One step forward - two back

The  'Manhattan' approach looks like it's gone the way of the 'high end jobs'. Time for a reality check.
The 'Manhattan' approach looks like it's gone the way of the 'high end jobs'. Time for a reality check.

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to put the current Brandywell controversy in some sort of context.

As Stormont confirmed recently that monies for Brandywell wouldn’t even be considered until after 2015 and even then all other applications would be considered on their merits is it time to look to ourselves to find a way forward? In the fourth article of the series Eddie Mahon charts his progress (or lack of it) so far.

The Brandywell 'footprint' superimposed on a section of the Fort George site.  Looks well don't you thing?

The Brandywell 'footprint' superimposed on a section of the Fort George site. Looks well don't you thing?

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to put the current Brandywell controversy in some sort of context.

From the obvious current total unsuitability of the ground, through a potted history of the old stadium itself for listeners of a younger vintage, and going through (last week) a list of the other attempts that Derry City FC have made, over the years, to move to pastures new.

This is not a new phenomenon, you know!

And the intervening years have not made the necessity of a move any less urgent. Indeed, the reverse is the truth.

Few, if any, now deny the necessity to bring the club into the Third Millennium even if there are varying views on exactly how it should/could be done.

My own view, of course, is a new build stadium and in the next couple of weeks I will be fleshing out those ideas. As well as examining the other options.

Today, however, I would hope to put into some sort of perspective the attitudes of some of the interested parties I’ve already had meetings with. Firstly the main actors, Derry City FC.

Derry City FC

While I, of course, can’t speak for Derry City FC, from discussions I’ve had with most members of the board, including chairman Philip O’Doherty, I’d have a fair understanding of their thinking on the matter.

Their oft stated position as a board is that they continue to pursue a Brandywell refurbishment approach. But that is not the whole story.

Most have told me that if a newbuild in another suitable location were feasible, they’d jump at the opportunity.

So our positions are not mutually exclusive, and my job is to make the alternative option into a reality. In other words, to talk to all interested parties to find out once and for all if Brandywell is really ‘the only show in town’.

Why me you might ask? Well, the answer is very simple. This is extremely time consuming work and the directors of Derry City FC, all with busy business lives of their own, simply do not have the time that it takes.

On the other hand, as a retired person with a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the club history and goings on since I first signed for Willie Ross fifty years ago next August, time is one thing that is not a problem.

ILEX

As the regeneration agency which currently own Fort George Ilex can be the catalyst to make it happen at that particular location; or, if they so choose be the stumbling block to make sure that it doesn’t.

So far they’ve been adopting the stance that their brief is to bring ‘high end’ jobs to the site and, if there was a cat in hell’s chance that there was any possibility of such an eventuality, I’d take my hat off to them and say ‘away you go!’

But I’m afraid that Bill Gates is not going to transplant his Microsoft operation from Silicon Valley. So just at what stage does anyone admit that there’s nothing out there and change course? Those Manhattan–like Skyscrapers (see photograph) seem a long way off now.

What is really worrying is the seeming refusal to face reality. Take the latest attempt to pretend that something is going on – The Science Park! Sounds very grand, doesn’t it? What, in reality, it will be are two office blocks adjacent to the Strand Road and taking up about 10 per cent of the site.

So far, so good, then – until you realise that just mile down the Buncrana Road (and one mile nearer to Letterkenny IT which is supposed to be partners in the ‘project’) Paddy Shortall has four such buildings, three of them totally empty!

And the space available in those three? Three hundred thousand square feet!

And there’s more, when Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, came down last week to give us the wonderful news he assured us that this ‘investment’ was guaranteed to succeed ‘as it had been modelled on the Belfast Science Park in the Titanic Quarter’.

What he omitted to tell us was that even Belfast with all its huge advantages, couldn’t make it work! Sixty six per cent of the tenants in the ‘success story’ have no connection whatsoever with science and even include hedge fund operators! And that’s what our white elephant is modelled on!

Still, much better than a new football stadium. When Mr McCausland was quizzed by a radio interviewer on just how much actual interest had been shown from potential tenants, silence was the loud reply! Ugh!

All those awful people mixing with Sainsbury shoppers on a Friday night would be enough to make one ill; (Incidentally Sainsbury’s would be very happy to let us have the use of their car park. as would Super Valu.)

What we now need to know from Ilex is just at what point (they’ve been here since 2004!) the scales are going to fall from their eyes and force them to admit that ‘There are no high end jobs’; and maybe have a rethink.

After all, we don’t want to be like that other Belfast success. The Titanic, which, even when it saw the icebergs couldn’t be bothered to alter direction.

So, to put it in a nutshell, now that we all know the realities of the situation what is the problem with a stadium?

The planners and road services

I have met with the Planners at their office in Orchard House, had a very courteous reception and was given the general picture from their point of view.

I then enquired about the possibility of myself applying for outline planning permission even though I didn’t have ownership of the property. As I suspected, and to the surprise of many I’ve talked to, this was not a problem.

On the basis that the cat can look at the king, I suppose. In case you may be wondering what the purpose of this seeming folly was, it was meant to ‘smoke out’ the objectors who would have to show their hands when the application hit the public notices. Know your enemy.

Anyway I was supplied with the relevant form (which must be returned with six copies!) which I was filling out with the help of a friend in the building/architechtural sector when I discovered that, to submit an application even for outline planning was going to cost me £7,000 – seven grand which I do not have to spare at the mo. So that particular approach is on hold.

My contact with the roads people was not by personal meeting (though one is on offer anytime of my choosing) but by letter and telephone.

In this letter they laid out some basic requirements which would have to be met. I quote; “Any development proposals for Fort George site will have to deliver infrastructure improvements to the network to ensure that traffic flows are not prejudiced.

In addition a requirement of any development proposals will be that adequate car parking provision is provided to facilitate the proposal”.

Without going into detail I have no doubt that, having investigated the availability of suitable car parking accommodation, and come up with a very workable solution (more of which later) with goodwill from each side this should not be an insurmountable problem. So we’re hopeful on this front.

Politicians and councillors

This has undoubtedly been the area of greatest disappointment. Mostly in the interest, or, to be more accurate, lack of it from our political representatives, especially the MLAs.

I have met with four of them. Two on a semi-formal basis and two by chance meeting.

While all four were extremely courteous, I had the feeling that most of them were doing their best to stifle a yawn while one was about to leave on holiday and ‘would be sure to ring me the minute he got back;. Sadly, he seems to have lost my number! But we wait in hope.

So that’s about where we are. So where exactly is that? Well, we’re getting no money from Belfast, and anyone who is still clinging to that bit of flotsam will suffer the same fate as that famous Gerry built boat!

Brandywell is a non starter – and a non finisher. Come September we’re about to suffer another humiliation there so the hope is that we draw one of the Welsh sides.

The next step is to end the ‘in denial’ phase and look at where we might go next - ourselves alone - which will be the subject of next week’s article.