Regeneration consultant Steve Bradley pinpoints key projects that need to happen if Derry is to genuinely prosper between now and 2030
The last 10 years have seen an increase in confidence within Derry and things are slowly starting to improve here economically. Yet, all of the big issues that were holding our city back a decade ago still remain unresolved. So, here is my list of the ten key projects that must be delivered in the coming decade if Derry is to genuinely prosper:
1. A university fit for our city
Derry has been demanding a proper university since the 1960s and Ulster Uni (UU) has been promising 10,000 students here for over twenty years. Instead, they’ve reduced numbers at Magee and spent £360m. transferring 13,000 students into Belfast from Jordanstown. That project is running four years late and £110m over-budget and UU no longer have the money to complete it. It is clear that UU won’t have the financial or organisational capacity to expand Magee to 10,000 students this decade – if ever. So, Derry must look elsewhere - including at a new independent university. This is the single most important project for our city and a medical school alone is not enough. If we do not have at least 10,000 students here by 2030, Derry will have been failed spectacularly.
2. Regeneration sites
In 2001, the Ministry of Defence handed Ebrington and Fort George to Stormont for the benefit of Derry. Nineteen years and multiple masterplans later, neither site is meeting that duty. Meanwhile, the Tillies and Henderson building was controversially demolished in 2003 and the site has sat vacant ever since. The owners secured planning permission for a 139 bed hotel there in 2014. These three prominent sites have great potential for our city but currently represent a lost opportunity. It is beyond time they were fully developed.
3.Revitalise Walled City
Derry’s Walled City offers huge untapped potential for tourists and locals alike. Yet, by day, it is dominated by chain stores, charity shops and cars, whilst, at night, it’s a metal shuttered ghost town. This must be the decade in which we make our Walled City fulfil its potential in an ambitious and imaginative way. That means more pedestrianised streets animated by cafes, bars and events; empty spaces above shops converted into flats; shutters removed from buildings; stricter policies on out-of-town retail; flexibility on city centre business rates; and a landmark interpretative centre to tell the story of 400 years of Ireland’s only completely walled city. Let’s make it the beating heart of Derry once again.
4. Road projects completed
Work has finally begun to widen the A6 between Derry and Belfast – yet it will still not be dualled all the way once completed. Dualling the A5 between Derry and Strabane remains mired in legal challenges. Widening the Buncrana Road has been talked about for years. It is essential all three of these projects are completed this decade. It is also important, however, to acknowledge that better roads just create even more traffic. So, Derry must also get the investment it needs to make public transport and cycling attractive travel options here (particularly on a widened Buncrana Rd).
5. A rail renaissance
Despite our new station, Derry still has inferior rail services compared to every station east of the Bann. Translink could address that overnight if they wanted to. Meanwhile, we cannot have faster or more frequent rail services here until Phase 3 of the track works are completed. That project has been delayed repeatedly since 2013 and Stormont now says it won’t do it at all. Once completed, the Phase 3 works would also enable new train stops at places like Strathfoyle and Derry Airport. Finally, we must re-open the old railway line that connected Derry to Portadown (via Strabane and Omagh) and the Western Rail Corridor to Sligo via Donegal – making Derry a key hub in a revitalised rail network across Ireland.
6. The Airport
City of Derry Airport (CoDA) is of immense economic, social and tourism value to the north-west but survives only through significant ratepayer subsidy. The Council is seeking additional government funding for it up to 2027 – by when it is hoped changes to infrastructure and Air Passenger Duty will have improved its fortunes. At some point this decade, however, a call will have to be made on whether it is likely to ever be made self-sustaining or attractive to a private buyer.
7. Brandywell revamp
Brandywell Stadium was partially rebuilt in 2017 after 15 years of pressure from Derry City and its supporters. It now has a capacity of only 3,400, which makes it too small to progress in European football. Funding was due from Stormont to complete the redevelopment of the stadium but was scuppered when the Assembly collapsed. With £120m being spent on stadia in Belfast, it is time the Brandywell was completed and made genuinely fit for purpose. Local Irish League club Institute lost their Drumahoe home in the floods of 2017 and also currently play at Brandywell - but the stadium is too big for their needs. Stormont must also assist them with creating a new community-based home in the Waterside.
8. Bring river to life
The River Foyle is Derry’s greatest natural asset, yet is largely devoid of activity. Queen’s Quay should be our gateway onto the River Foyle but is, instead, a car park and busy road lined with unattractive buildings. Our river must finally be made to sing - starting with a total redesign of Queen’s Quay to create a fantastic public space where city and water embrace each other. And the proposal for an internationally significant ‘Foyle River Gardens’ facility between Boom Hall and Thornhill should also be advanced.
9. Clean Mobuoy Dump
Few people know that Western Europe’s largest illegal dump sits on the edge of our city - next to the River Faughan which provides 60% of Derry’s drinking water. It is estimated to contain a million cubic metres of illegally dumped waste across an area the size of 65 football pitches. Dumping happened there for decades until it was finally stopped by the authorities in 2013. There is currently no plan for how or when the site will be cleaned up.
10. A truly sustainable city
This coming decade will be mankind’s last chance to prevent wholesale climate change. So, we must redesign and reimagine Derry in a way that is compatible with low-carbon sustainable living. The changes involved will require adjustment but also offer great opportunities to make our city healthier, cleaner and more prosperous for all. So, let’s get on with it!
Steve Bradley is a regeneration consultant from Derry. He can be followed on Twitter: @Bradley_Steve