Derry's Ebrington - the former military base struggling to recruit

Ebrington Image copyright Darron Mark/DMfotoNI
Image caption Five out of 21 buildings on the Ebrington site are currently occupied

The redevelopment of the former military base at Ebrington in Londonderry was to transform "not just the landscape of the city, but also the economic prospects of the north west".

Those were the words of the late Martin McGuinness in 2016.

But to date, just five of the 21 buildings on the 26-acre site, which boasts views across the River Foyle to the city side, have been filled.

The lack of development at the site has recently been described by financial journalist Paul Gosling as "one of the most incompetent pieces of public sector management".

Initially built by the Army in 1841, Ebrington has been home to both the Army and the Navy and was a key staging post in the area for British forces in World War One and Two.

Irish poet Francis Ledwidge was based there for a period in 1916 before being sent to the Western Front.

The military site closed for good in 2003 and was subsequently gifted to Derry by the Ministry of Defence.

Image copyright James Coyle
Image caption The Peace Bridge opened in 2011 allowing people to walk from the city centre to the Waterside

Ilex, an urban regeneration company, was set up by the Northern Ireland Office to undertake the development of the site and regeneration of the city.

The company then closed in 2016, with the loss of 18 jobs.

Ebrington Square has attracted thousands of people over the years for events like BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend, the Walled City Tattoo and the Turner Prize during the UK City of Culture year in 2013.

Image caption 30 Seconds To Mars played the main stage at BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend in 2013

But "little has actually been achieved", said Mr Gosling.

He said a tendering process is in place for the buildings at Ebrington, which would be subject to commercial negotiations.

"Nothing is binding though if the money isn't there. We have a café and a bar and not much else really. It's unfortunate for Derry"

Mr Gosling said the Northern Ireland Audit Office should examine the reasons why development has been so slow.

A multi-million pound whiskey distillery and visitors centre is no longer going ahead.

The Quiet Man distillery project stalled last year when the company behind the proposals said it would no longer proceed.

Image copyright Niche Drinks
Image caption The distillery would have been the first whiskey distillery to open in Derry for nearly 200 years

Work on a museum marking the city's maritime history has also been stalled because of Northern Ireland's political stalemate.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said its plans are progressing for a museum which will cost more than £11m.

Some £4.5m has already been committed from council and other organisations. Additional funding of a further £6.5m from Tourism NI, the NI Executive Office, and the Department for Communities has also been pledged, but only in principle.

Plans are still in place for a hotel, office spaces, a restaurant and a café. The Irish News has also reported that technology giant Allstate is in negotiations to move into the site.

Image copyright Department of the Environment
Image caption Plans for Ebrington as outlined when the site was granted planning permission in 2016

The site was due to be handed over to Derry City and Strabane District Council in 2017.

Speaking at a recent council meeting, Siobhan Broderick, from the Northern Ireland Executive Office, said the site would not be transferred until they were confident any financial or other risks for the council was minimised.

The Executive Office told BBC News NI that significant progress had been made since it took over direct responsibility for the site in 2016.

"The Executive Office is committed to delivering the regeneration of Ebrington and has awarded over £30m of funding towards the redevelopment of the site."

'Ridiculous'

Many of the buildings at the former army barracks have listed status.

Image caption The clock tower at Ebrington Square

"There is so much history here. We need more business," said Vicki Burns, who manages a restaurant in Ebrington.

"Tourists are walking over the Peace Bridge and they do call in, but we need proper infrastructure. The hotel would provide great footfall for us for example.

"It's ridiculous that so much space is being wasted. This could be a real hub for business and concerts, but it's not."

Image copyright Culture Company
Image caption Children in Derry created their own art in 2013 which was projected on to the Clock Tower

More than £100m of government funding was announced to boost the economy in the north west in May.

The Derry and Strabane district area city deal is to receive £50m to support innovation and grow the area's digital sector.

A further £55m has been allocated to an Inclusive Future Fund for the region, the first of its kind in the UK.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President Brian McGrath said the Ebrington site remains a "key asset" in the city's development plan" and stressed the importance of it being developed.

"In an ideal world, the space would be fully utilised by now, but what is important is that we continue to promote the site as a strong investment opportunity, particularly on the back of the recent city deal announcement."

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