The campaign to protect our environment has taken on a new level of urgency as the effects of environmental damage are felt across the world, and global leaders mobilise to mitigate the repercussions for future generations.
Environmental awareness is at an all-time high, and we have never been more conscious of the impact of our actions when it comes to contributing to global warming or the effects of single use plastics.
With that in mind Physical and Environmental Regeneration is a major focus of the Strategic Growth Plan for Derry and Strabane which prioritises living sustainably by protecting and enhancing the local environment. It takes in a broad spectrum of responsibilities in terms of development, infrastructure, the natural environment, climate and our built heritage.
Progress has already been made in a number of areas through a raft of strategies already being rolled out by Council and its environmental partners. This evidence is recorded in the first Statement of Progress for the Growth Plan two years into the delivery of Community Planning.
It highlights a shift towards more sustainable living, the prioritisation of green space in local development, the conservation and promotion of our natural and built heritage assets, as well as the development of deliverable action plans that will address some of the effects of environmental damage.
One of the most important strategy documents for Derry and Strabane – the Local Development Plan draft plan strategy is currently out for public consultation. The document is closely aligned to the Strategic Growth Plan (Community Plan) for the City and district, and is huge in its scope, addressing all issues of Planning, guiding land use and setting out the policies and proposals for the use, development and protection of our settlements and countryside.
FIRST Green plan
DCSDC is the first local council to have launched a green infrastructure plan for the City and District. This aims to maximise the number of functions that local parks and green spaces can provide while encouraging people to use these areas for exercise and recreation, benefiting their health and wellbeing.
Work is also ongoing on the first climate adaptation plan for Derry and Strabane, which aims to research and identify new ways to effectively tackle climate change. The €1.3m CLIMATE project - Collaborative Learning Initiative Managing and Adapting to the Environment (CLIMATE) - involves partners and stakeholders from four different regions; Northern Ireland, Sweden, Rep of Ireland and the Faroe Islands, in addition to Associate Partners from Finland, Scotland, Norway and Iceland. The project will tackle climate change on local and regional levels through using models of best practice to develop climate adaptation plans for implementation in the City and District. This includes improving local green infrastructure and helping communities become more prepared in terms of emergency planning.
Infrastructure is another major challenge, and it is hoped that better connectivity and public transport services will make public transport and active travel more viable options for local people.
A catalyst for this shift will be the new £27m multi-modal Transport hub for the NW, with Phase 2 due to be unveiled in the summer of 2020. Scheduled for completion in 2021, the project aims to improve public transport and address some of the historic infrastructure issues that have curtailed the development of the local economy.
John Glass is the Director of Infrastructure and Projects at Translink who are leading on the project. He is convinced that the social and economic benefits will drive further investment and tourism. “The project involves refurbishing the existing 1850’s Victorian station - basically we’re restoring that building, ensuring its future and creating new space within it,” John explains. “A good public transport system is essential to the economic wellbeing of any area and that’s no different here in Derry. This area will see 650,000 plus passengers per annum passing through the station. Recent surveys show that for every £1 spent on public transport, £4 goes back into the local economy and I think the North West will see those benefits. The project will also act as an enabler for the future regeneration of Duke Street and the wider Waterside.”
According to John, Translink is already seeing a shift in travel preferences locally and that trend is expected to continue. “In the last two years with the introduction of the early service from Derry we have seen an almost 40% increase in the use of public transport on the train. The NW hub will connect cycling, walking, rail, bus and car at the park and ride. It will take people out of their cars and increase usage of public transport, which will also protect the local environment.”
On the regeneration front things have also continued to move in a positive direction. In June the announcement of €8.96 million of EU PEACE IV funding for the Riverine project was warmly welcomed. There has also been further significant investment in local play parks and a public play plan consultation has been launched to gauge need for new and improved facilities across Derry and Strabane. The opening of the Clooney Greenway and the re-opening of St Columb’s Park Avenue highlight the commitment to investment in the regeneration of green spaces with work also beginning on the St Columb’s Park Walled Garden project.
There are still major challenges however. Whilst Planners have approved the highest number of social housing units across NI our social sector waiting list shows that, in the period between 2017/18 and 2018/19, there has been an increase in applicants in housing stress (30 pts plus) and homelessness has increased. Private/speculative dwelling completions have nearly doubled and whilst there have been some progress in social housing dwelling completions – the completion rate is higher in Derry and Strabane than in NI - it is not enough to meet current need.
Karen Phillips is Director of Environment and Regeneration with Council. She is delighted to see things moving in the right direction but stresses this momentum must continue to address the deficits that currently exist in areas such as housing.
“A significant amount of work has gone into the Local Development Plan and this strategy will inform the future of all development here. Housing stress remains a major challenge and the creation of 9,000 new homes is the target to be delivered by 2032 at sustainable locations with all the necessary infrastructure, services and facilities.
“In terms of wider development, there has been significant preparatory work to regenerate Derry City Centre’s Riverfront and Strabane Town Centre as part of the City Deal’s £55m inclusive future fund, as well as progress in the development of our regionally significant sites including Fort George and Ebrington. The LDP will assist in the delivery of better infrastructure, encouraging investment in an accessible and well connected region, and helping to bring the additional 15,100 additional jobs we aim to create by 2032. It will be the blueprint for a more successful, more sustainable City and Region.”
You can find out more about the programmes and projects being rolled out online at growderrystrabane.com
To see the draft plan strategy for the LDP go to www.derrystrabane.com/Subsites/LDP/Local-Development-Plan