Eden Project plan to bid for Boom Hall tender as part of £67m Derry riverfront transformation plan
The development director of the Eden Project said he remains “optimistic” the ambitious £67m plan to transform part of Derry’s riverfront will be realised.
Dan James said that along with their local partners Foyle River Gardens, they will be bidding for a forthcoming Derry & Strabane Council partnership tender to develop the Boom Hall estate.
Mr James said that if they are selected as the preferred bidder, this will pave the way for detailed design work and planning applications to be developed.
The proposals for the Eden Project Foyle tourist attraction were announced in February last year just before COVID-19 struck.
The project aims to link the Boom Hall and Brook Hall estates and create public access to previously inaccessible land out towards Culmore Point. If it comes to fruition Derry’s Eden Project is expected to directly create more than 170 jobs onsite and support over 2,000 more from visitor spend. The centrepiece is called ‘The Acorn’, with a performance area and play spaces, with zip wires down to surrounding walkways, with walled gardens, tree-top and floating walkways, a water activity centre across the 250-acre area.
Mr James told the ‘Journal’: “Going back to 2020 we got named in the New Decade, New Approach document and then I brought the Eden Board and Trust over to Derry in February. Everything was moving in the right direction and then COVID-19 hit. That has put a bit of a brake on the project but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been working on it. Where we are at the moment is that Derry & Strabane District Council are in the process of organising a preferred partner competition for the Boomhall site. That is going out to the process, we hope, very soon and we will be bidding to win that award, and the onus is then on the Council whether the Eden Project is the one that wins or there might be other credible projects around that are equally interesting for the Council. We are just waiting for that call to be made and we will put all our efforts behind trying to win that competition.”
Mr James said that if they get the green light, the project team are hopeful of an anchor grant from the NI government ‘and we would supplement that with some private sector investment and philanthropic funds.’ “The first thing we would like to do is to build the riverside walkway extending the walkway from Bay Road Park there all the way down to Thornhill so it would be going through Boom Hall and Brook Hall estates. Riverfront access would be our first priority and then we would look at some of the technical issues on Boomhall site around those buildings.”
He said ‘really positive conversations’ were continuing with both Queen’s and Ulster University concerning research opportunities onsite which could potentially link in with City Deal projects.
“The competition with Council is the important milestone now. If we don’t win that competition then the chances of the project are significantly reduced,” he said.
The Acorn building would be located on the Boom Hall estate, while the current historic buildings would be preserved under the bid. “For the local community we would be looking at creating a locals’ pass where they would pay a cheaper rate than you would if you were coming on holiday. We want the locals to see this as much their project as it is ours. We’re just custodians of this landscape for them and that’s an important part when we are developing this project and for Foyle River Gardens as well to have that local ownership.
“We would look to continue to partner with Foyle River Gardens in the operation of it. Hopefully the reassurance they have is Eden’s 20 years experience in Cornwall and all the knowledge and expertise we have got in that we will bring that to bear on this project as well. We remain optimistic that the Eden Project will come to Derry. Clearly there is an important moment in the next few months with this Council competition, but alongside the plans we have got for Morecambe and Dundee we would love to do something in Derry and create a little bit of the Eden project in Northern Ireland.”
A spokesperson for Derry and Strabane Council confirmed that it would “shortly be initiating a publicly advertised competitive process to invite regeneration submissions for the Boom Hall lands”. “This process seeks to identify a suitable partner(s) who have proposals which align with the Council’s strategic objectives for the site and which also align with the recently completed Boom Hall Conservation Management Plan and Historic Landscape Appraisal. It is expected that the competition will be advertised in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson said.