Plans for a massive investment at the Arntz site in Derry will create 375 new full and part-time jobs and a further 300 construction jobs, those behind it have told Derry & Strabane Council.
The team at the helm of the project said that unlike some other large-scale proposed projects, the money was already in place to develop the 14-acre site at Pennybrun Pass.
They were speaking as they gave a presentation before Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Environment and Regeneration Committee in Strabane on Wednesday evening.
The plans, which are currently being considered by the Department of the Environment, include building a major foodstore, forecourt, health centre, research centre and a number of other facilities in an investment worth £20m.
Engineering firm Arntz Belting Company, which made timing belts for vehicles and machinery, closed down in 2010 with the loss of 115 jobs.
The German-owned company had been operating in Derry since 1968 and its closure was attributed a reduction in orders stemming from the global economic downturn.
You can’t have 14 acres of land lying gathering tumbleweed, you have to have something; something of value.Maurice Maguire
Those behind the plans for the new developments have said that redeveloping the site now would provide a realistic opportunity to not only bring much needed employment, but also to “strengthen the core” of Derry economically.
Robert Moore, Managing Director with Arntz for the past 15 years, told the council committee he was delighted to present the proposals.
He added that as a company, some years ago Arntz said they wanted to leave a legacy to Derry as a “symbol of our gratitude for some 45 years association with Derry and the citizens of the city”.
He said that as part of this there had been a meeting in Hanover back in March 2010 where it was a greed and endorsed that there would be support for regenerating the site “taking into account our social responsibilities”.
Maurice Maguire, Director of Urban and Rural Planning Associates briefed the committee on the concept for the Arntz site.
He said at this moment there were very, very few undeveloped sites of this magnitude that were vacant at the moment, presenting a rare opportunity.
Mr Maguire added that this was a site that could make a major contribution to regeneration, with £3m already spent on the proposals to date.
“I know personally that the money required to develop the site is ready to go,” he assured the committee. “It’s a question of getting planning permission. If it does come forward this site will be developed.”
The net 375 new full and part-time jobs would be created on top of those displaced from elsewhere.
He said that there would also be 300 construction jobs, and that in terms of wages alone, the site would result in £6.5m in wages each year and £1m in rates.
He also outlined how his team had been responsible for other massive projects including the Odyssey Arena and the Foyle Street carpark which became Foyleside Shopping Centre.
“You can’t have 14 acres of land lying gathering tumbleweed, you have to have something; something of value,” Mr Maguire urged, while also cautioning that other areas in the region were also competing for developments.
“Letterkenny fancy themselves,” he said.
Sinn Fein Councillor Kevin Campbell, sitting in temporarily as committee chair because chairman SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney had absented himself as a member of the Planning Committee, said that the Arntz site was massive and had been lying derelict for a long time. He also said it was “vital” the developers ensure the local community was on board.
Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly said that while there had been consultation with some residents, not all had been consulted and there was concerns around access to and from the site in what were already at times congested roads and an arterial route.
Mr Maguire responded that in terms of the road complexity, detailed discussions were ongoing with Road Service about a number of junctions, adding that these talks were informed by issues raised by residents during previous meetings.
He added that in terms of the retail aspect, they were expecting a response next month.
Sinn Fein Councillor Sandra Duffy said that the plans were “a good news story for the city as a whole”.
“It is a really exciting project and great opportunity for the city,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to see this opportunity missed.”