Assurances have been given that Ebrington Square will be an “important venue” for major events into the future amid concerns redevelopment could impact on its ability to host large-scale concerts and funfairs.
The Northern Ireland Executive Office - which currently has responsibility for the Ebrington site- said they were committed to developing Ebrington “for everyone in the North West”.
Derry & Strabane Council, who are due to take over responsibility for Ebrington in 2018, said they have raised the importance of the site in pre-transfer discussions with the Department.
Officials were responding after former Environment Minister, Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said it was vital the capacity to host major events was not lost as a result of re-development.
Since it opened in 2012, Ebrington Square has hosted some of the biggest cultural events ever staged locally. However, problems with the surface has resulted in a planning application to replace the existing gravel with concrete and grass. This is one of a number of major projects earmarked for the area, with a large hotel and a Maritime Museum proposed, and a whiskey distillery and visitor centre in development.
Mr Durkan said: “The Executive Office’s plans to resurface the event space at Ebrington are welcome. Many of us who have attended concerts and other events in Ebrington, particularly in inclement weather conditions, will agree that the current sandy surface, which turns mucky when wet, is not ideal. So, on the face of it, this investment in replacing it with a new surface seems like good news.
“However, I have been contacted by event organisers who fear that the proposed new surface may curtail the square’s ability to host activities such as funfairs that have thus far played a major part in animating and creating an income from this key site.”
Mr Durkan said he has met with officials from the Executive Office to air these concerns.
“As well as being a hub of employment, Ebrington should still be able to host more events that we and our children all enjoy, be it a concert or a fairground attraction. It’s got to be perfect,” he said.
“As minister,” he said. “I approved the Ebrington masterplan and am aware of and excited about its future development.
“This area is ideally situated to become a key economic driver for the city, with a distillery, museum and hotel all already in the pipeline and plans for Grade A office accommodation too.
“However, it is important that we do not reduce our capacity to host events that are enjoyed by local people and tourists alike. Any new surface should be able to take the wear and tear of events and site traffic without being prohibitively expensive to hire for events or, significantly, to maintain.
“Ebrington is scheduled to transfer from Government ownership to Council. It is vital that when it does so it is fit for purpose. This is a major asset and we must ensure any investment in it is wisely spent.”
A spokesperson for the Executive Office said: “We are committed to developing Ebrington for the benefit of everyone in the North West and are working closely with the local community and the private sector to increase investment on the site.
“The current surface for Ebrington Square was installed in 2011 as part of wider works to the site. There has been a number of issues raised in respect of the current surface including drainage and issues regarding blowing sands during prolonged dry spells which created maintenance issues around the periphery of the former parade ground.
“We have sought professional advice along with significant input from Derry City and Strabane District Council on options for a new surface which would address these difficulties. Given these issues, we have been investigating alternative options. The proposed surface is similar to that used or to be used in similar public realm spaces including Connswater Greenway and CS Lewis Square in Belfast.
“We plan for the square to continue to be an important event venue in the city and deliver economic and social benefits for the North West and beyond.”
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said: “We are working closely with the Executive to find an effective resolution to issues with the surface at the site. The parade ground is an important shared space which has provided the backdrop for some major outdoor events here in the city. Council remains committed to the delivery of world-class events locally, and we hope to continue to utilise this space as an important outdoor venue. This has been highlighted during our ongoing discussions with the Executive.”