The former Stradreagh Hospital, which used to be an asylum which was later used to accommodate Oakgrove school until a new puprose-built sc opened in 2004, was damaged in another deliberate fire in 2016.
One councillor described the security fencing around the site as being ‘as useful as a chocolate fireguard’ as elected members agreed unanimously to write to the Western Trust about the situation and also call for a meeting with Trust officials.
Making the proposal at the full meeting of Derry City and Strabane council, Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson said: “This is the second fire we have had and since I’ve been elected I have contacted the Western Trust on numerous occasions because the buildings haven’t been secured enough. Since then they have erected a huge metal fence around the site but it seems this hasn’t helped the situation.
“This is a listed building, it is a beautiful building, it was my secondary school which was very scary at times but it was a beautiful, huge 100 year old building. I know the Western Trust is under a lot of pressure budgetary wise but I was hoping we could write to them to ask what their plans are for the building and to seek a meeting to see if there are ways they would be willing to look at something like Boom Hall.
“At this time it has become a dangerous hazard within a rural community and it’s becoming a hot spot. We are coming into the summer months when we usually see antisocial behaviour around it and it’s shocking it has been left to rot.”
Seconding the proposal, SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly spoke of the cost associated with the fire. He said: “There is a cost attached to the building and the Western Trust’s maintenance of it and there is also a cost attached to the public service in relation to the fire brigade having to attend the scene and the danger that those who started the fire initially put themselves in and the danger to the emergency services who were trying to put out the fire. It is imperative we do get an answer to what the Western Trust plans to do with the site.”
DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney condemned those who started the fire adding it was important that council should do anything possible to help develop the area.
Criticising the attempts to secure the former hospital site, Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly said: “There are a lot of buildings around the one that was set on fire. It seems to be a terrible waste when you consider the amount of resources that is going in to try and protect them.
“I know there was a fence built within the past year or two. Some people say it cost £100,000 and they say it is as useful as a chocolate fire-guard.
“Before the fence was even completed young people had been levering the bars apart in other areas of it and so it was completely ineffective and seems to be a complete waste of money.”
Calling for action from the Western Trust, People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin spoke of the frustrations of local residents.
“I have spoken to residents and the Enagh Youth Forum and they have been raising this issue for many, many years,” he said. “They are raising it as a concern because they don’t want to see a dilapidated building that can become a site which attracts antisocial behaviour and they have also made proposals for it to be utilised and they are rightly frustrated.
“The delay in taking action to do anything with this building has actually led to this. Alderman Devenney has a point when he says we should condemn the people who lit the fire but equally if you leave a building lying around this long that only opens up the possibility that something like this could happen.
“We need to make sure statutory bodies and organisations are listening to residents and listening to campaign groups with ideas on what to do with these buildings. We need to see action taken around this.”
The proposal passed unanimously and council will now contact the Western Trust to express their concerns and call for a meeting to discuss the Trust’s plans for the site.
Local Democracy Reporter