Eamonn McCann - Could there still be time to save the Prehen Woods?

Alliance MLA Anna Lo will achieve heroine status if her late, late intervention saves Prehen Wood.

The unique and priceless patch of ancient woodland just a mile out of town has been under threat for a couple of years, since the planners gave a developer the green light to build four luxury homes abutting the tree line - homes that the overwhelming majority of Derry people could never aspire to live in.

All efforts by the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society to persuade the planners to think again and to take seriously the issue of the legacy we will leave to our children have come to nothing.

The case presented by PHES has been dismissed, with no attempt at refutation - this despite the fact that every party in the North West has strenuously opposed the development.

The PHES got equally short shrift when they appealed to Environment Minister Alex Attwood.

I accompanied representatives of the PHES at one encounter with Mr. Attwood at which he made no attempt to counter their point-by-point presentation, but brusquely dismissed them with repeated lamentations that costs might be levied against his Department if he overruled the planners and then lost an appeal by the developer.

Any Minister could use an excuse of this sort for refusing to reconsider a wide range of decisions by officials.

Given that his own party is against the endangerment of this last patch of unspoilt woodland, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is merely parroting the advice of aforementioned officials who more or less automatically give the nod to anything which prioritises bricks over beauty.

Even then, he doesn’t have to do it with such disdain for citizens making their case.

Ms. Lo, chair of the Stormont Environment Committee met the PHES and visited the site of the proposed development last week. She says she will support any complaint to the Ombudsman at the process - or maybe the lack of process - by which the planners made their decision.

And perhaps when she’s at it, she will push the Executive to demand that the Minister act at last on the pleas of a number of parties and campaigning groups for at least a decade now for root-and-branch reform of planning and the establishment of the long-promised Environmental Protection Agency.