Major boost for Factory Girls sculpture hopes

Protesters gathered in Guildhall Square last year highlighting concern over the continuing delay in the public artwork dedicated to thousands of Derry women who worked in factories. DER3016GS005
Protesters gathered in Guildhall Square last year highlighting concern over the continuing delay in the public artwork dedicated to thousands of Derry women who worked in factories. DER3016GS005

Plans for a major sculpture to commemorate the thousands of women who worked in Derry’s shirt factories have been kept alive after Councillors rejected a recommendation to refuse planning permission for it.

Planners had recommended to Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee that the application be refused planning permission.

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

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

However the Committee went against this in a unanimous decision, meaning the project could now be closer to being realised.

Poignantly the decision has been taken on International Women’s Day and comes 12 years on from the project being initiated.

The Factory Girls project has been beset with problems over the past 11 years, with issues ranging from difficulties with the site, the proposed location being changed from King Street Roundabout in the Waterside to Harbour Square behind the Guildhall, and uncertainty over available funding for the project.

A planning application for public realm works and the installation of an artwork sculpture was finally submitted by Derry City & Strabane District Council in the summer of 2016.

The proposed sculpture consists of a large steel wheel that is 6.2 metres in height and 7.5 metres wide at the widest point.

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

A granite stonework laid on the ground between the archway and the wheel, depicting the surface of a sewing machine, would complete the artwork, while new surface finishes for the area and street furniture was also planned.

Planners said that an Environmental Impact Assessment had been carried out and it was considered that the impacts of the proposal will not cause significant environmental effects.

Planners however said Historic Buildings, while acknowledging the groundswell of support for the commemorative project, had raised objections, claiming the alignment, orientation and scale of the artwork will have an adverse impact on the setting of nearby listed buildings.

For this reason Planners recommended planning permission be refused.

A number of other bodies consulted were content with the proposals, and there were no objections, a planning officer said.

She added that the concerns of Historic Buildings had to be given “significant weight” in making a determination.

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue proposed the Planner’s recommendation be rejected.

Colr. Logue said: “It’s 12 years in the making and given that there were so many women who worked in shirt factories, and this being International Women’s Day, I feel a monument to these women who were the backbone of this city and kept many families going when there was nothing else takes precedent over any historical building concern.”

SDLP Councillor Gus Hastings seconded her proposal and the decision to reject the Planners’ recommendation was unanimously backed by the Committee.