Clanmil ‘surprised’ at rail line dismay as flats get go ahead following appeal

The social housing body behinds a new flats complex along a former railway line said they are surprised by concerns raised by Into The West after a successful appeal against a decision not to grant planning permission for it.

By Brendan McDaid
Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 1:33 pm

A spokesperson for Clanmil Housing said no concerns over the former Derry -Strabane railway route were ever raised during the planning process for the development, which has been going on for over six years.

Clanmil however said they are willing to meet Into The West, who have expressed dismay after the Planning Appeals Commission last Friday granted planning permission for the complex off Victoria Road in the Waterside.

The Derry rail campaign group warned that the decision will “kill” any hopes of a revived rail link between Derry and Strabane, Letterkenny and Dublin.

Artist's impression of how the new apartment block will look.

Clanmil Housing had appealed the refusal of full planning permission for 39 apartments in a four storey building complex close to Craigavon Bridge at 8-10 Victoria Road.

The complex will have a rooftop amenity space, new access arrangements from Victoria Road, servicing and drop off provision, bin stores, cycle parking, landscaping and associated site works.

The Planning Appeals Commission on Friday overturned a previous decision by Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee back in March 2020 to refuse planning permission due to concerns over adequate parking facilities and access among other issues. The rail heritage of the area was not raised as a factor at the time or during the appeal.

Into The West said the development site sits on the edge of the River Foyle and on the trackbed of the old railway route that until 1955 ran from Derry’s Victoria Road station to Strabane. The former station still exists as a listed building.

Artist's impression of how the new apartment block will look.

Chair of Into The West, Steve Bradley, claimed the green light for the development “is a disaster for the North-west”. “A building there will make it impossible to restore a railway line along that route in future – making it extremely unlikely we will ever see rail from Derry to Strabane or Letterkenny again,” he said, adding:

“Without a route to Strabane, there can be no direct rail services form Derry or Donegal to Dublin. And as Derry has a bigger population than every other town on the former Derry-Portadown rail route, if our city can no longer be included in that proposed reopening then the viability of restoring rail to places like Omagh, Strabane, Enniskillen, Dungannon and Letterkenny also collapses. In short – building 39 apartments in that location will destroy any future for rail across the west of Ulster and prevent it being returned to Tyrone, Donegal and Fermanagh,” Mr Bradley claimed.

He also expressed frustration that Into The West have been lobbying the Council for years to protect the former rail trackbeds in the district as, he said, Donegal County Council have done in their area. “If that former section of track had been protected as we requested, that proposed building would never have left the drawing board and the door would still be open for major rail expansion here. Without that protection, the future of rail in our city has now effectively been killed,” he claimed, adding:

“Everyone knows that we need more social housing in Derry - but we also need better infrastructure too. There are other areas in the city where a block of 39 apartments could easily be provided. But there is realistically nowhere else that trains could leave Waterside Station and travel along to get to Strabane or Letterkenny. The only other options would involve extremely expensive engineering challenges like platforms over the river or tunnels, which would make the whole project financially unfeasible.”

Last month the governments north and south of the border announced that they are working on the first ever all-Ireland rail strategy, which will consider and include proposals to extend rail into places like Tyrone and Donegal. With that strategy due to be published later this year, Into The West said it is asking Clanmil Housing Association to rethink their plans and work with the council to find an alternative site, and failing this, have said that Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon should intervene.

Following the hearing on April 14, the NI Planning Appeals Commission ruled that full planning permission is granted, subject to conditions.

The main issues looked at in this appeal were car parking provision, impact on road safety and appropriate design.

In background documents it is stated that planning permission was previously been granted on the appeal site for residential apartments in July 2000 but that later lapsed.

At the Council’s Planning Committee meeting on March 4, 2020 a planning official gave an opinion to approve the proposal subject to the imposition of a number of conditions, and the committee also heard objections before refusing the application.

The Planning Appeals Commissioner in her report said she was not persuaded by “the unsubstantiated assertions that the development would cause or contribute” to any existing parking issue, and said that the NI Housing Executive have identified a need for 318 housing units within this area over the period 2020-25.

A spokesperson for Clanmil said: “We are delighted that the Planning Appeals Commission’s has approved these much-needed homes for the Waterside area. This is really good news for people in Derry who are waiting for a home.

“The demand for housing in the Derry and Strabane area continues to rise, making the delivery of high-quality homes like these more important than ever. The Victoria Road development will play a key role in easing this pressure, providing people with a place to make their own. We hope that our future residents will enjoy the benefits of living close to the City Centre, in walking distance of a range of local amenities and services and good transport links.

“We are surprised by the concerns raised at this late stage by Into the West. Our proposals for this site have been public knowledge since December 2014. In 2017 the Council itself carried out a design consultation on the scheme in addition to the normal neighbour notification. During these six and a half years we have never been approached by Into the West about their concerns. Neither did they object to our planning application. Indeed, none of the responses to the application made reference to the railway line or any proposed future connection.

“We would be happy to meet with Into the West to seek clarification as to their expectations at this stage.”