Amusement arcade extension at historic building rejected

The historic Old bank building at the bottom of Shipquay Street.
The historic Old bank building at the bottom of Shipquay Street.

Permission sought to extend an amusement arcade to the front of the Old Northern Bank building in Derry’s city centre, has been denied by the local Planning Committee.

Councillors voted against a recommendation from Planners to approve the application from Bentley Leisure to extend its current amusement arcade at Bank Place and the bottom of Shipquay Street, expressing concerns over the potential impact on young people living or attending facilities nearby.

In a report presented to the committee, it was stated that the vacant 90 sqms. unit involved no changes to the facade of the Grade B1 Listed Building, which was last in use several years ago as a ‘Bloody Sunday’ Centre.

Planners stated that consultants including Environmental Health and Historic Environment Division (HED) Historic Buildings had no objections to the proposal.

Council, however, received four letters of objections from the same objector which raised various concerns, including applications of a similar nature at the address being refused in the past and claimed it went against a Draft Amusement Permit Policy issued by council in May 2018, a final version of which has yet to be agreed.

Recently a letter from SDLP Foyle MLA and former Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, expressing concern was also sent, the committee was told.

Planners said that the premises involvedwas “not a large premises in terms of footprint,” and would not result in a significant loss of retail floor space within Shipquay Street. “At this point on this side of Shipquay Street and Bank Place there is already a clustering of non-retail use,” they stated.

A Planning Officer said that there was already another amusement arcade at the top of Shipquay Street but that “two on the one street wouldn’t necessarily amount to proliferation.”

A ‘Buildings at Risk Register’ meanwhile, stated that the original 1825 building on the site was replaced by the present building designed by Sir Charles Lanyon in 1853 . “It is considered that the re-use of this Listed Building will ensure its preservation,” the Planning report stated.

The council’s Draft Amusement Permit Policy, while it may be a consideration for the committee, was not a Planning Policy Document and is primarily intended to serve as a guide for assessing applications for amusement permits by the council’s Health and Community Committee, councillors were told and, as such, could not provide determining weight in the consideration of this proposal.

Addressing the committee on Wednesday, objector Diana Thompson, claimed that the application ran contrary to three of five areas covered in the Draft Permit Policy. “You as a committee must take that document into account in your deliberations,” she urged, adding that this was a key tourism location next to the City Walls.

“There are already seven existing amusement arcades in the city centre and permission allowed after appeal for a further premises on William Street,” she said.

“Other amusement arcade operators will be watching closely to see how council approaches these applications,” she warned.

Martin McNutt, speaking in support of the business owner Michael Heaney, said the building was already over 70 per cent licensed “and up and working.”

He said the only objection they could see was from another commercial business, and that they saw no reason why it would not be allowed.

“Mr. Heaney, in his businesses, has employed 300 people here. He is looking to employ more people in jobs which we need badly in Derry,” he said, adding that the building would be kept the way it was and that there was “enough buildings in Derry that are closed.”

SDLP Colr. Angela Dobbins asked what radius planners used when they assessed that it was not within the vicinity of schools, churches and young and vulnerable people, to which planners said they looked at the general area and that there was no hard and fast rules regarding the radius around the site. He added that consideration to current planning rules, regulations and guidelines regarding this and other issues were fully examined.

Colr. Dobbins responded: “There’s a cathedral at the top of the road and another church and a young person’s training area right beside Supervalu, around the corner from the Guildhall.”

Sinn Fein Colr. Patricia Logue added that beside the training centre was also ‘Our Space’, “where young people from all over our city come to, and sometimes troubled young people come for advice.

“At the top of Shipquay Street there’s a residential area, Jefferson Court, where a lot of vulnerable young people live and are trying to be mentored, to the best of my knowledge, to have a quality of life.

“We have a duty to protect city and especially the conservation area,” she added.

Colr. Logue proposed the committee did not accept the officer’s recommendation.

SDLP Colr. Sinead McLaughlin urged that a decision be delayed until there was more clarity and questioned whether the committee could make a decision until there was greater clarity around the new council Environmental Health Policy on licensing and until that has gone through due process. “It could be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted if we give permission for this to go through,” she warned.

The first proposal tabled by Colr. Logue was then voted on, and the committee, with the exception of Sinn Fein Colr. Ruari McHugh, who abstained, voted to reject .