory Girls sculpture

Artist Louise Walsh with some of her designs for the sculpture.
Artist Louise Walsh with some of her designs for the sculpture.

Planners have given the green light for the long-awaited Factory Girls sculpture to be constructed behind the city’s Guildhall.

Planning permission for the 20ft high public art work was recommended for approval just weeks after Planners had proposed that Councillors refuse permission for the project to go ahead.

The site at Harbour Sqaure in Derry's city centre. (Google Earth)

The site at Harbour Sqaure in Derry's city centre. (Google Earth)

The Factory Girls sculpture will celebrate the thousands of local women from across the north west who powered Derry’s economy for over a century at the city’s once numerous shirt factories.

The earlier recommendation was based on concerns raised by a government agency over the likely visual impact of the Factory Girls artwork on historic buildings in the vicinity.

However at a meeting earlier this month, Councillors rejected this and tasked Planners to re-examine the application.

At a Special Planning Committee meeting held in Strabane on Wednesday, Planners returned with a recommendation to approve the installation of the art work and associated public realm works at Harbour Square, and this was unanimously backed by the Council Committee.

Proposing the Committee go with the new recommendation, SDLP Councillor Gus Hastings said:

“I have great difficulty in understanding why something so significant to Derry City - when you consider the majority of people’s mothers and sisters worked in these factories- was ever recommended otherwise.

“I loved on Foyle Road and the Star Factory and Tillie & Henderson’s were in very close proximity to my home.

“I have often thought that but for those people working down there we might not have a city. We would not be in the position we are in today.”

Colr. Hastings said there was a need for those women to be recognised and brought to the fore.

“The reality is this is something that is required for us to recognise the efforts of our forbearers in relation to actually keeping our city going in times when things were really tough.”

UUP Councillor Mary Hamilton said she agreed with Colr. Hastings and seconded the proposal.

Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson said he was delighted to see the Planners had now recommended to approve the project.

“This will be a lasting and fitting tribute to the Shirt Factory Workers who built the foundations of this city,” he said, adding that the prominence of the city centre site was very fitting.

Committee chairman, SDLP Councillor John Boyle said the project would “enhance the attractiveness of the area and draw people to the area.”

He said that this could have the knock on effect of people actually getting a new appreciation for the historic buildings in the vicinity.

He also clarified with Council officers that approval at the meeting today meant it had cleared the final planning hurdle.

A Council officer responded that once approval was received from the committee, full planning permission will be issued and should be received within days.

Colr. Boyle also thanked Planning officers for approaching the application “diligently, professionally and dispassionately”, as they are tasked to before making recommendations.

The art work consists of a large wheel that is 6.2m in height and 7.5m wide at the widest point.

There will also be a decorative archway to resemble a needle panel, that will be 5m in height and 4.2 metres wide.

Granite stonework is to be laid on the ground between the archway and the wheel, depicting the surface of a sewing machine.

There will also be public realm works including new surface finishes and street furniture.

Most groups consulted had said there was no issue with the proposed development but a report before the Council stated that the Environment Agency’s Historic Buildings section “remain of the view that the alignment, orientation and scale of the artwork will have an adverse impact on the setting of nearby listed buildings.”

Prior to the commencement of the works, a programme of archaeological work has been implemented, in accordance with a written scheme and programme prepared by a qualified archaeologist, submitted by the applicant and approved.

Focus is now expected to shift to tying down funding for the project.