Concerns have been raised over the pace of progress on tangible new developments on the Ebrington site in Derry.
The issue was raised by SDLP Councillor Sinead McLaughlin following a presentation on current projects being undertaken at the former military base, which was handed over for the benefit of local people shortly almost 17 years ago.
Siobhan Broderick from the Executive Office, which retains responsibility for the 29 acres site, said she understood the frustration locally and said she has been working tirelessly to ensure progress since taking over as the person in charge a few years ago.
In a presentation before Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday, she detailed how there has now been significant movement in relation to numerous buildings and sites across Ebrington following intensive work. Construction work on the 4-Star Ebrington Hotel off the Square is due to start in August this year and is expected to open in the Spring of 2021 she said, adding that an established retailer is planning to open a convenience store inside another building, with work due to start in the Autumn of 2019.
A development agreement for a 6.5 acre part of the site facing Limavady Road and including the former Officers’ Mess and married quarters, has been signed with Ebrington Holdings Limited- the same people behind the hotel - to create a mixed use site including a restaurant, residential housing, commercial office space, children’s nursery, event space and creative industries spaces over the coming years, while other large buildings facing the cityside are being offered to the market this month.
Mrs. Broderick said that the Creative Hub set up to support the growth of creative industries on site was running at full capacity, while a small to medium business enterprise hub opened in July last year can accomodate 19 new businesses start-ups.
Glen Caring community care and respite opened at Ebrington in 2017, while the Kevin Watson Group will occupy the Cunningham Building from August 2019.
A developer plans to open a cafe and bike hire business close to the Peace Bridge, and planing permission is being sought of a licensed restaurant and bar to open in Spring 2020 at another building close by. A preferred tenant for the former boys and girls’ school houses has also been identified with occpuation expected in the spring of 2020.
The Grade A office accomodation above the underground car park, is also due to open in 2021, and will be able to accommodate up to 400 staff, she said.
Mrs. Broderick told the committee the site “was gifted as part of the peace negotiations as part of the Peace Deal in the early 2000s. The Executive Office has had direct responsibility since 2016 and since then I have been in charge of the site.”
She said the new entrance into the site will be opened by July, and that the high quality design and first rate materials used was a marker for how they wanted to see Ebrington developed.
Colr. Sinead McLaughlin said Ebrington was a ‘key site for the city and district and for investment going forward.’
“From a personal point of view, it’s been long overdue, a very slow process,” she noted. “This was given over in 2003 and we have a handful of buildings occupied which is pretty sad because it’s a much needed site for the city. Seventeen years on from this being signed over we are getting a little bit impatient.”
Ms. Broderick said she shared local frustrations. “I came onboard three years ago and I have done nothing but think about Ebrington so we are fully committed to it.”
Sinn Fein Colr. Mickey Cooper said that the fact that Mrs. Broderick had confirmed that contracts were in place for various buildings on the site was vital. He also welcomed the flagship hotel coming on stream and said that hopefully the recently announced City Deal for Derry & Strabane will help expedite the Maritime Museum project. Colr. Cooper said that when the site is handed over from the Executive Office to Derry City & Strabane District Council over the next few years it was ‘absolutely key’ that it is ‘ready to go with all tenants onboard’ to ensure more footfall and employment opportunities. “Our MP [Elisha McCallion] has been very proactive on this and I am happy to see results,” he said.
DUP Councillor Ryan McCready asked if there had been any interest in developing social housing on the site and was told that there was some initial discussion around this, no formal expressions of interest were received. “Our focus is economic regeneration and bringing jobs into the centre of the city,” Mrs. Broderick replied.