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Translink slammed for plan to 'modernise' Northern Ireland railway jewel

By Donna Deeney

The lobby group that led a campaign to restore the old Waterside Railway station to its former Victorian glory has objected to Translink's plans to revamp the building's exterior.

The selection of the derelict Grade 2 listed building as the site of a new transport hub in Londonderry was made last October by former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard.

Eighteen months was set aside for the planning and tendering process to be completed. The project is dependent on £26m of European funding.

As part of this, Translink has submitted plans to Derry and Strabane District Council.

But Eamonn McCann of Into the West said the group was concerned that the building's character will be lost.

He said the plan envisaged the replacement of the frontage with a more modern design, instead of restoring the original Victorian appearance.

"Given its uniqueness, given that the Waterside Station is the last terminal train station in Northern Ireland capable of being brought back into use in its original grandeur, full restoration should be the preferred option - as in the cases of the Belfast Opera House and Derry Guildhall," Mr McCann said.

The group is also concerned that trains arriving at Derry will not actually enter the station shed - even though this was what the building was specifically designed and built for.

He added: "The key aim of our campaigning over a number of years in relation to the station is that the building be brought back to its original use as a functioning terminal railway station, not converted into a spacious waiting room with built-in ticket office and a large car park alongside.

"The widely admired re-emergence of Moor Street in Birmingham as a working station and one of the jewels of the city provides an apt example for Derry.

"We are concerned that the proposals amount to a rejection of the clearly-expressed wishes of a substantial majority of respondents to the public consultation exercise conducted by Translink in 2014. Under the proposals, visitors using rail will arrive into and leave Derry from a building which will have been deprived of its historical and architectural integrity. This would be starkly inconsistent with Derry's often-stated aspiration as a signature tourism destination.

"The intended outcome would fall far short of other landmark post-conflict conservation and restoration projects, including other Foyle riverside projects such as the Guildhall."

Into the West has also questioned the need for land Translink has set aside for parking.

Mr McCann said: "No evidence is offered of any compelling need for new car parking adjacent to the station or of plans for any new bus routes which would terminate at the station.

"It would be the irony of ironies if the long campaign for the enhancement of public rail provision for Derry should have as one of its major outcomes the expansion of facilities for private cars on the banks of the Foyle.

"For economic and social as well as for aesthetic reasons, it is unacceptable that so much of our riverside should be left bleak, empty and concreted over."

The application is due before the next meeting of the council's planning committee.

Translink said: "The designs are in keeping with modern design standards and as such planners will make an informed decision on the application within the relevant legislation.

"It would be inappropriate of us to make further comments at this stage, which may be seen as attempting to influence their thought process.

"This development is a boost for Derry-Londonderry and the north west region and would see integrated rail, bus and active travel facilities and services for the north west.

"It would include restoration and refurbishment of the old listed Waterside Station building, new platforms, enhanced Park & Ride, Active Travel provisions and public realm works which will regenerate the surrounding area."

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