Forum ‘needed’ to plan for Culture year

Derry’s Chamber of Commerce belives a special forum should be set up to help plan provision for the City of Culture year.

Chamber president Padraig Canavan says much of the city’s needs for 2013 cannot be expected to be provided by the private sector.

“Much of the provision will be short-term, whereas commerce usually expects to operate on a long-term basis,” he added.

“Moreover, entrepreneurs are facing serious difficulty in raising funds at the present time. It, therefore, makes sense for the city to be engaged in a more broad-based planning process for City of Culture.

“The Chamber is prepared and willing to be fully involved in the necessary actions to make the City of Culture a successful year for the benefit of all.”

Mr. Canavan has also voiced concern about the “weak state” of the local transport infrastructure in the countdown to 2013.

“The Chamber is very strongly of the view that the city has been let down for many decades in terms of the infrastructure in this city and region.

“We require modern and reliable transport links with Belfast and Dublin, both via road and rail, which we do not have.

“While the much-needed improvements cannot be in situ for 2013, the Chamber will continue to be very vocal in demanding that these infrastructure improvements are put in place at the very earliest possible time.”

Mr. Canavan has also voiced concern that new hotels planned for the city won’t be ready in time for the City of Culture celebrations in 2013.

Earlier in the week, a local businessman warned there won’t be enough accommodation for visitors during 2013.

Eddie Kerr, who was instrumental in securing an international music, arts and dance festival for the city in 2013, said Derry needs to “get its act together.”

There are currently around 500 hotel beds in the city, with plans to build six more hotels.

However, Mr Kerr believes it is not just about building hotels: “I’m encouraging people to think about bed and breakfast, guest houses, about utilising empty spaces,” he said. “We have factories that could be refurbished.

“I have people coming from WOMAD in the next month who will be asking, ‘where do people eat and stay stay?’

Padraig Canavan says he’s reassured that several of the hotel schemes are “on track”, but added: “It is unrealistic to expect the private sector to build new hotels that will only be occupied for a few weekends during 2013 and will then be left underused and, eventually, become a ‘white elephant’ legacy.

“What is required, therefore, are other, additional interventions that meet the needs of those spikes in demand.

“One option is for a big increase in guest house and bed and breakfast provision across the city. Another is for landowners to be supported in creating new campsites that might be suitable.

“The Chamber also welcomes proposals for a boat, or boats, to be moored on the river as temporary hotel provision. This idea deserves serious consideration.”