Concerns over Coalisland canal heritage site

Sir,

The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (Coalisland Branch) has been contacted by concerned people who have noted the ongoing development adjacent to the historic Basin area.

As most people know, the terminus of the famous first canal system in Ireland or Britain once formed the nucleus of a unique inland port out of which grew the town and community of Coalisland.

It is also common knowledge that the Canal Basin site in not only archeologically important but in fact has enormous future potential as part of a revived inland channel for both locals and tourists alike.

Incredibly, some individuals, many of whom are from outside the community, are proposing that the vital Basin area should become a car park for a new supermarket and a new road system. There has been created the myth that the plot would only be leased by Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council to the developer and that it would be handed back when the re-opening of the navigation would commence.

This would be highly unlikely. Once this piece of Coalisland's history has been destroyed there will never be any hope of the Basin being re-opened.

In the developer's plans there is a totally unworkable compromise suggested in that a small marina would be created further down the canal. As well as being of no practical use, the marina would be the first of several fundamental changes proposed by the developers. Some of these are as follows:

1. A road would cross the canal by means of a new bridge. This road would link the housing estates of Maplebrook and Canal Key opening both up to through-traffic from the town. The bridge would cut off the head of the canal from the rest of the waterway.

2. A roundabout at the entrance to Canal Key would feed more traffic crossing the water channel by means of another bridge and funnel that traffic directly towards the new supermarket. This crossing would reinforce the obstruction caused by the first bridge mentioned above.

3. There is also proposed a major roundabout just where the present road turns sharply to proceed up Lineside.

4. A car park would cover the area of the original Basin and stretch over the entire landscaped green plot several yards down the former channel until it reached the back of Canal Meadows.

All the above would have disastrous consequences as regards the eventual re-opening of the famous Coalisland Canal in an improved economic climate.

One other important point is that the Environmental and Heritage Service of the DOE is interested in preserving the entire waterway and the process of scheduling (placing a blanket embargo on any form of interference) is already underway. Once completed, this would place the entire Tyrone Navigation on a par with any historic site anywhere in Ireland.

One irreplaceable artefact is the entire first lock buried just where the disputed car park would be sited. Even if we set aside all considerations regarding the preservation of this important site, there is also the fact that it is the only green area in the entire town and as such is valuable for that reason alone. However, the many native Coalisland people who are appalled by the cavalier attitude of those determined to remove part of the town’s history are particularly incensed by how an earlier protective measure has been ignored.

After a bitter struggle in Dungannon Council chamber some years ago, the late Jim Canning managed to secure an undertaking that the Canal Basin would not be destroyed. Following closely on this a Planning Service document entitled, “Dungannon and South Tyrone 2010/Policy Framework: Conservation Plan 6 – Historic Waterways”, states plainly:

“Development proposals that would prejudice the future restoration and re-use of the Coalisland Canal will not be permitted.”

It goes on to emphasise, “Development proposals adjacent to the Canal will be required to ensure provision of pedestrian access along the site frontage of the Canal.” After having outlined the need to preserve this rich archaeological site the document finishes with the need to safeguard the Tyrone Navigation, “from future development to ensure that potential for restoration is not prejudiced.”

We in the local branch and the general IWAI membership are noting with interest how the above conditions will be respected. In any case, what does need to be respected is the heritage of Coalisland with its unique place in socio-economic history. The Canal Basin area has existed in one form or another for at least 250 years. It has been left alone by those who lived near it or passed by it. New development of any kind can still proceed without obliterating a town’s heritage for the sake of a few parking spaces.

Yours sincerely,

Coalisland Branch of the IWAI