Galliagh Concerned Residents Group

Galliagh The abridged version...

On 27th July 2009 some residents were made aware of a three day consultation in the area to discuss the erection of play and leisure facilities. The consultation was eventful, the first evening almost ended in a punch up when a resident was called a liar by the Project Manager former Sinn Fein Mayor Cathal Crumley. The second evening saw the husband of a local Sinn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion(nee McLaughlin) threaten people. It's worth noting that Cllr McCallion was an employee of quango facilitating the consultation and proposing the plans. The third evening saw a group of nearly 200 residents attend to oppose the treatment of residents the previous evening, this meeting ended with residents walking out halfway through the meeting.

At the outset of the consultation people were delighted that finally it seemed there would be more facilities in the area. When we arrived on the first evening we noticed a presentation and a set of plans. We immediately thought the plans would be provisional only to hear the plans were concrete and that planning permission had been applied for and funding for one element of the development sought from the DSD. Why consult after the fact was something many residents asked?

To cut a very long and boring story short the newly emerged self appointed community group had plans in place to erect a play park ,flood lit MUGA and further plans to build a community building.

Residents questioned the location of the proposed facilities as they were to be located a mere four minute walk away from similar facilities and that any compromise in terms of design and considering other locations for the MUGA was not a option.(Again why consult?)

For the residents living directly across from the proposed development site they felt that two new facilities would cause them a lot of disruption in particular to the elderly people living nearby and so queried if the MUGA could be placed somewhere else in the community with no nearby facilities. This fell on death ears as the plans were already in place.

Residents were told during the three day consultation that the need for these facilities had been gauged from a consultation the previous year. When we looked further into this consultation it was discovered that less than half of one percent of approx 27,000 young people within the catchment area had been consulted. How anyone could make major decisions about the need for facilities on less than half of one percent of the people the facilities were aimed at beggars belief.

This saw the formation of the Galliagh Concerned Residents Group. As a group we opposed poor practice, the failure of the self appointed community groups in cahoots with Derry City council to engage with residents and we looked for someone to accept responsibility for the proposed development.

Despite residents seeking clarification and asking questions all those involved refused to provide any answers. With all the proposed plans residents felt someone was in the process of building an enclosed community empire with little to no regard for the residents and or the needs of the children across the entire community. And despite residents calling for existing facilities in the area to be upgraded this was ignored, the residents position on this was later supported by a DSD report.

On 1st Sept 2009 residents gave a deputation to the DCC environmental services meeting outlining their concerns and seeking clarity on who was responsible for the project and the poorly managed engagement process. Residents then watched a not so convincing game of political football being played in the council chamber with the council denying their role as key player. The council were giving full credit to the self appointed community group who at that point were giving credit to the local neighbourhood partnership group and so on.

We then realised no-one was prepared to take responsibility for the proposed development. What did come out of that day was that council agreed that the consultation was poor and that a working group made up of the so called community workers, Mla's, councillors, a council officer and concerned residents would be set up to address the issues at hand.

One month later residents were summoned to a meeting only to be told that the working group had met and arranged a further consultation. This working group took a unanimous decision to exclude residents from the process on the basis of their concerns despite the council resolution to have residents included.

At this point residents were livid but on the advice of their legal agent, Mr. John Thompson a barrister and law lecturer they let him take the lead. Mr Thompson then on three occasions asked 'were my clients excluded from a process it was resolved they were to be part of?' Each time the reply was yes we excluded them, the manager of the local regeneration partnership, funded by the DSD went so far as to state, 'sure we couldn't have them in there because they had objected to our plans'

After this and realising that the council were as inept as the local elected representatives were useless residents decided that enough was enough. They set about acquiring information on the parties involved and publicising it. They publicised how Derry City council had denied their involved despite having acquired the development site from the Housing Executive, applying for planning permission, having the plans drawn up and paying for them, achieving funding to the sum £250,000 from the DSD and contributing over £80,000 from the public purse. They also exposed the unaccountable practice of the community groups involved and how Derry City Council went to great lengths to give these groups credibility.

This situation went on for nearly 18 months until council were forced by the persistence of residents and the overwhelming evidence against them to accept responsibility. Council withdrew plans to build the MUGA on that site and proceeded with the play park.

For many residents this scenario caused a lot of distress. The actions of those involved in the campaign in our opinion have helped make the distribution of much needed facilities a lot more equitable and also have encouraged Derry City Council to remember who employs and who pays them.

We would like to give special thanks to Eamonn McCann who gave us great coverage in his newspaper column when the media felt it better to ignore and censor and to planning law expert our legal agent Mr. John Thompson.

It is time for communities to take ownership not orders from those who seek to control communities.

Stars of the show

Galliagh Development Trust...quango who arrived with plans and no answers and when the funding dried up they disbanded.

The Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership..... The local neighbour partnership accountable to only to themselves despite being funded by the DSD with public money.

Valerie Watts.. Former Derry City Council Town Clerk - Left council shortly after

Damian McMahon...Council Solicitor ( slightly confused about who was and was not a qualified lawyer) Left council shortly after

Colin Kennedy. Council officer tasked with overseeing the development who failed to turn out to any of the consultations, even though he was tasked by council to report back to them. When they met with Valerie Watts residents were virtually offered his head on a plate, however they weren't interested in the monkey, they wanted to organ grinder!

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