The developer behind the Ebrington Hotel has revealed how surging costs for materials put pressure on the project as he urged Derry councillors to remove conditions that insisted on single pane windows.
he long-awaited hotel is expected to breathe life into the Ebrington site by attracting much needed footfall.
An application was lodged to permit the removal of conditions requiring timber single-glazed windows in the Clock Tower building to allow for uPVC sliding sash double-glazed windows.
The Clock Tower is a prominent key landmark building within the Ebrington site which faces onto Ebrington Square — where concerts are held five times a year.
It is one of the most important buildings within the square and the wider Ebrington site given its location and elevation facing into the space.
The developer said the buildings will “accommodate the bedrooms, requiring enhanced thermal properties and acoustic performance standards” as they front onto an “often lively main square”.
Council officers said the proposal is considered unacceptable in that it would have a significant adverse impact on the listed buildings and therefore recommended refusal of the application.
Harry McConnell from RPP Architects which represents Ebrington Leisure Holdings said the buildings were initially listed with new uPVC windows but the current single glaze putty windows were added during the City of Culture year in 2013 when the buildings were being used as exhibition spaces.
They weren’t measured for the size of the openings, have “significant gaps all around them” and are therefore “ill fitting” and “not fit for purpose”, he said.
In 2015 the developers decided that a hotel had to be along the frontage, looking out on to the city and square itself.
By March 2019 when it was put out to tender it was clear there was a funding gap, Mr McConnell said.
At the point of getting it back on schedule the pandemic arrived and if the investors were not local the project may not have gone ahead.
In September 2021, new funding arrangements were in place and they were ready to go on site.
Structural issues with gable walls delayed site works until January 2022, at which point the First and deputy First Ministers appeared to announce a £15m development including £7.25m through the NI Investment Fund and £1.75m from Invest Northern Ireland.
Mr McConnell told councillors: “We made this application in February 19th this year against the backdrop of continuing price rises within the construction industry and on the 24th of February this year Russia invaded Ukraine.
“Since that date we are suffering intense increases across all materials.”
The single glazed windows are not appropriate in terms of energy consumption and there would be issues with condensation, the architect said.
The applicant included 60 pages of price increases for councillors to view.
Mr McConnell said that to members of the public the change won’t have a material impact on the building.
Sinn Fein councillor Christopher Jackson said everyone recognises the importance and prominent location of the building within Ebrington Square.
He sympathised with the applicant.
Developer Cecil Doherty said: “We’re looking at spending £15m developing an international tourism footfall into the city with single glazed windows.”
He made reference to a drive to reduce our carbon footprint but said American visitors would be staying in the Clock Tower building and the heating would have to be turned up to 30 degrees Celsius to maintain some sort of body temperature in those rooms — “it’s not acceptable”.
Mr Doherty spoke of creating over 120 jobs, attracting visitors from around the world and an extensive marketing plan because they are committed to the city.
He told councillors they respect heritage and want to preserve it by giving it a new lease of life. Without this development the Clock Tower may have fallen, he added, saying £1.5m was spent on the tower alone.
The project started out around £11m and has risen to £15m.
“Your decision today will be instrumental to that hotel and that entity for this city. And irrespective of national or international regulation, these are exceptional times that requires bravery from you the members to have the foresight to support what we’re trying to do,” Mr Doherty said.
SDLP councillor Angela Dobbins said the applicant signed up to conditions including the retention of the windows and she wasn’t comfortable with “losing the character of the building”.
She argued that the historic fabric of the city should be retained.
Dermot Madden from the Historical Environment Division (HED) said uPVC windows would be inappropriate and it the issue of the current windows being ill-fitting was not raised before.
He stressed the importance of respecting the historical fabric of the city and Ebrington site.
Councillor Sean Mooney said the hotel development is a very important generator for the Ebrington site and he was satisfied the replacement windows would be appropriate.
He supported overturning the recommendation and was keen to keep the venture on track.
Mr Jackson echoed those views and seconded the proposal.
All members voted in favour of the motion.