Foyle ‘bubbles’ burst over budget, lack of evidence

The mooted £25m ‘Our Future Foyle’ project to transform the riverfront and address suicide concerns will not now go ahead as planned.

Elements of the project have been scrapped entirely while significant doubt has been cast on other aspects of the intervention, the ‘Journal’ has learned.

‘Our Future Foyle’ was launched in the Guildhall in 2018 as a ‘cultural and health intervention’ led by the Public Health Agency (PHA), City Centre Initiative and Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

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Three landmark projects ‘Foyle Reeds’, ‘Foyle Bubbles’ and ‘Foyle Experience’ were earmarked. ‘Reeds’ proposed thousands of illumined reeds on the Foyle Bridge, ‘Bubbles’, the placement of 40 moveable pods along the Foyle, and ‘Experience’, interactive sculptures and art along the river.

An artist’s impression of Foyle Reeds, an element of Our Future Foyle led by the Department for Infrastructure.

The ‘Journal’ can reveal that key elements will not now go ahead due to ‘challenging budgetary positions’ and a lack of evidence about how they could make any ‘meaningful impact in terms of suicide prevention’.

‘Our Future Foyle’ began life as a health-led cross-statutory project. But the three main strands of the intervention have been transferred to other departments: ‘Reeds’ (Department for Infrastructure), ‘Bubbles’ (Department for Communities) and ‘Experience’ (The Executive Office).

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A Department of Health spokesman told the ‘Journal’ that a ‘Comkit’ - an online toolkit designed to support communities at times of heightened suicide concern - has been delivered.

“Our Future Foyle is a socially transformative urban project which seeks to investigate ways of improving the mental wellbeing of the population along the banks and bridges of the river Foyle. The Comkit element of Future Foyle, led by PHA has been delivered,” the spokesperson said.

An artist's impression of the Foyle Bubbles element.

For a variety of reasons there has been less progress on the other interventions.

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“The considerable cost of other elements combined with challenging budgetary positions, technical complexity and other Departmental priorities, set against the COVID-19 background, have meant that several elements of the initiative have not been progressed within the initial timescales envisaged.

“Officials continue to work together to find feasible ways to progress suicide prevention measures on the Foyle River,” said the DoH spokesperson.

The ‘Journal’ asked the other departments if their parts of the project would proceed.

A Department of Communities spokesperson confirmed ‘Bubbles’ will not.

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The Department received an Outline Business Case for the Foyle Bubbles Project in March 2021.

“Following full consideration of the Business Case, the Department concluded that it could not progress the proposal further due to concerns around its viability and there was insufficient evidence to justify how the pods could make any meaningful impact in terms of suicide prevention.

"If there are other feasible opportunities that could contribute to suicide prevention, the Department would be happy to consider these further.”

And the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon recently cast doubt on the future of the ‘Reeds’ element. She said her department was working through a Strategic Outline Case to identify a preferred way forward in terms of improving the Foyle Bridge.

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“In taking this work forward my Department will ensure that the important learning from the ‘Our Future Foyle’ work is not lost,” she said, in response to an Assembly Question.

The ‘Journal’ asked DfI if this meant the project was being scrapped. A DfI spokesperson said: “Officials continue to work together to find feasible ways to progress suicide prevention measures on the Foyle River. The AQW referenced in the query outlines the Department’s work in relation to the Foyle Bridge.”

A TEO spokesperson did not respond when asked for an update on the ‘Experience’ element.

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