Details of a massive project which would see Derry’s riverfront transformed into a global outdoor playground and leading research facility, have been revealed.
The proposal for the £60m Foyle River Gardens, which would stretch from the Foyle Bridge to Culmore Point, was unveiled at a council meeting at the Guildhall this week.
It has now been confirmed that both Queen’s University and Ulster University have committed to examining the development of a joint research facility at the site.
The local partnership behind Foyle River Gardens, the Eden Project and Northside Development Trust, have been working under the radar since the City of Culture year to progress the plans which include restoring or redeveloping Boom Hall and stables, and linking this with the Brook Hall Estate.
The plans, which would create around 200 jobs on site; hundreds more off-site and in construction, would see the development of a “world class destination” and could include a trail through revived walled gardens, recreational spaces, research facilities, river taxis from the city centre, zip wires, water sports, greenhouse labs, elevated look out posts and forest log cabins.
While the proposals will be fully consulted on, councillors were told the Derry not-for-profit, social enterprise projects could include a huge, ‘iconic’ canopy structure integrated within the landscape for all-weather activities, along with a riverside theatre and outdoor swimming pool.
Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, which delivered a massive eco-tourism project in Cornwall, said: “The fact that the two top universities have dared to commit together with a closeness many thought unimaginable, gives me real confidence that Derry’s time is coming.
“We are hugely excited at the international collaborations we can bring to a site that will be not only a global leisure destination but also a mould-breaking centre for science and human health learning, education and research.”
Foyle River Gardens chairman, Eamonn Deane and Barney Toal, told the council’s Environment & Regeneration Committee that they have been in talks with the Strategic Investment Board and other bodies regarding financing of the project, with hopes that it will be included in a finalised City Deal proposal.
Mr. Deane said: “Our vision is that the Foyle River Gardens will become a focus for the local community and international tourists alike through a unique riverside landscape offering play, relaxation, entertainment and learning.
“We believe this project has the ability to enhance and transform Derry’s economic fortunes. We are a small city, but we think big. Our ambition knows no bounds.”
Mr. Toal added: “This will transform the landscape of Derry and is the largest environmental regeneration project every undertaken in the North West.This brings together education, skills, health and well being, employment and environment.”
Sir Tim Smit, who saw the potential when invited to give a speech in 2013, said: “Derry is a world city on the banks of one of the most beautiful rivers anywhere. The invitiation to participate in developing a project that creates the cultural, social and economic excitement that can redefine its future makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.”
The project would open up 225 acres of previously inaccessible land to the general public, and create 8 kms of riverside trails accessed from Bay Road to Culmore, attracting 400,000 visitors a year and generating £19m for the local economy. A feasibility study on making the entire site off-grid is also being undertaken.
Mr. Toal said the cost of the project was £60m over five to seven years and said they were “delighted and excited” that Queen’s and Ulster University are coming to the site.
He confirmed initial approaches have been made to the Irish Government and Donegal County Council about the potential for expansion.
Mr. Toal requested the assistance of a senior council officer to help drive the project forward. “It is now at the stage that this vision could become a reality,” he claimed.
Council’s Director of Environment & Regeneration, Karen Phillips, said that officers have been working closely with the project team for years and would now gather options, particuarly focusing on the potential for inclusion in the City Deal proposition, to be presented before a future committee meeting.