Government looking at Fort George buyer offer

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An offer to purchase a large swathe of the Fort George site in Derry is now being considered by the Department for Finance and Personnel, it has been confirmed.

It is understood the offer has been submitted by a well known development company, and could result in hundreds of new jobs, as well as the relocation and establishment of services such as research and health care facilities.

It emerged several weeks ago that an offer has been made in response to a written question submitted to Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey by Foyle Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin asking for an update on progress on the site.

The offer at the time was being considered by the DSD, but in a fresh development is now also being considered by Finance Minister Simon Hamilton’s department.

It has also now emerged that there still 12 to 18 months of remedial work to be completed on the site, and this work won’t start until a decision is made on an outline planning permission application for the entire site.

The finer details of what is contained in the proposals attached to the offer however are currently under wraps.

A spokesperson for the Department for Social Development (DSD) confirmed to the ‘Journal’: “The Department can confirm that an approach has been made by a potential purchaser seeking a portion of the Fort George site.

“The proposal remains ‘commercial in confidence’ at this time, and is currently under consideration by both Department for Social Development and the Department of Finance and Personnel.”

Speaking about the Fort George site, Ms McLaughlin said: “There is a need to move as this as it is a key site, and we have always talked about this being a significant site for job creation and the development of the city.”

The two major developments on site since it was handed over by the Ministry of Defence 14 years ago are the Project Kelvin Telehouse and the North West Regional Science Park, with the later having opened last year.

An initial outline planning application for the re-development of the entire 14 acre former army base was lodged back in 2012, to include housing, offices, research and development and community facilities, shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

A revised planning permission application was submitted in January this year along with a series of new reports.

Speaking about the application, a Department for the Environment (DoE) spokesman told the Journal: “DoE Planning is completing its assessment of the planning application for the Fort George Development Framework. It is anticipated that a decision will be made shortly.”

Department for Social Development officials said they too were “hopeful” the outline permission will be granted in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Once a planning decision has been made, remediation works for the site can commence, and may take between 12 and 18 months to complete.”

Elaborating, he added: “Remediation is required for the portion of the site that excludes the North West Regional Science Park, and involves groundwater remediation and the placing of a capping layer.”