Thursday, 1 June 2017

What Plan?

I have been contacted recently by residents from the Iniscarn and Cromore areas of Creggan. These concerned residents have raised issue with having been kept in the dark over a planned development involving land, a community building and flats situated at 33E Cromore Gardens in Creggan. A development which was said to be at an advanced stage despite the absence of any community engagement or consultation.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive who own the site and contents were believed to be in the process of handing ownership of the above over to An Gaelaras, the director board of An Culturlann. An Gaelaras is an organisation in the North West providing Irish language education, music and cultural activities.

In a business plan relating to the above development the proposal consists of a 'Cultural Cluster' which will be an extension to Culturlann's Irish language and social enterprise project. This plan further includes a range of other projects deemed beneficial to the Creggan community.

But here’s a novel idea, who is better placed to know what will be of benefit to the local community than the residents who live there?

These are the same residents who up until recently knew nothing of this plan until it was uncovered in documents obtained under Freedom of Information Legislation by the Creggan Community Collective who had also expressed an interest in the site.

In the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s Community Cohesion Strategy 2015-2020 the Performance Area Key Impacts outline the following in relation to community planning: 'The need to help local people improve the quality of their lives through participation, consultation and involvement in the decision-making process'. Yet there has been no opportunity for participation,  engagement or consultation around the planned development of the Cromore site. In my opinion, this shows a complete disregard for the residents who should have been the main priority for both the Housing Executive and An Gaelaras.

In point 1.3 of the development business plan which examines promoting equality, tackling poverty and social exclusion a few things caught my attention. The first of which is that the project is welcomed by local community representatives and the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership who too would seem to have overlooked the small matter of community engagement. Despite this the plan goes on to state that the project will only be successful with the support and active participation of residents. Which begs the question, why have residents been excluded from this process particularly when the success of this project evidently depends on their participation? Yet in their absence, An Gaelaras has 'already drawn up designs and refurbishment plans with an estimated cost of £400,000.' In addition to this they 'have already been in negotiations with funders to put together the necessary funding package.' It is also worth noting that the project will be managed by the An Gaelaras management committee and the board of directors which includes Sinn Fein Councilor for Creggan Kevin Campbell. So here’s another novel idea maybe Councillor Campbell could explain to his constituents why there has been no consultation with residents, and why he as an elected representative for the area has not insisted on this before a single plan was drawn up. .

In light of these goings on I decided to look further into this to try and ascertain who else was involved in this, with the information provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive so heavily redacted I thought for a minute it was provided by the Northern Ireland Office. 
Heavily redacted?

From what I have been told, former Sinn Fein Mayor and Westminster Candidate Gerry O'Hara is a key player in this development which I’m sure Gerry would have no problem confirming to residents. It is entirely plausible that Gerry is involved as 2 groups he is involved with are name-checked in the business plan. Those groups listed by An Culturlann are An Ciste Infheistiochta Gaeilge which has Gerry listed as its Chief Executive, and then we have Dearcán Media CIC which has Gerry listed as a director.

Now here's where it gets interesting or confusing depending on your perspective, or sense of humour. Gerry is listed under 4 different names through Companies House, all registered to 37 Great James Street (An Culturlann). Four different names I hear you exclaim, well you have Gearoid Ó' HEARA, Gearóid Ó 'HEÁRA, Gearoid O' HEARA and finally Gearóid O'HEARA. If I was an Irish language activist I would want to make sure my fada's where all in the right places, wouldn’t you?

Why this sudden fascination with Gerry? With Gerry said to be at the forefront of this development and with his fingers in so many other pies one wonders where he gets the time? And primarily, will he be able to find the time to face residents alongside his erstwhile colleague Councillor Campbell to explain why the residents are the last to know of this planned development.

Well that was the blog complete, until earlier today in a dramatic U-turn the Housing Executive had this to say in an article published in the Derry News in respect of the Cromore site; “We have received two applications with regards to this community let. Both of these are currently being considered.”

It would seem that the recent action carried out by local residents and community activists who occupied the site in a bid to get answers has encouraged a bit of a rethink on the part of the Housing Executive. This new development coupled with documents showing that this had gone beyond the application process would seem to indicate that the NIHE made a bit of a booboo. But I suppose time will tell if they are being sincere with this rethink or if this is a mere attempt to patch over what was clearly a flawed process from the start to the advanced stage.

Advanced stage?

For the sake of local residents I just hope that lessons can be learned from this, as a community plan without the community is just a plan.

p.s. Just because the residents have raised concerns doesn’t mean they are against development or the Irish language for that matter…

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