PLANNING Minister Alex Attwood has deflated hopes that the long derelict Desmond and Sons factory in Drumahoe would be transformed into a £50m complex incorporating an ice rink, cinema, bowling alley, soccer dome, restaurants, retail units and health care facility.
On Friday Mr Attwood said he would be refusing the D&A Properties Ltd. proposal because “there is an impact on other retail centres along with traffic impact issues.”
Planners are also unhappy with “a lack of information in terms of natural heritage concerns and impact on the character of the area.”
The Minister rejected the potential jobs-boosting retail and mixed-use development for Drumahoe whilst giving GSB Guernsey Trading Ltd. and GML (NI) Ltd’s a chance to get its mixed-use plan for the Crescent Link right.
GSB/GML were told to go and re-work the mixed-use element of their plan and they might get the go ahead in the New Year, albeit minus a desired Sainsbury’s superstore.
But D&A Properties, the company used by developer David Gilmour, to develop the Desmond and Sons site, was afforded no such opportunity.
The Sentinel asked Mr Attwood if “conversations” between planners and developers - as were suggested for the Crescent Link mixed-use scheme - were considered in order to bring “added value” to Drumahoe.
Mr Attwood replied: “It’s very different. It is mixed use but it’s in a very different location.
“And you have to work through what the consequences are in that location for all the other parts of the city.
“You’re not comparing like-with-like. The conditions are very different and that’s the nature of planning applications. The conditions are very different.”
The Sentinel asked top local planner Mary McIntyre what the other ‘retail centres’ cited as one of the main reasons for the Drumahoe refusal were.
She explained: “Lisnagelvin is a protected district centre. The city centre as well.”
She echoed Mr Attwood’s view that the Drumahoe application was “different” and that “other obstacles” blocked the exciting proposals, which it was once thought would create between 300 and 400 full and part-time jobs.
“There are other issues there in terms of location,” said Mrs McIntyre. “In terms of its relationship to the rest of the city.”
She added: “There are natural heritage issues in relation to the River Faughan. There are a variety of other obstacles to the development of that site.”
Andrew Russell of the Drumahoe Community Association expressed disappointment that the long-derelict Desmond site looks set to remain a bleak concrete slab for the time being at least.
Mr Russell - who in the past liaised closely with developer David Gilmour on the proposals - said surely a site that once provided employment for hundreds of people should be brought back into use as a matter of priority.
He said the proposals for a food store, a petrol filling station, two retail units, an ice rink, a multi-screen cinema, three or four restaurants, a soccer dome with eight indoor pitches, a ten pin bowling alley and a health care facility, were greeted with excitement back in 2009.
“At the time there was great support and that hasn’t diminished,” he told the Sentinel. “Desmonds is still lying vacant and remains a total eyesore. We also have the Faughan Valley High School lands that are still vacant.”
He suggested Londonderry lagged behind other parts of Northern Ireland when it comes to state-of-the-art facilities.
“When you go up to Lisburn leisure centre, for example, and see the kind of facilities they have there, it’s unbelievable, surely the second city deserves to have the same standard,” he said.
He said it was time people started thinking outside the box in order to solve the ex-Desmond conundrum.
Mr Russell said the announcement of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) re-location to Ballykelly showed how Government intervention could work for a deprived area.
“You have to start thinking outside the box. It seems that the planners will only talk to you once an application is put forward but people need to sit down and talk and have conversations about what we as a city want to be developed,” he suggested.
“That site was in use. Hundreds of people were employed at it. Before that it was Stewarts. It was a Homebase, surely it should be prioritised and brought back into use.”