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Council policy risks ‘choking’ Three Rivers Project

Director of the Three Rivers Project, Niall McAteer.

A NEW policy being developed by council runs the risk of “choking” the Three Rivers Project.

This is the opinion of the man behind the £50million investment at the Camel’s Hump, which was hitherto expected to begin before the end of the year. Niall McAteer this week outlined his deep disappointment that a proposed policy emanating from Derry City and Strabane District Council could further disrupt the Three River plans.

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Although currently out to public consultation, ‘Local Development Plan: The Preferred Option Paper’ offers three options when it comes to developing Strabane’s town centre. Option one: To maintain the existing Strabane Area Plan town centre boundary. Option two: To contract the existing town boundary and option three: To expand the town boundary to beyond the bypass and Camel’s Hump.

In summing up, the paper explains that the council’s preferred option is option one, despite noting that the third option may be more economically beneficial in the long run.

The Sustainability Appraisal Summary reads, “Option three scores negatively in terms of the environment as it uses extra green fields close to the river. Economically, over the longer term, an extension of the town centre beyond the by-pass may be beneficial for the economy of Strabane and district overall, as it maximises the opportunities of cross-border commerce and trading. However there is uncertainty about this aspect and the danger that the larger town centre would further dilute the town centre investment and further damage the traditional streets, thus being negative socially and environmentally.”

In response, Mr McAteer referred to council’s preferred option as “policy madness” and said that with Brexit looming, reaching out to the border area had become ever more important.

“We were disappointed that this was the preferred option,” he admitted. “But it is only an option at this stage and we will be responding.

“We have to be respectful to town centres; they have had a difficult time… but that wasn’t caused by Three Rivers.

“My view is: We’re not trying to damage the town centre but rather, we’re thinking of the district as a whole. The question of tying ourselves to the old concept of a town centre is not the way to go and we shouldn’t be handcuffing ourselves to one option.”

In November 2011 Niall McAteer unveiled plans to transform land between Strabane and Lifford by building a hotel complex, a wildlife centre, an employment park, a learning campus and a sports centre. The investment was predicted to generate some 450 jobs with 1,847 posts created overall.

Then, in a blaze of publicity in 2014 Environment Minister Mark H Durkan granted the project planning permission. But since then not a single sod has been turned.

“Ultimately this will be a decision for councillors and we will be trying to explain to those councillors that there is a real danger of choking Three Rivers here,” Mr McAteer continued.

“We will be seeking to persuade council that this is not the way to go, but that we should include Three Rivers as part of an extended town centre.

“We’ll be trying to say that this is about bridging difficulties, especially with Brexit and coming together on a shared space.”

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