The recent launch of the design for the new footbridge in Londonderry has created a buzz of excitement in the North West. For those who have long cried for something tangible from the regeneration efforts led by ILEX, this is the first physical sign of regeneration in the NW.
With construction beginning later this year, and completion 12 months after that, the bridge will hopefully spark off some further physical activity in the Ebrington site.
Ebrington, a former military site almost the size of the walled city itself and home to a number of listed buildings, a star fort with a soon to be rejuvenated historic parade ground, will become a critical element of the city centre with the erection of the bridge.
The contract for the design and construction of the Peace Bridge has been awarded to Graham, one of the largest engineering contractors in Northern Ireland. Graham has built some of the most iconic bridges in Ireland. Bridge architects, Wilkinson Eyre, are best known for the design of the iconic Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
This coupled with the £8m public realm works that will transform the existing city centre will go a long way to upgrading the centre of Northern Ireland's most historic city. But there are numerous other projects that are adding value to the mix in Derry, many of which we don’t hear about and don’t see.
In many cases they are also protecting and developing the city’s rich heritage of history and culture. To celebrate this, the Chamber of Commerce is hosting a number of site visits to give the investors a chance to show off their good work and create a pool of Chamber Champions.
“There are plenty of bad news stories around and it is in times like this that we need to grab on to the good ones and spread the news”, says Chamber President Jim Sammon. Chamber members will be offered a programme of visits to a wide range of projects in various stages of completion and across a variety of industries.
First on the agenda will be a visit to the almost complete state-of-the-art Irish language Arts, Culture and Business Enterprise Centre. An Gaeláras, the North West’s leading Irish language Arts and Cultural organisation, has been working for a number of years on the project which is investing almost £4m.
Next on the programme is a visit to the new C-TRIC centre at Altnagelvin. The Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and provides a research and academic facility that has a direct link to the patients the research will eventually serve.
A partnership between the University of Ulster, Derry City Council, Western Trust and Invest NI, the CTRIC centre is sure to attract high quality investment and research. The Playhouse, which has completed a massive restoration project is no stranger to fame, having been chosen in 2004 as one of the Northern Ireland finalists for the “BBC Restoration” programme and gaining a place in the national final.
The Playhouse is based in two former Primary School buildings that are “B1” Listed, and were on the Buildings At Risk Register. The historical buildings have many unique architectural features and were in major need of refurbishment. After a very passionate lobbying campaign the Playhouse secured £4.3m to completely refurbish its historic buildings and build a new extension to the rear.
The results are a facility that is second to none, and Chamber members will be among the first to enjoy a guided tour. And the former Northern Counties Hotel building in Waterloo Place has been recently brought back to its former glory with a £2.6m investment.
The only one of the projects to be designed by a local architect, Peter Tracey’s design has transformed the building from a rundown eyesore in the heart of the city to a spectacular edifice. Overlooking the city walls and Guildhall Square, and right in the middle of the emerging Public Realm scheme, Chamber members are sure to be impressed with the results.
The objective of the series of site visits is to ensure that the business community is informed and engaged as much about the good news as the bad and that they can act as champions for the city and the region.
Janice Tracey is chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce