Fountain dismay over Sinclair factory move

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

Residents and a community forum in the Fountain have expressed concern at the Council’s decision to approve a planning application to convert the former Sinclair shirt factory at the Wapping Lane/Abercorn interface into a flats complex.

The application 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, was approved at a Council Planning Committee meeting in Strabane last Wednesday, February 3.

But the proposal has attracted over 100 objections from residents, and TransportNI have expressed concerns about the potential for traffic congestion.

The Fountain Forum, a group of local stakeholders, says the decision to recommend the application for approval was a slap in the face for residents.

A Forum spokesperson stated: “We were dismayed and angered that Councillors chose to grant planning permission despite a vigorous campaign of objection by local residents and businesses.

“It was interesting to note that Councillors did not avail of the opportunity to question the objectors who addressed the Planning Committee meeting, indeed the entire meeting felt like the outcome was predetermined.

“Concerns expressed at the meeting centred on the development of substandard accommodation, the potential to compound traffic and parking problems, the potential change in the character of the area and the possibility of inter-community conflict.

“At the outset planning officials made it clear that another planning application for the same site was likely to come before the committee at the next meeting. Councillors were reminded that they could only deal with the application before them. The second application is for office accommodation within the Sinclair Shirt Factory.”

The Fountain Forum spokesperson claimed ‘scare tactics’ over the state of the building were being employed.

“Councillors were told the Sinclair Factory was in such a state of disrepair that any delay could result in its immediate collapse, much was made of what had happened to the nearby Hamilton Shirt Factory and Tillie and Henderson Shirt Factory. Councillors were also told that the application for office accommodation has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs,” the spokesperson stated.

“Shaun Gallagher representing the Martin Bros claimed that the granting of planning permission for apartments was essential in order to ensure that the developers can deliver the office accommodation on schedule, which they claim is required to deliver jobs to the city.

“In our opinion these claims were used as scare tactics, influencing councillors deliberations on the matter.

“In addition we feel that the planners report was weighted in favour of the developer, with specific regulations being overlook or disregarded, the report was full of opinions and interpretations that councillors failed to challenge.

Kyle Thompson, one of the objectors, raised a number of long-standing concerns, including that the development would fundamentally alter the character of the area.

“Is a mix of housing not changing the character of the area,” he asked. “The area currently has around 400 residents, this development has the potential to add another 200 to this, which will most certainly change the character of the area.

“Parking remains an issue, there may be no requirement for parking in regard to the conversion of factory, however the developer has only provided one additional space compared to what is required for the back land development.”