Garvan O’Doherty says city needs to demand faster and better delivery - ‘Derry can no longer put up with half-a-job’

Derry businessman Garvan O’Doherty has said that the city needs to stop accepting ‘half-a-job’ from Stormont and start demanding far quicker progress on key developments.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 5:14 pm

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ yesterday Mr. O’Doherty said he was exasperated at the crawlingly slow pace of delivery of output on major schemes.

“Eddie McAteer had this phrase ‘half-a-loaf.’ We are not getting ‘half-a-loaf’ we are getting ‘half-a-job’,” he claimed.

Mr. O’Doherty observed it is now almost 20 years since, in his role as Deputy Chair of the Port and Harbour Commissioners, he was involved in the sale of the Fort George site to the Department of Social Development (DSD).

Local businessman Garvan O’Doherty and the derelict Fort George (site in the background). DER2124GS – 019
Local businessman Garvan O’Doherty and the derelict Fort George (site in the background). DER2124GS – 019

“That was in 2004. Seventeen years on and all we have is an office block and a science park and nothing else. From a civic perspective this is grossly unsatisfactory,” he said.

Mr. O’Doherty believes the redesign of the Pennyburn roundabout needs to progress far quicker than it is at present as this is an obstacle to progress at Fort George. He recently met with the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to discuss the issue.

“The roundabout at Pennyburn is critical to allowing the development of Fort George to take place. It needed to be decoupled from the Buncrana road extension because God knows when the extension is going to happen,” he said.

“I remember 30 or 35 years ago the road widening scheme at Buncrana Road was talked about. People had to close their businesses. People had to move out of their homes and property started to be vested,” he said, reflecting that it has been under discussion for three decades but still hasn’t been realised.

Local businessman Garvan O’Doherty and the derelict Fort George (site in the background). DER2124GS – 018

Mr. O’Doherty praised Minister Mallon for committing to provide funding towards the new junction which he said was a positive step in the right direction.

Back in November 2018 the Garvan O’Doherty Group (GODG) participated in an expression of interest competition for Fort George and tabled a proposal to develop an £80m Tier 1 visitor attraction.

An International Maritime & Emigration Museum called ‘Voyager’ would drive tourism, the group said. Shortly after the competition closed part of the site was earmarked for the Western Trust for its £70m Cityside Health Hub.

But looking out at the empty acreage from his nearby office this week Mr. O’Doherty said he’s still keen for the Department for Communities to open a second expression of interest round so that a tailored ‘Voyager’ proposal can be pitched. “We will work with anyone to get the city developed.

“The Western Trust has got the site. That is fair enough. We will work with the Western Trust. Voyager is an £80m scheme. We need to have certainty. The private sector can’t work on half-a-job.

Mr. O’Doherty is of the strong view Derry needs to start demanding more from regional government as well as realising tangible outputs within a shorter timeframe.

“We need to get fire in our belly. We need to be passionate about what we want to do. We need a system to monitor government departments, ministers in office and performance in the city, with a view to getting outputs,” he said.

He said a more streamlined approach to development should be taken and that civic leaders and ‘business’ should focus on an achievable list of projects and get them done.

“The two key questions are: what are the five key pieces of infrastructure this city needs? And what are the three key buildings of most significant built heritage? Keep it simple.

“Let us settle on five pieces of infrastructure, on three buildings of significant built heritage value and let’s settle on getting these elements achieved without delay and with ownership and passion.

“When you look at the job prospects, the deprivation indices, educational attainment, the numbers are going the wrong way.

“It’s time we made them go the right way. The system of delivery for the city is not working. When people go around the city and see nothing is happening this is the reason why. We are going around in circles and getting ‘half-a-job’.”