Hamill’s Beat - A spot of (Ebrington) square bashing

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Never in the field of public contracts has so much time and money been spent for such marginal benefit.

After the gush about the ‘new’ square at Ebrington it seems a shame to rain on the parade ground, so to speak. The ‘new’ square is much like the old one only smaller and with the addition of some fancy paving. Criticising it will probably be about as popular as German bankers in Greece, but we need to take account of the cost, the pace and the extent of the changes.

The space itself is pretty much as wonderful as it always was. After almost two centuries of military occupation it’s now a magnificent addition to Derry’s “public realm”. It’s a world-class area for events. From the square we have amazing views over the river, the Peace Bridge and the city. There aren’t enough superlatives to do it justice.

The problem is that a massively disproportionate amount of time and money has been spent doing it up. Amazingly, it’s nearly six years since the master plan appeared and then the work itself seemed to take for ever. It’s as well the deep public purse was picking up the tab.

Fair enough the smaller event spaces look well and the paving is attractive.

It could be argued, however, that the changes detract from the overall impressiveness of the square. “It was actually a more impressive space before work started,” commented someone who knew the old parade ground well. Anyway, that’s a matter of opinion.

What’s incontrovertible is that any gains are disproportionate to the time and money spent on it. All that was really needed was attractive surfacing or paving.

Most of the buildings remain unoccupied and most of the site remains a waste land. Rome wasn’t built in a day but it’ll soon be 20 years since the army moved out.

At this rate Ireland will be re-united before the rest of Ebrington has been re-generated. And, what’s the story with the Mute Meadow public art project? Several people have asked me if I know what’s being built. “What are the upright metal posts for?” they ask.

There are also question marks over the quality of the finish in the newly paved area. The slope down to the old Star Fort is particularly uneven.

There are some surprisingly sharp edges here and there. If you concentrate on your footing, the unusual lines in the cobbles can make you feel dizzy.

At least the unsightly concrete planters containing long dead plants and weeds near the Browning Drive gate have finally gone. I mentioned them in this column many months ago. They looked like they’d been there since the Bible began, or at least since the army moved out in 1993. So, at least it’s good to see that the place has been tidied up.

Read more Hamill’s Beat in the Journal every Tuesday