Government departments have been slammed for “destroying” some of Northern’s Ireland oldest architecture situated in the UK’s first City of Culture.
Three months before Derry hosts the 2013 UK City of Culture, anger is mounting around improvement works which have seen some of province’s oldest streetscapes ripped out and replaced with modern versions.
Derry’s Walled City Partnership is calling on residents of the city to contact the Government departments behind the work, which they have blamed for “eroding the city’s unique culture”.
The work is being carried out by the Department for Regional Development (DRD).
Victorian street lights — once dotted along the architecturally-rich Clarendon and Queen streets near Derry city centre — have already been ripped out.
The Walled City Partnership says the cast iron street lights were at least 85 years old and of international importance.
It also claimed that “no prior analysis was carried to assess the condition of the lights”, which were thought to be the last of their kind in the whole of Northern Ireland.
Instead, the DRD has replaced them with new ‘period’ street lights.
“The new street lights being installed (are) similar in style to the original columns,” a DRD spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph.
“In addition, old-style lanterns and brackets similar to those used in the 1930s have been fitted,” he added.
“These will then be painted in an appropriate colour to blend in with the street when works have been completed.”
But the work has been described as a travesty by the Walled City Partnership, a prominent heritage body in the city.
Mary Kerrigan, education officer with the Walled City Partnership, said: “Scarce public money was spent removing and replacing them (street lights).”
And that’s not the end of the work. Just this week original Mourne granite kerbstones were dug up. According to the Walled City Partnership, they were “loaded on to a lorry bound for Ardmore dump”.
The Department for Social Development (DSD), which is funding the work, has said the kerbstones will be “kept and reused, where appropriate”.
“The present quality of the footways on Clarendon Street is exceedingly poor and does not present a positive image of Londonderry,” a DSD spokeswoman said.
“Extensive discussions involving the department, DRD Roads Service, DoE Planning Service, and Northern Ireland Environment Agency were held to agree the selection of materials.
“The department believes that the completion of the scheme will enhance the built heritage of Clarendon Street, in preparation for the UK City of Culture celebrations in 2013.”
Not so, say heritage activists.
“This is a travesty and erodes our unique, local identity, our culture,” Ms Kerrigan argued.
“Derry’s unique expression of physical culture is being lost forever.”