A London-based panel of experts has warned that plans for Londonderry’s major regeneration sites may have to be scrapped or at least altered to ensure economic success.
The group warned: "The world is scattered with the carcasses" of failed attractions and urged a major rethink.
The Academy of Urbanism think-tank cast doubt on numerous major projects in the city, including the plans for the UK City of Culture year and both the Fort George and Ebrington sites.
Plans for the two former Army barracks have been developed over the past decade by the city’s regeneration company, Ilex.
The panel has issued 37 recommendations after conducting a diagnostic visit in Derry earlier this year after the city was selected for the study after winning the academy’s ‘Greatest Town’ award.
The body has now recommended that plans for Ebrington barracks in Londonderry should be changed to make way for a new university campus or new housing.
Calling for the possibility of a new higher level educational institute to be explored, the report states: "Universities no longer have to rely on public funding. The panel said that if there were little chance of public funding for a major facility, there could be scope for attracting private university interests, particularly if a site as attractive as Ebrington were offered.
"An institution of 10,000 plus students would create a major new focus of activity at Ebrington."
The panel warned against moving major investment outside the historic city centre.
Speaking about the UK City of Culture plans, it concluded: "The moving of facilities like the the Maritime Museum and the location of the City of Culture facilities outside the city centre will divert resources.
"Changing plans now will be risky, but the panel was firmly of the view that existing and new permanent cultural facilities should be concentrated in and around the city centre".
It issued the stark warning: "The world is scattered with the carcasses of failed museums and Derry-Londonderry might direct new capital spending to locations and facilities that have a stronger chance of long-term success."
The Academy of Urbanism is an independent organisation led by more than 500 top thinkers and practitioners involved in the social, cultural, political and physical development of the UK and Ireland’s towns, villages and cities. It was formed in 2006 to promote excellence in great place-making and is based in London. It has since become more pro-active across the UK and Ireland, organising learning visits and masterclasses and offering its expertise.
Recommendations by The Academy of Urbanism for Derry
- Permanent facilities such as Maritime Museum and City of Culture legacy facilities should not be moved beyond the historic city centre in and around the City Walls.
- Pedestrian access between Peace Bridge to Guildhall Square should be improved immediately.
- Need for further leisure/entertainment facilities around Guildhall Square and Harbour Square.
- Create new access to the City Walls from the outside at Guildhall Square
- Introduce more creative lighting for city centre buildings
- Expansion of out-of-town retail should be carefully controlled and precedence given to new retail development in the city centre.
- Under-used vacant buildings in city centre used for housing need; old buildings such as shirt factories should be used for housing, hotels, hostels and new industries.
- River-based tourism and floating facilities should be explored.
- Ebrington Barracks’ greatest potential may lie in being a location for a major new higher education campus.
- Stifling and outdated approach to traffic management should be replaced
- Opening of old railway station should be combined with a new pedestrian and cycle route along east bank to Ebrington and Peace Bridge
Lobby group’s delight at campus backing
Campaigners for further university provision in Londonderry have welcomed a report backing their cause.
The Academy of Urbanism’s study into the regeneration of Derry has become the latest body to spell out the need for greater student provision.
It follows the proposals outlined in Derry’s One Plan for 10,000 more student places to help transform the city into an economic powerhouse.
Educationalists and business leaders from the University For Derry (U4D) lobby group welcomed the latest findings that establishing a public or private university at Ebrington barracks should be explored.
Chair of U4D Padraig Canavan said: “Yet again experts have emphasised that the substantial expansion of university education is central to turning round the fortunes of Derry.”
A spokesman for the Department for Employment and Learning said: “In the present climate, the available resources for higher education are already deployed and additional student places have been allocated to institutions up to 2015.”