Ebrington plans are being ‘long-fingered’

Ebrington Square.
Ebrington Square.

The man credited with reviving the Derry arts scene says it is “disturbing” that the planned regeneration of the former military barracks site at Ebrington is being put on the “long finger”.

Professor Declan McGonagle says the riverfront site - long earmarked as a key location for the city’s economic regeneration - could and should be developed immediately.

He remarked: “To kick Ebrington’s potential down the road, in my opinion, means kicking the potential of the city down the road.”

Planning permission was recently announced for the regeneration of the 10.5 hectare site.

The proposal is for a range of uses including museum and heritage, creative industries, education, research and development and hotel and leisure.

Interestingly, however, it was revealed that development is likely to occur in phases with completion expected around 2033.

It is this proviso that concerns Declan McGonagle.

The Derry man - now based in Dublin - is one of the most influential figures to emerge from the Derry arts scene. He was shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize in 1987 for his role in making Derry’s Orchard Gallery and the city an international centre for the artist.

He told the ‘Journal’ this week that the “stretching” of the Ebrington development process to 2033 was a cause for concern.

“We are now in 2016 and we have a long fingering of a target date for the realisation of the potential of Ebrington as a strategic focus for social/cultural as well as economic renewal for the city and its communities,” he remarked.

“If this long fingering approach holds, then it suggests - along with the dissolution of ILEX and the continuing investment starvation of the city - an abdication of their responsibilities by the city’s public representatives.”

Prof. McGonagle - a former director at both the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the National College of Art and Design - says the Ebrington site proved its particular worth in 2013 during Derry’s City of Culture year.

It contributed, he says, to “community pride and cohesion” and to “cultural experience and participation”, as well as attracting huge numbers of visitors/tourists to the city.

“We should remember,” he added, “that arts and culture represent a substantial and quantifiable economic proposition in their own right.

“I wonder if people in the city are concerned? Or are they happy with the proposed long finger approach when, instead, the development of Ebrington could be pushed now as an argument for an immediate process of investment?

“Of course, in planning, one always works through short, medium and long term processes. But, in this case, it seems to be just long term.”