Galliagh Concerned Residents Group

This is a letter to Derry City Council Town Clerk & Chief Executive - We're still waiting on a reply 

Valerie Watts

Town Clerk & Chief Executive

Derry City Council

98 Strand Road


BT48 7NN

19th July 2010

Dear Ms. Watts,

This month marks the first anniversary of the ongoing fiasco surrounding the development at Heather Road in Galliagh. Residents concerned about the type of facilities proposed and of the lack of meaningful consultation began a campaign in opposition to the contentious MUGA element of the proposal.

Derry City Council's position on their involvement is that this is a project of the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership, as part of their neighbourhood renewal process and that Derry City Council's role was merely to provide technical assistance. It has been stated by you as Town Clerk & Chief Executive and by City Solicitor Mr Damien McMahon that, not only is this not a Derry City Council Project, but Derry City Council is not the project promoter.

Residents refute this stance, and have obtained numerous documents to support our case. We state that this is a Derry City Council project and that Derry City Council are the project promoter and as such should be accountable for their actions and conduct.

We would like to take this opportunity to point out, as we did when we wrote to you last August that residents are not against development, and welcome facilities for our community. However we believe that the type and location of those facilities should only be decided upon, after consultation and agreement with residents. Especially those whose lives and homes will be directly affected by any proposed development.

As you are most probably aware residents recently submitted a complaint of maladministration against Derry City Council to the NI Ombudsman’s Office. We have, by return, been advised by the Ombudsman that he could not accept a collective complaint, and that all complaints have to reflect how each individual has been affected.

As such we are at present in the process of correlating 20 individual maladministration complaints against Derry City Council by residents who are directly affected by this development. The Complaints are supported by a document of accompanying evidence that is 113 pages long. This contains emails, letters, funding applications and other documentation which evidence that despite the denials this is a Derry City Council project, and Derry City Council is the project promoter.

Since the beginning of our campaign residents have also begun to question the processes employed by Derry City Council. Derry City Council has tried to abdicate its role and responsibility in this process to organisations such as the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership, and also the Galliagh Development Trust. We would point out that neither organisation is mandated by, representative of, or accountable to the local community, which in itself raises concerns on how Council works with grouping such as these.

On the 1st of September 2009 residents addressed a meeting of Derry City Council's planning committee as a result of the deputations presentation, the planning committee resolved 'that planning application no. A/2009/0405/F be deferred and in the meantime a meeting be arranged by Council of all the interested parties to discuss the proposals. '

This meeting, to be arranged by Council never happened, indeed in a letter dated Nov 5th 2009 to Mr. John Thompson, a legal agent retained by residents you personally stated ' that there was little to be gained by the Council convening a meeting of all interested parties' (whatever that might have meant precisely). This statement alone gave residents serious cause for concern in that any Council employee, regardless of position could be dismissive of a council resolution in such a fashion.

After the resolution of the meeting on Sept 1st, the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership formed a working group and carried out its own consultation. Residents refused to accept this as a substitute for the ‘meeting of interested parties’ that Council was to arrange. This working group, despite the sensitivities surrounding the proposals kept no minutes or record of their deliberations including a list of attendees; residents consider this poor practice at best.

After this group had concluded its self-appointed survey residents were summoned to a meeting on Oct 27th 2009. At this meeting the ONNP strategy manager Mr Darren Kirby, and the ONNP Chair Mr Cathal McCauley both informed residents directly that residents had been 'purposefully excluded' from participating in this working group on the basis of their objections to elements of the development and that this had been a unanimous decision by all members of the group – a group which included councillors and a senior Council officer.

It must also be noted that residents were fully unaware of the existence of this working group until they began to make inquiries about when the meeting of interested parties would take place, a fact that even Cllr Sean Carr, then Chair of the City Council planning committee was unaware of, until residents informed him of the existence of this working group.

When residents' legal agent Mr. Thompson raised this issue in a letter to you, you stated in your response that ‘the promoters of the project who are not the city council formed a working group’ and 'The council was not responsible for this fresh initiative, and in particular was not responsible for inviting participants to join this working group, nor did Council establish this group.' However in a statement responding to questions from journalist Eamonn McCann a spokesperson for Derry City Council explained the proposed development at Galliagh is being led and managed by the ONNP and that 'A consultation process has been agreed and initiated by a working group consisting of ONNP, Council representatives, Department of Social Development and Galiagh Development Trust representatives. It is astonishing to note that despite the council resolution to arrange a meeting of interested parties, this farcical working group that included a senior council officer and elected representatives did not make the existence of this group known to residents. And no residents, who consider themselves the most interested party were  represented.

The outcome of this survey was sadly accepted by the City Council as having merit and as a result the council gave themselves planning permission for the development of the Playpark and the MUGA. However as part of the resolution the MUGA element was to be deferred until further consultation had taken place. Faced with the Council's previous disregard, and your personal dismissal of the resolution of Sept 1st residents have no faith in Council to act honourably on this matter.

We would like to take the opportunity to state some facts about councils involvement in this development.

Derry City Council have to date:

Requested the transfer of land from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Paid for and instructed Groundwork NI to submit a planning application on behalf of Council

Provided £85,000 of council funds

Applied to the DSD for £250,000

Managed this project & put the project out to tender.

It is also worth noting that land was applied for, plans had been drawn up and submitted for planning approval prior to any consultation taking place

To address some of the core issues directly.

That this project is a project of the ONNP:

On Nov 17th 2009 residents met with Cathal Crumley, project manager of the Galliagh Development Trust, Darren Kirby, Strategy manager of the ONNP and Cathal McCauley, Chairperson of the ONNP. At this meeting Cathal McCauley stated that he was amazed at the Council meeting that Council were blaming everyone but themselves.

Upon reflection and shocked at what we had heard residents made contact with ONNP Strategy manager Darren Kirby a few days later and asked him to confirm that the ONNP was not the applicant or promoter. In his email Mr Kirby stated that 'I can confirm that the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership is not the applicant. ONNP are supportive of the project in that it addresses [partly] the need which has been identified for Galliagh / Outer North in terms of play facilities for children / young people. On that basis ONNP influenced the channelling of resources from both DSD and DCC into the project - both DSD & DCC are also represented on the ONNP Board.

That Derry City Council is not the Project Promoter:

In a letter to residents dated September 11th 2009 Mr. Paul McNaught of the DSD stated that, 'Derry City Council is the project promoter and ultimately any decision to proceed with this project will rest with them'. Mr McNaught also states that he is 'aware that a further consultation is to be carried out at the behest of Council'. It must be noted that the second meeting of the ONNP working group was held on 11th September 2009 and Mr McNaught was a participant of the working group. So did Mr. Mc Naught as the representative of the majority funder of the project the DSD believe that the working group he was party to, was at the behest of Derry City Council?

We would also like to point out that Council applied for and received approx £250,000 from the DSD. The DSD state explicitly that Derry City Council is the project promoter. If Council continue to deny that they are the project promoter does that render the application submitted by Derry City Council on 6th August 2009 invalid. And if the application is invalid are Derry City Council not only liable for the money, but also as stated in section 14 of the application form, as signed and witnessed by two senior Council Officers that either the officers or Derry City Council may be prosecuted under the fraud act 2006 for providing false or misleading information.

That the promoters of the project, who are not the City Council, formed a working group:

In your 5th November letter to John Thompson, you made the statement above in reference to the ONNP. The ONNP have as evidenced above stated that they were not the applicant/promoter, but also in a letter to residents dated 29th March 2010 Darren Kirby Strategy manager of the ONNP states that 'the working group was facilitated by ONNP but neither accountable to, or responsible to the ONNP.' So this begs the question, why did Council accept unquestioningly a report on a consultation carried out by a working group neither accountable or responsible to the ONNP, Derry City Council, or indeed the Galliagh community? Subsequently, in light of the evidence do Council still dispute they are indeed project promoter?

That this project is led and managed by the ONNP:

In the press statement to Eamonn McCann a Council spokesperson states that ‘this project is being led and managed by ONNP’, however in section (2.5) of the funding application it states that the Project Manager will be Colin Kennedy, DCC Landscape Architect and in section (6) of the funding application it again states that the project will be managed by the Landscape Architect, Mr. Kennedy, supported by colleagues Xavier Jean & Paddy Nelis. If Council still contest that they this project was not managed by Council officers and that Council is not the promoter then again questions must be asked on the validity of the funding application.

At present because of the actions of Derry City Council, residents on the Heather Road have the equivalent of a seven-year sentence hanging over them. Planning permission has been passed and if funding does become available then residents have no doubt that the MUGA facility will be constructed, despite their concerns and against their wishes.

As Derry City Council is the project promoter and holder of planning permission for the site they are the only agency that can work with residents to reach an acceptable resolution. As City Solicitor Mr. McMahon pointed out at the planning committee meeting on November 3rd 2009, 'that there was no obligation to carry out all the proposals contained in an approved planning application.'

And this is what we would ask that Council do, and that is to agree not to proceed with the contentious MUGA facility, nor allow any other group to develop a similar facility on the site. We would request that no other development take place on the land transferred to Council under lease from NIHE unless Council carries out full and meaningful transparent consultation. To compound matters residents have obtained internal NIHE memos stating that DCC wish to acquire more land at Heather Road for future development and we feel that this only serves to add insult to injury considering what has already transpired.

We would also ask that council re-evaluate how it acts when dealing with organisations such as ONNP to ensure proper protocols are employed so that residents rights and views are protected, respected and given primacy.

In closing, with the development of the floodlit facility at Leafair a mere four minutes walk away from Heather Road can Council justify the development of another floodlit facility in such close proximity?

We would like to take the opportunity to once again extend an invitation to you to meet residents and to discuss the issues highlighted and other issues pertaining to this matter. And would hope you would avail of the offer.

Kindest regards

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