Campaigners intent on protecting the ancient Prehen Woods from “incorrect planning” decisions will have the chance to have their say at an independent review hearing in Derry on Tuesday.
Damian Martin and George McLaughlin from Prehen Historical and Environmental Society said whilst they are happy to attend the review they are disappointed at where it is taking place.
“We were promised an independent review into the decision taken by the planning department but the letter we received to inform us when the review was happening was from the planning department and the review is taking place in the planning service’s offices,” said George McLaughlin.
“We don’t want to come across as complainers but the fact remains, we are attending an independent review into a decision taken by the planning department in their offices,” he added.
The planning application which is being disputed by the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society was first made to the planning department in 2005 and was in turn amended in 2010.
The actual area of land zoned off for development, known as Zone H33, is currently surrounded by the ancient Prehen woodland. However, the new houses involve an access road right through the wood, according to the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society.
“We believe our case to be very sound and factual,” said George.
“I come from a business background and whilst I can understand the need for housing it should not come at the expense of our natural environment.”
George went on to detail the value of the woods as both a place for people to seek relaxation and as a tourism destination.
“The ancient woodland is home to the endangered red squirrels which are protected under the Bern Convention. There are also long-eared owls, badgers and bats living in the woods - it’s a place of invaluable benefits to the environment.
We are happy that at last we are getting the chance to put our case across to an independent reviewer of the calibre of Mr. John Davies, who is a former director of planning in England and WalesDamian Martin - Prehen Historical and Environmental Society
“The wood is also located close to Prehen House and is in turn a tourist destination. The woods have also been used as a place to educate children,” added George.
The first planning application to build houses on Prehen woodland was made in 1996.
“Our campaign has lasted almost 20 years and whilst there were times we felt like walking away we persevered and finally the day is here to have our say at an independent review,” said Damian Martin.
“We set-up the Prehen Historical and Environmental Society all those years ago to promote and celebrate the local area but the reality of developers using the woodland to build houses has meant that the most of our time has been dedicated to the campaign,” he added.
The review into the planning decision in planning department’s offices will take place in Derry on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The man heading up the independent hearing is John Davies.
“We have a lot of support out there for our campaign. Not just from the people of Prehen but from the people of Derry. Over 1500 people signed a petition and made submissions.
“We are happy that at last we are getting the chance to put our case across to an independent reviewer of the calibre of Mr. John Davies, who is a former director of planning in England and Wales,” added Damian.