By Brendan McDaid
Belfast Telegraph
14 March 2012

Around 100 historic buildings in the heart of Derry are at risk of being lost, experts have warned.

The commitment to maintaining the built heritage across the city has now been called into question by the Walled City Partnership.

The partnership yesterday issued a stark message that historic factories, schools and dwellings were among the buildings now deemed derelict or at risk of becoming so.

They have also questioned the need for new buildings in a city with “thousands of square feet of vacant floor space in our existing buildings”.

The hard-hitting message was delivered in a presentation by the partnership’s education officer Mary Kerrigan before a meeting of Derry City Council’s Development Committee last night.

She revealed that the partnership has overseen the repair of a cluster of 19 listed and unlisted buildings in Waterloo Street, Shipquay Street, Magazine Street and Castle Street to date.

The projects included the flagship Northern Counties Hotel, which now houses several businesses and has helped regenerate Guildhall Square. A further 31 buildings are also eligible for funding under Phase II of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Townscape Heritage Initiative, being delivered by the partnership.

Ms Kerrigan added, however, that there were up to 100, and perhaps more, listed and non-listed buildings which are at risk in the city’s three conservation areas — the Historic City, The Clarendon Street area and Magee area.

“Our built environment is an expression of the culture and people of the place. It informs identity.

“The built heritage is the legacy of past generations to us and we are the custodians of that for future generations and our care or lack of care for the built heritage will be seen in the appearance of the buildings. It will reflect on us and our culture.

“Speaking in Derry last week, DoE Minister Alex Attwood reminded us that visitors who come

to see built heritage stay twice as long and spend twice as much.

“Repairing our built heritage large and small — makes good economic sense. With thousands of square feet of vacant floor space in our existing buildings and the pennies in our public and private purses decreasing, we are faced with an obvious question.

“Can we afford to continue to build anew when we have so much vacant historic floorspace?”

She further warned that the city’s regeneration plan — developed by over 1,000 experts from bodies across the city — seemed light on detail about restoring historic buildings. “I’m not clear where heritage has a place in the One Plan,” she said. “I have a sense that heritage is not seen as progressive. We can’t create buildings like this again.”

The Walled City Partnership was set up in 2002 to establish the Town Heritage Initiative for Derry.

Ms Kerrigan praised Derry City Council for its work in supporting the partnership to date and for the refurbishment of the city’s Guildhall.

But she added that the council’s development and planning committees should keep “a very watchful eye” on the implications of future proposals regarding Derry.

Chairman of the Development Committee, Martin Reilly, said that older buildings added greatly to Derry’s character.

“These buildings are more than bricks and mortar,” he said. “They tell a story of the city’s history.”

At risk: Abercorn factory, Carlisle Circus; Foyle Valley Railway Museum; Presbyterian churches at Strand Road and Great James Street; Cathedral Primary School; Gate Lodge to Aberfoyle House; Old boundary walls, Clarendon Street; Crawford Square Park & boundary wall; dwelling, Lawrence Hill; terraced housing, Artillery, Harvey and Fountain Streets