OVER 300 concerned residents of the Waterside have signed a petition against the proposed conversion of a former British army helipad into a £250k campsite for people visting Londonderry UK City of Culture next year and beyond, the Sentinel can reveal.
Last month the Sentinel reported that the Council had applied for planning permission for a proposed new £250k camp and caravan park on the former Ebrington army barracks at St Columb’s Road to accommodate visitors during Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013.
The Sentinel has now learned that the Limavady Road Residents Group (LRRG) has organised a petition of concern against the location of a campsite in the area and that residents have met with local council officials to discuss the matter.
Up to 367 people had already signed the petition as the Sentinel went to press demonstrating the ‘strong feelings’ about the proposed camp amongst local residents.
LRRG Secretary Adrian McAuley said the group was not against a caravan or camp in general. LRRG actually believes something needs to be done to properly accommodate those people who want to visit the city and that it is “not acceptable to expect people with motor homes to park in public car parks with no facilities.”
But Mr McAuley said there had been a lack of consultation with the people of the Limavady Road area about what promises to be a permanent campsite “not the temporary site it has been portrayed as.”
Said Mr McAuley: “This lack of consultation created a scenario which, in the absence of information, we were left with no other option than to object. Our first preference would have been dialogue.
“We requested a meeting with Derry City Council and they accommodated us quickly with a meeting last Wednesday afternoon. We had a cordial meeting but could not reach a ‘meeting of minds’.
“The topic needed more time and more meetings, but due to other commitments we had to have our objections in on Friday morning. We accept DCC is trying to do the right thing, but they went about it totally the wrong way.”
Mr McAuley said it was not a question of whether you like or dislike caravanners but whether the site is in the correct place for caravans.
“Our overwhelming view is that it’s not in the correct place,” he explained.
He said St Columb’s Park was purchased by the Londonderry Corporation and given to the people of the city in 1847 and contains the sixth century St Brecan’s Chapel: the oldest building in Londonderry.
“What is so wrong with wanting to protect our historic park?” he asked. “When those in a position of influence decided to draw up a master plan for the regeneration of the Ebrington/St Columb’s Park area, no caravan site was envisaged or needed.
“In terms of the City of Culture year, 33 ‘pitches’ for caravans and tents is not going to come anyway close to resolving the accommodation problem.
“What is needed is a site which can accommodate large numbers of caravanners without compromising our history. I’m sure an arrangement can be put in place for a large, temporary site for City of Culture year and then a smaller site for the following years,” he added.
Mr McAuley called for a wider dialogue between Derry City Council, tourism interests and residents.
He also claimed that the ‘heli-pad’ site was originally part of St Columb’s Park but had been “commandeered to provide accommodation for the police with the understanding it would be returned to the park after use.”
“When St Columb’s Hospital was demolished it was taken back into the park. This is not a ‘them and us’ situation, merely a question of what is best for St Columb’s park,” said Mr McAuley.
A spokesperson for Derry City Council said that plans to establish a campsite at the former helipad adjacent to St Columb’s Park were approved by Development Committee and subsequently Full Council in October.
These proposals form part of a plan by Council and its stakeholders to increase and diversify the accommodation offering in the city during 2013 and beyond.
Council are aware of issues regarding the proposal and have recently met with representatives of the resident groups to discuss their issues in further detail.
This dialogue is currently ongoing between the residents representatives and Council officers.