A Derry rail campaigner has said that he believes a 'coordinated effort by public and private sector entities to affect a planning decision has been deeply disturbing'.

Eamon McCann, a member of the rail lobby group, Into the West, opposed the plans for the £27 million rebuild claiming the proposals were 'second best'.

Into The West is a rail lobby group that campaigns for improved rail services between Derry and Coleraine, and more generally in the north west of Ireland.

Mr McCann said: "People on both sides of the debate about the future of the historic Waterside railway station should be concerned about the circumstances in which Translink’s plan was approved last week by Derry City and Strabane Council.

"In the days before the vote, councillors were subjected to a propaganda barrage, including statements from a Dublin Minister, the CEO of Donegal County Council, the most senior civil servant at the Department for Communities and others, all supporting the Translink plan.

"We questioned the propriety of these interventions on the day before the vote. We believe now that the process has been tainted.

"A Dublin minister, Shane Ross, involving himself in a debate on a controversial planning application before a council in the North is unprecedented.

"The same goes for civil servants - particularly a senior official in the Department responsible for the project under discussion.

"Did Mr Ross ever set eyes on the Waterside station? Can Northern representatives now feel free publicly to push members of, say, Waterford County Council, to vote in a particularly way on a planning application for a facility in Dungarvan?

"In the absence of an Executive, civil servants ought to be especially circumspect about putting the weight of the Department behind a controversial planning application. But Mr Peter May of the DfI stepped right in. We believe this was improper.

"Is Mr May going to give us a running commentary on future planning applications across the North? Why not, now that he has created his own precedent?

"Donegal Council CEO Seamus Neely let councillors know that he approved the Translink plan. The equivalent would be Derry City and Strabane Council CEO John Kelpie trying to persuade Donegal councillors to approve or reject a proposal for redesigning a heritage building in the county.

"Others promoting the Translink plan included Fergal O’Brien, Director of Policy with the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), an organisation based in Baggot Street in Dublin.

"Among local groups pushing the Translink’s proposal was the Chamber of Commerce. Its president declared that, “The plans in their current form are 100 percent right for the city and will breathe fresh life into the historic point of arrival and departure, as well as helping regenerate this area of our city and enhance the economy.”

"We contest every word of this. We have dealt with every one of these points in the past. We would have been happy to meet with the Chamber of Commerce to explain our position. But they refused point-blank to meet us.

"Irrespective of attitudes to the station, this apparently coordinated effort by public and private sector entities to affect a planning decision has been deeply disturbing.

"Who gathered together these statements for release two days before the key council meeting? Who approached the Dublin Department of Transport, Donegall CC, the DfC, the Chamber of Commerce, IBEC - not to mention the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Special EU Programmes Body, etc.

"The organisation behind these sudden endorsements of a mediocre plan appears to have been the Belfast consultancy firm, Turley Associates. Within hours of the council giving Translink the go-ahead, the consultants tweeted: “Proud to have led the Strategic Communications in the final push to ensure this vital investment.”

"It is a requirement that planning decisions are made on an objective basis. No party is permitted to impose a "party line" on members serving on a planning committee. Attempts by outside interests to persuade or sway planning committee members to vote in a particular way are banned. All this now seems to have been thrown out the window.

"Rules, regulations, precedent and protocol seem to have been discarded in a last-ditch effort - “final push” - to have the Translink plan approved. The implications of this for the validity of the decision will have to be explored."

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