OPINION: ‘Let’s turn a setback into a step forward’

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Undoubtedly there has been frustration and disappointment that progress on the Ebrington site has not being happening quicker.

This has been crystallised by the setback over the ‘Quiet Man Distillery’ and the uncertainty over the Maritime Museum.

But a project of this scale and ambition was always going to face occasional difficulties. The key now is not to allow them to deflect from the potential of the overall project.

As Special Advisor to Martin McGuinness between 2014 and 2016, one of my responsibilities was to try and get this site moving after years of stagnation and changes of leadership of the Regeneration Company that had been established to take the site forward.

This involved difficult choices for ministers and eventually led to wind up of ILEX and with the Executive Office with the Strategic Investment Board taking direct responsibility.

The potential of this site is huge, its location, the iconic Peace Bridge, the historical value of the site and listed buildings, with the proper development this should be an extremely attractive proposition to private developers.

The main function of the Executive Office and the Strategic Investment Board since taking over management of the site from ILEX has been threefold:

To secure and bring up to spec the range of 24 historic buildings on the site so that private business can take the buildings on, £8m will have been invested in this by the end of this year.

To improve access and infrastructure including new road access and gas supplies.

And manage the site and assess bids form private developers in line with Ebrington Development Framework.

However, a serious problem, outside the control of all involved, has undoubtedly been Brexit.

The Ebrington Development Framework is reliant on the private sector moving on to the site and taking up the newly refurbished listed buildings.

With the climate around Brexit and risk averse banks this has meant that many developers have been cautious and that has delayed some of the business proposals that are expected for the site.

That said, developers are still expressing interest and the centre piece of the new Ebrington 152-bedroom hotel targeted at the golfing market is still very much on track with construction to begin soon.

Enterprise North West has already taken possession of a large building as a technology hub and we will soon see a new restaurant open close to the Foyle which will give it an iconic view point.

Next year will also see a number of other buildings taken over by private developers creating new jobs and increasing footfall on the site.

In addition, £1.9m is being spent on a new access road from the Limavady Road and this will help open development opportunities at the rear of Ebrington.

Finally, and importantly progress on newly built 62.500 sq ft of Grade A office accommodation has now reached planning approval stage.

Significant work has gone into this project and a planning application will be submitted in the next few weeks.

This project is designed to attract hundreds of new well-paid jobs to the city through Foreign Direct Investment or expansion of existing businesses.

Therefore, while it can be easy to get frustrated and despair at the slow pace of progress, it is undoubtedly happening and we can finally turn this site into the primary asset for the city that it has the potential to be.