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16/09/2021

Fraught exchanges outside local constituency offices over planning refusal of Glen development

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There were fraught exchanges outside the offices of local MLA, Mark H Durkan, during a protest organised by Glen Development Initiative against a planning decision to refuse social housing and a community centre in the Glen area. The proposed development was refused last week at a council planning meeting citing a lack of assessment into a potential flood risk from the Creggan reservoir. The development of a community centre and 79 residential units of 60 houses, 19 apartments and one communal unit was planned to be built on lands between Glen Road and Templemore Park/Grafton Street and Lower Nassau Street by the applicant, Apex Housing Association, and agent, McAdam Design Ltd. However, the development was refused on recommendation from planning officials at last Tuesday’s Derry City and Strabane District Council Planning Committee meeting in the Guildhall. When it came to a vote of the planning committee, all DUP members and SDLP members of the committee alongside independent councillor, Warren Robinson, voted against the development. All Sinn Féin members on the planning committee voted for the development but they were outvoted seven against six. The reasons for refusal included the area of development being downstream of Creggan reservoir and a lack of assessment and planning into a potential flood risk from the Creggan reservoir. Outline planning permission had previously been granted on November 13, 2009, for a similar development under for 59 dwellings in which there is an agreed Concept Master Plan (CMP) associated with the lands to facilitate the comprehensive development of the site. This permission lapsed on the in November 2012. Last Thursday night, the Glen Development Initiative (GDI) issued a statement on their Facebook page and issued letters around the Glen area calling for people to join them in protest outside the offices of Mark H Durkan MLA. They claimed that the decision was made ‘due to an act known as the Reservoir Act’. GDI said that ‘It means that in the event of the reservoir walls collapsing and all the water escaping the new builds would be in danger. ‘We must also make clear that the area IS NOT a flood plain and this was clarified at the planning meeting. ‘We would therefore call upon you to join us tomorrow to show our disappointment at the SDLP office on Strand Road (Long’s Supermarket) at 11.30am.’ Mr Durkan responded on Facebook by saying he was ‘shocked and saddened to learn that a 'politically neutral' community group, managed by a former SF Councillor’ were ‘planning to stage a protest outside my office...over a decision taken by Derry City and Strabane District Council.’ He added that he had advised constituents who had appointments during this time that they would be postponed but added that he was ‘looking forward to the engagement’ with GDI. Members of the GDI arrived outside the office and were met by Mr Durkan and party colleague, Tina Gardiner, who sits on the planning committee and voted against the Glen Development. Gerry MacLochlainn of GDI presented Mr Durkan and Ms Gardiner with letters of objection to the decision. During sometimes fraught exchanges that lasted almost a half an hour, Mr Durkan questioned why the group had chosen to protest outside his office and asked if they were going to protest outside council offices and DUP offices or protest against the independent councillor who voted according to the planning experts’ recommendations. Mr MacLochlainn said they were going to protest at these places, however, Mr Durkan said this information was not shared in their message on Facebook or in the letter delivered around the Glen and he accused some members of GDI of being ‘politically motivated’. At this point, some protesters presents said they had no political interest but simply an interest in the betterment of their community. ‘Anger and frustration’ Speaking after the protest ended, Mr MacLochlainn said: “The SDLP are accusing us of a political stunt, the people in general aren’t. “Certainly, the feeling that we’re getting on the doorsteps was extreme anger at the decision to stop housing being built in this area and I think the people who decided to do that would need to answer questions. They can twist this whatever way they like but the minutes of the meeting will be clear. “Planning had to intervene and tell Councillor Gardiner that she was wrong, she had it wrong – there was no danger of that type of flooding at all. This is purely about a worst case scenario of a total and utter collapse of the reservoir. The Head of the Rivers Agency and the Chair of Civil Engineers of Northern Ireland were publicly on the record as saying that type of assessment was extremely unlikely, in fact, he said ‘hugely unrealistic’. “It was not decided on the basis of people being flooded in Ivy Mead or on the basis of people being flooded out of their houses because the type of risk assessment that the Minister thought was ok for there was the type of risk assessment that Cllr Gardiner insisted shouldn’t be used when it came to looking at the reservoir.” He added said that, although he can’t speak on all of the councillors who voted, in relation to Cllr Gardiner he believed she voted against it on the grounds the site was a flood plain even though she was told it wasn’t, she persisted with that and repeated it on Radio Foyle the next day. Maurice Bowe, Director at GDI, added that the guidance the councillors voted on does ‘not permit standard risk assessment on the Reservoirs Act’. In response, Cllr Gardiner said: “I want to reassure people that the proposal that I made was based on reading the application that was in front of us, looking at the expert advice, having no evidence to contradict that expert advice and I felt that I couldn’t make any other call. “Had there been different evidence there presented to us, we would’ve looked at it and weighed it up and possibly come up with a different decision but we were left with no choice because the only evidence that was there was a recommendation to refuse.” Mr Durkan said he would stand over his comment that he believes the protest was ‘politically motivated’. “They said that they were going to other places to protest but clearly what they put on social media and leaflets delivered around the Glen area, here was where they wanted the protest. “I can understand anger and frustration at this decision and I share the frustration that we are going to have to wait even longer for homes to be built in the Glen. “There was originally an approval for social housing there nearly 10 years ago now that I worked on and that I welcomed and here we are 10 years later and not a sod has been turned and people are still waiting for houses. “We have countless people in here week in week out trying to get housing so I’m acutely aware of the shortage in Derry but the fact is, if this was an application for a private development, it would have been laughed out of the chamber. There would be no consideration whatsoever given the risk associated with that site. “Are they suggesting that people in social housing shouldn’t be afforded the same protection and the same standards – that’s absolutely preposterous.” Pictured above: Gerry MacLochlainn of GDI speaks to Mark Durkan SDLP MLA and his party colleague, Cllr Tina Gardiner.

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