Derry – the model for the future?

I’ve just returned to London after an ancestral visit which all in all was pretty heartening. I don’t think most people realise the scope and ambition of the regeneration plan for “Derry-Londonderry”. The new brand is now tripping off local tongues so easily that even the name thing may be solved.

The brilliant choreography of receiving the Bloody Sunday report, followed by the winning of the UK City of Culture, 2013, were clear signs of a town determined to discard a ghetto identity. For the first time in my lifetime of 60 years, a new confidence is being born.

Clearing away choking traffic contributes a lot to a change of atmosphere. Children now gambol through the fountains of the new precinct of Guildhall Square and Waterloo Place. The restoration of the walled city, crumbling from long before the Troubles, proceeds apace, led by the shrouded and scaffolded multimillion pound restoration of the leading churches St Columb’s Cathedral and First Derry Presbyterian church.

Shortly, the Mersey Mammoth, a massive barge the size of a football pitch will moor in the Foyle for the construction of the superstructure of the Peace Bridge, to span a river far more gracious than the Lagan, stretching over 600 metres from the embankment at the back of the Guildhall across to the old Ebrington barracks in the Waterside.

This is a focal point for the UK City of Culture and the whole regeneration plan. It is surely the most ambitious “shared space” concept in Northern Ireland. The barracks site centring on the original Victorian star fort is an area the same size as the walled city.

It is intended to match the old city with a new heritage site, encouraging the development of a new shared community. At its heart are to be a new art gallery, a maritime museum, and a genealogical centre created from the listed barracks buildings sited around the former parade ground the size of Trafalgar Square. Social housing and local shops, bars and a bijou hotel are also planned.

Funding for the bridge due to be opened next year is awarded from the EU Peace funds and seems assured. The overall regeneration plan of £200 million may be less so, although championed by FMDFM.

But there are shadows as well as sunshine. There may be more heritage around than Derry can deal with. The publicly funded Ilex regeneration company may rescue lots of the Georgian town but how many of these old buildings are suitable for commercial or residential use?

There’s a limit to the number of moody tapas bars a small city needs. Without going into a panic about it, the latest vandalism of Governor Walker’s statue salvaged from the 1973 destruction of his pillar, is a horrible reminder of the lingering remnants of the Troubles. A cross community fund should be set up to restore it.

Inevitably, the physical heritage – the traditional part of it at any rate –  is dominated by “British”, Planter and even Army legacies. It is both idealistic and self-interested of the nationalist majority to embrace them  warmly. It is also theirs to enjoy. But what most welcome, some still want to destroy. To protect the huge investment, nationalist Derry will have to face down their own wreckers.

Does urban regeneration work? This is the big question now being tested. It’s tempting to be neo-Malthusian about Derry. The population has doubled in my lifetime and is set to grow to 120,000 by 2020. Youth employment is around only 30% in the Creggan and Brandywell and is unlikely to improve any time soon.

Derry has to run very fast to stand still. The economic analysis prepared for Ilex is by its own admission partly  “intuitive” but a concentration on culture and tourism seems a good bet for Derry, as it does for NI as a whole.

There are certainly opportunities for growth which more home holidays in the down turn may actually boost. In 2007 only 149,000 visited the city compared with 883,000 to what we now must call the Causeway coast. Amazingly only 20% came from the Republic. And only 7% of outside visitors came to both ROI and NI. There is room for dramatic improvement here in Derry-Donegal and north Tyrone. Overall though, ambitions are gradualist and probably realistic.

Over the next few years, the construction of the Peace Bridge and progress with UK City of Culture 2013 will produce a flood of positive news without I hope creating euphoria. Regeneration of the community will be an even bigger undertaking. The bridge will bring the city centre to the Waterside.

At best, Protestants have mixed feelings. Will this be seen as a Catholic invasion or community sharing?   The roads favoured by Protestants in the eastern suburbs point away from the old city on the west bank. The main A2 is being dualled, ready to take them even more quickly to the shopping havens of Limavady and Coleraine.

Much remains to be done before both sides feel comfortable with their fellow townsfolk. While the language of regeneration is carefully inspirational and economic, there is I believe, a growing common appreciation of what’s at stake. I hope it surfaces more prominently in the months to come.

, , ,

  • slug

    “even the name thing may be solved. ”

    This is very encouraging – that was becoming a sore point.

  • Garza

    I think a good comprise is to call it Derry City and keep County Londonderry.

  • White Horse

    I think the majority should decide on the name in both the city and the county. How on earth could it be otherwise?

  • Glencoppagagh

    “The population has doubled in my lifetime and is set to grow to 120,000 by 2020.”

    Only in NI could this happen in a town/city with such persistent unemployment. Maybe it needs to shrink a bit.

  • slug

    I’d like to see them upgrade the railway link a bit – more double track more frequent services and a business class carriage. The 100 mile route could easily be done in 75 minutes with a bit of investment and express services that don’t stop before Coleraine.

  • Michael

    My brother in Derry said the new peace bridge will be a good place for the jumpers that find the old bridge too crowded at xmas and the new bridge just too danm scary.

  • DerTer

    Thanks for that, if I may say so, more positive take than your last one on Derry-Londonderry. I had reason to conduct three of my grandchildren (boys aged 5, 10 and 12) around the Derry’s Walls a couple a weeks ago; they were wowed by what they saw. We were all especially taken by the actors who wander the Walls these summer days playing 17th century roles so as to entertain and inform visitors. The first three we met were the Dean of St Columb’s Cathedral, a young lady of leisure, and the commander of the garrison guarding the city against the depredations of the wicked Jacobites. They were very convincing; and when the lady discovered the boys lived in France she proceeded to address them en français. We later met a man in rough woolen clothing by the name of O’Doherty. He was “in Londonderry to discover from the authorities whether I am one of those who are to have their land in Inishowen seized” – in the aftermath of the Flight of the Earls. This was a real treat!

  • Rory Carr

    “It’s tempting to be neo-Malthusian about Derry”, says Brian and, sure enough old reliable Glencoppagagh jumps right in and lets us have a heavy peppering of Malthus with both barrels. I almost expected it to be followed by a cry of lament, “Where is Lord Lucan when you need him?”

    Nevertheless, a thoughtful piece, Brian, and I was particularly taken by your exhortation to nationalists to recognise that “British, Planter and even Army legacies” are an important part of their heritage too and that, “It is both idealistic and self-interested of the nationalist majority to embrace them warmly.” I heartly concur and trust that there is a sufficiently large body of nationalist opinion both in Derry and throughout the rest of N Ireland that would likewise embrace that sentiment.

  • Emmett

    Interesting piece.

    I have to agree about investment in the railway. The journey is so slow from Derry to Coleraine. I don’t know if it needs two tracks, maybe it would if they could update it well enough so that it makes it in 90 minutes to Belfast, then there could be enough demand for it. But something certainly needs to be done with it.

    Great to hear you enjoyed the trip so much, I think the young lady was someone I know. Great to hear they’re doing so well.

  • slug

    There are a lot of new trains coming in 2012 and the frequency will go up. The track needs to be doubled at: Dargan Bridge and then from Newtownabbey to Ballymena to allow greater frequency (also so you don’t get held up in one direction if theres a delay in the other). 90 minutes on a 100 mile route should be easy given that much of the track (up to Ballymena) can handle 90mph speeds and the rest 70mph (from what I am told). There is scheduled an upgrade of the Coleraine to Derry bit in 2011 or so in time for the new trains.

    But what’s needed for this route is to see it as an Intercity route rather than just a suburban commute line to Ballymena/Ballymoney that goes on a bit further. Thus, the market Derry-Belfast should be directly catered to and with express services from Belfast that don’t stop until Coleraine.

    This is all very achievable with not very much money compared to what roads get. Just needs a party to push it..

  • Mrazik

    Just needs a party to push it.

    Good luck with that.

  • Chris Donnelly

    A good piece, Brian.

    “Inevitably, the physical heritage – the traditional part of it at any rate – is dominated by “British”, Planter and even Army legacies. It is both idealistic and self-interested of the nationalist majority to embrace them warmly.”

    Right on both the idealistic and self-interested fronts, Brian.

    But it is also the case that it should be acknowledged there is no parallel case in what may be deemed majority unionist towns of an overwhelming nationalist physical heritage embraced by locals, and therefore the scale of the task should be appreciated, not least when making criticisms.

    For the sake of the Irish nationalist project, Derry needs to continue apace as the model of a better, shared future.

    This has certainly been a good year for Derry to date.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Chris, the Nationalist heritage is not as physical but is no less an obstacle for unionist to overcome, ie. the irish language, ancient culture, placenames etc. if we can combine the two we have a great wee place!

  • edgeoftheunion

    I really liked LegenDerry

  • Chris Donnelly

    Might be no less an obstacle but, speaking like for like, what odds would you give the survival of statues of republican icons in the centre of, say, Bangor, Ards or Lisburn?

  • old school

    Drug abuse has doubled in your life time also. Maybe quadrupled.
    As has divorce.
    Unemployment is much the same.
    Still no cops reside on the West Bank (Derry proper).
    Political corruption and cronyism is endemic.
    Republican youth feel more alienated than ever.
    Suicides up. Alcoholism also.
    Community spirit is non existant.
    Town Centre resembles any provincial English town, really it’s nothing special.
    I lived there all my life. Had to leave in the 80s to find work, again in the 90s, later in the noughties, and will be leaving again in September.
    I won’t be there for the big opening of the joggers shortcut to St. Columbs Park which costs millions.
    And I’ll not get to see all the back slapping, references to “hope and history” whatever that means, and the photo ops.
    And the jobs for the boys will keep the boys happy.
    Can’t say I’ll miss it though.

  • DoppiaVu

    Great idea. Let’s allow the people of NI to choose what their 2nd City should be called.

  • old school

    Model for the future, eh?….Kerboom!

  • Chris Donnelly

    old school
    Aren’t you right…nothing like timing….

  • Brian Walker

    Chris Your’e right as usual about the deficit of unionist reciprocation elsewhere. Something in the mentality, where accommodation by nationalists ise seen as a gain by the formerly dispossessed, while unionists see it as a loss of hegemony? People just have to keep pegging away at it. In Derry, today’s unionists who were never part of the old class and political supremacy have a case which nationalists are recognising still needs to be addressed. Elsewhere, vice versa is true in spades.

  • Brian Walker

    old school – See above in my piece..

  • t the answer lies in th e[ great ] song ” it was old but it was beautiul , and the colours they were fine , it was worn at …?

  • the song says ” it was worn at ?

  • HeinzGuderian

    Ach now brian,do you really want to down the road of republican reciprocation ? Something in the mindset of,’ a ui or nothing’,if I remember correctly ?

    You can change the name to Dublinderry…………like west Belfast,it will still be a nat/rep shit hole !!! 🙂

    As for the whinge about republican statues in ‘Unionist’ Towns……………….I,for one,would fully support a statue to Lt. Gen. Cromwell in every Town in NI !!! 🙂

  • when were these torn down?

  • to be honest that’s pure whataboutery.

    ‘Republican icons’ aren’t a part of the towns mentioned because they have no history. Unless of course Chris is talking about sticking a memorial up dedicated to the men who tried to blow the place up. But don’t let the obvious get in the way of imagined narratives eh?

    Now consider this – the united Irishmen, a part of history that is no doubt important to those of a specific political predilection, is widely recognised in both the capital city and across the country in general, signage, historical explanatory displays and listed buildings.

    Food for thought as you chew yourself away on frankly myopic journeys of fantasy.

  • joeCanuck

    Derry/Londonderry has as much history as any place in N.I., maybe the whole UK. It should be strongly promoted, involving all traditions. Great to hear about those actors roaming the walls. When I went to school there I took every opportunity to walk the walls; awesome. The City of Culture should be used to every extent to promote the city as a place to visit.
    My suggestion, call the larger city Derry and within the walls as Londonderry, with plaques at the gates announcing it and explaining the history of the name. It’s only words for goodness sake.

  • madraj55

    BW You mentioned the river setting. I think I’m right in saying a Dutch painter captured this scene in a 19th century work, probably taken from the old Strabane Rd view as is now. I believe John Steinbeck was in Derry in about 1958 to research family tree in Limavady, and remarked the city was a ‘cold and dank place’ and he wasn’t talking about the weather. But that’s what it was like under the gerrymandered corporation in the depressing nineteen fifties.

  • balor

    How does one define regeneration, and how does the community gain ownership of is area, community and indeed its city?

    Regeneration has become a dirty word in the Galliagh area of Derry. Derry City Council, complicit with un-elected quangos the Galliagh Development Trust and the Outer North neighbourhood Partnership are progressing plans for the area, under the urban regeneration banner, have they engaged in meaningful consultation, NO!.

    One of the core pillars of urban regeneration is that it is a bottom up community led approach. This couldn’t be further from the truth in Galliagh, Last year residents of Elaghmore Park and Ederowen Park in the Galliagh area of Derry found out that plans were underway to develop a play park and a floodlit MUGA (Multi Use Games Area) on land adjacent to their homes. Residents welcomed play facilities for children, however had concerns and reservations about this floodlit facility on their doorstep.

    The plans for these developments were alleged to be led by an organisation called the Galliagh Development Trust. However documentation obtained by residents clearly demonstrate this is a Derry City Council Project, something they deny.

    In late July 2009 some residents were informed by a flyer through their doors that a consultation was to be carried out. Other residents only found out about the consultation through adverts in the papers on the day of the first consultation.

    This ‘consultation’ took place after Derry City Council had requested the transfer of land from Northern Ireland Housing Executive, had plans drawn up, submitted and paid for a planning application.

    The three consultations carried out were ‘interesting’ the first held in Skeoge House nearly ended in a punch up between the manager of the Galliagh Development Trust and a resident. At the second consultation the husband of a then DPP chair, Sinn Fein Councillor and Galliagh Development Trust employee threatened residents. And at the third consultation over 100 residents walked out in protest. Residents were not given any option, or input into the plans. After all how could they have input into plans that had been drawn up and submitted for approval?

    Within a week of this process, and before any report was released based upon the outcomes of these so called consultations Derry City Council had submitted a funding application to the Dept for Social Development for £250,000. This report into this ‘consultation’ commissioned by the Galliagh Development Trust was not presented to their board until 24th September 2009. This was two months after funding was applied for, and begs the question of what worth was this consultation if Derry City Council felt it was acceptable to apply for funding before the process was completed.

    On the 1st of September 2009 residents addressed a meeting of Derry City Council’s planning committee as a result of the deputations presentation, the planning committee resolved ‘that planning application no. A/2009/0405/F be deferred and in the meantime a meeting be arranged by Council of all the interested parties to discuss the proposals. ‘

    This meeting, to be arranged by Council never happened, indeed in a letter dated Nov 5th 2009 to a legal agent retained by residents, Derry City Council Town Clerk Valerie Watts stated ‘ that there was little to be gained by the Council convening a meeting of all interested parties’ (whatever that might have meant precisely). This statement alone gave residents serious cause for concern in that any Council employee, regardless of position could be dismissive of a council resolution in such a fashion.

    After the resolution of the meeting on Sept 1st, the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership formed a working group and carried out its own consultation. Residents refused to accept this as a substitute for the ‘meeting of interested parties’ that Council was to arrange. This working group, despite the sensitivities surrounding the proposals kept no minutes or record of their deliberations including a list of attendees, a fact that residents find astonishing.

    After this group had concluded its self-appointed survey residents were summoned to a meeting on Oct 27th 2009. At this meeting the ONNP strategy manager Mr Darren Kirby, and the ONNP Chair Mr Cathal McCauley both informed residents directly that residents had been ‘purposefully excluded’ from participating in this working group on the basis of their objections to elements of the development and that this had been a unanimous decision taken by all members of the working group.

    When Questioned about the working group, Darren Kirby Strategy manager of the ONNP stated that ‘the working group was facilitated by ONNP but neither accountable to, or responsible to the ONNP.’ So this begs the question, why did Council accept unquestioningly a report on a consultation carried out by a working group neither accountable or responsible to the ONNP, Derry City Council, or indeed the Galliagh community?

    Residents have been accused by some of these groups of NIMBYISM, but the truth is that the facilities planned by these groups, are on residents’ doorsteps and they will have to deal with the fall out when the Council officers, GDT & ONNP members are tucked up in their beds miles away from Galliagh, and in some cases Galliagh. That is why those who stand to be most affected by proposed developments, should have the biggest say. It’s easy for those who cry NIMBYISM for the fact is, it isn’t in their backyard.

    And so it goes on, one year down the line residents have submitted approx 20 complaints of maladministration against Derry City Council to the NI Ombudsman office and await the response.

    For more info visit

  • Residents have been accused by some of these groups of NIMBYISM, but the truth is that the facilities planned by these groups, are on residents’ doorsteps and they will have to deal with the fall out when the Council officers, GDT & ONNP members are tucked up in their beds miles away from Galliagh, and in some cases Galliagh. (should read in some cases DERRY)