Eamonn McCann - Public consultation and railway station plans

The former Waterside Railway Station. 2001JM65
The former Waterside Railway Station. 2001JM65

Translink launched its consultation on the location of a new rail terminus for Derry last Thursday. A pity then, that the body’s head of infrastructure, Clive Bradbury, had endorsed a particular outcome on Radio Foyle the previous day.

Asked about the prospect of the platforms being reinstated in the Old Waterside Station, Mr. Bradbury wondered about the wisdom of trains arriving in the “shed”. This characterisation of a precious part of our built heritage was entirely inappropriate and suggested that Translink, while urging citizens to take part in the public consultation, has in its own mind already discarded the Old Station as an option.

There is evidence that Translink has long had a preference for a new station adjacent to the Peace Bridge on the Ebrington site which it is the responsibility of Ilex to develop. The role of Ilex deserves scrutiny.

It is two years since Into The West discovered that Ilex had shared the cost with Translink of an “economic consultation” on the location of the terminus – an exercise which concluded that the Ilex site was the best available…

From Ilex’s point of view, this is doubtless true. The “urban regeneration company” hasn’t covered itself in glory since its establishment a decade ago. Being able to attach itself to the development of the rail link might help burnish its somewhat battered image.

But saving Ilex’s face is not a relevant consideration here. If we are faced with a choice between shoring up Ilex’s reputation and doing the right thing by the cultural history of Derry, the answer is surely obvious.

There is another reason for questioning Translink’s bona fides on the issue. Four options are now being put to the people: leave things as they are; develop the existing “egg-box” station; a new build on the Ilex site; and bringing the sturdy building designed by John Lanyon and opened in 1875 back to its original purpose. But these options were put to the people long ago.

Back in 2011, Into The West produced and distributed to all main political parties and the local media a pamphlet, “A Rail Terminus Fit For a Regional Capital”, which examined each of these four options in detail and made the case for the Old Station on historical, cultural, aesthetic, economic and social grounds.

Now the same four options have been dusted off and are being offered to the public again - with Translink once more trying to steer the decision away from the Old Station and towards the Ebrington site.

What’s going on?

Without exception, every local elected representatives who has expressed a preference has backed the Into The West position. DUP MLA and Assembly Speaker Willie Hay has given vigorous leadership to a largely unpublicised campaign at Stormont. It would be helpful in the context of the present exercise if other representatives were again to spell out their positions and leave Translink in no doubt where the balance of public opinion lies.