Fountain and Abercorn residents meet with Casement advisors

The former Sinclair Factory at Abercorn Road/Wapping Lane. 2001JM64
The former Sinclair Factory at Abercorn Road/Wapping Lane. 2001JM64

Residents of the Fountain and Abercorn Road areas are expected to object in numbers to a proposal to develop a flats complex in the listed Sinclair shirt factory building at the Wapping Lane interface after meetings this week with the planning advisory group that advised the Casement Park residents over the past year.

At two meetings, facilitated by the Peace Walls project on Wednesday (January 7), dozens of residents of the unionist Fountain area and the nationalist Abercorn Road area, were able to receive advice on the planning process from Community Places, the voluntary organisation that provided advice to Andersonstown residents in their successful opposition to a controversial redevelopment of Casement Park.

Whilst only four letters of objection have to date been submitted against the redevelopment of the iconic Sinclair shirt factory building - one of the last remaining landmarks at Carlisle Circus - it’s expected greater numbers will be submitted over the coming weeks and months, following this week’s meetings.

Fountain resident Stephen Ward told the Sentinel: “The main purpose of this meeting today (Wednesday) is to do with the planning side of things. “How we can address the planning issues? But as a community, we are more concerned about the social aspects of it, being on a sectarian interface, it’s going to cause more tensions, and the place is only starting to calm down.”

The actual proposals are to convert the derelict factory into 52 apartments, to build 36 new flats behind it, and to convert seven terraced houses along Wapping Lane into 14 apartments.

In documents submitted in support of the application architects say the badly dilapidated building urgently requires attention.

“This work we feel is urgently required to ensure that this important part of the city’s built heritage can be enjoyed by future generations to come,” a conservation statement argues.

Four letters of objection received by the planning service to date have emanated from across both the Fountain and Abercorn Road areas.

One, from an Abercorn Road resident, objected on the grounds that the development will result in heavy and increased traffic.

The resident points to the “very limited number of parking spaces” proposed and the potential for increased noise and overcrowding.

Another, submitted by well-known Fountain man, William Temple, on behalf of Cabena Property (Londonderry) Ltd., which owns houses in Henry Street and George’s Street immediately opposite the proposed flats complex, also expresses concern on the grounds that the development will increase congestion and lower the standard of living for existing local residents.

“These streets are quite narrow and are already adversely affected by a lack of parking, these streets are highly congested and this presents a number of hazards for out tenants,” the Cabena letter states.

It suggests both residents and emergency vehicles would find it even more difficult getting in and out of the Fountain area if the development goes ahead.

However, aside from traffic issues concerns have also been raised about the nature of the proposed flats, which will largely be one bedroom units.

“The existing houses are mainly occupied by families who have lived in the area for a considerable time, the proposed development containing mostly one-bed apartments will in our view attract transient individuals not in keeping with the character of the area,” the letter states.

This was echoed on Wednesday by Mr Ward who told the Sentinel: “If we get all these flats, full of single people, people partying at the weekends. It’s going to turn the place into a war zone. There’s no way we as a community are going to stand by and let the place be destroyed.”

The Cabena letter also draws attention to the factory’s almost unique position, in Londonderry at least.

It’s located at one of the city’s few interfaces.

“In our view any development must have regard for the impact it will have on increasing tension at this sensitive interface,” the Cabena letter points out.

“In recent years the site of the proposed development has been a buffer zone between the two communities. There has been a marked decrease in violence.

“We are concerned that changes in the character of the area and an increase in population may lead to increased tension and violence, which may result in damage to our properties,” the letter states.

Mr Ward also draws attention to the fact that the development is located on the main demonstration routes of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Orange Order and the Royal Black Institution.

He said: “Wapping Lane, as well, is part of a traditional parading route for us. Further down the line if there are a 100 new homes there, they could get together and create objections. Everything is calm in this town with regard to parading. It could throw everything up in the air. You could have another Twaddell Avenue on your doorstep quite easily.”

Kyle Thompson, a Fountain resident, is working with the impartial Peace Walls Project, which has written to the planning service to advise that it will be assisting local residents with their comments regarding the proposal.

He told the Sentinel he understands the residents’ concerns: “Traffic and parking is one of the main concerns. Parking in the Fountain and Abercorn Road, in particular, has always been an issue.

“Because of its proximity to the city centre people use it as a parking facility, so the parking is usually really bad there and there is not enough parking for the residents, never mind an extra, 105 possible residents going into these one bed apartments.”

The Sentinel contacted the developer behind the proposal for comment and will publish this if and when received.