The Stormont Executive has announced £15m worth of investment for a new 152-bed hotel in the Ebrington area of Londonderry.

The work will involve the refurbishment of the clocktower and five buildings in the former military base.

The first and deputy first ministers visited the development on Thursday to confirm the plans.

About £7m is coming from the executive office’s investment fund and almost £2m from Invest NI.

First Minister Paul Givan said it was “another step forward” for Ebrington and for the city.

“It continues to grow as a vibrant, modern city which is looking to the future with confidence – and there is a real sense of that optimism here today,” he said.

Mr Givan paid tribute to those involved in the redevelopment of the 29-acre site at Ebrington, which had been a military barracks until 2003.

Ebrington’s development is widely regarded as a key to Derry and the region’s wider economic growth.

“As today’s ideas become tomorrow’s opportunities, I will be watching with interest as potential turns into reality for Londonderry,” he said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the start of work on the hotel “is a milestone day for Derry”.

“Together with the Grade A office space due to be completed soon, this new hotel will bring a renewed sense of vibrancy and a real boost to the regional economy,” she said.

“I offer my congratulations to the developers and all who have played a part in getting us to this point,” Ms O’Neill added.

Plans for the hotel were unveiled in 2017 and granted planning permission by Derry City and Strabane District Council the following year.

Ebrington is the largest regeneration site in Derry.

A former naval base that opened in 1841, it was known as HMS Sea Eagle during World War Two and was an important part of the North Atlantic Command.

Work is expected to be completed on the four-star hotel in the summer of 2023.

An investment of £1.6m by the Executive Office’s Urban Villages Initiative in a major regeneration project at the New Gate Arts and Cultural Centre in Derry~Londonderry will help create a new shared space and bring people together.

Work has begun on a significant extension to the existing New Gate Arts and Cultural Centre in the Fountain which will provide a safe and inclusive space for locals and visitors to share and participate in a range of theatre, music and dance events.

Junior Minister Gary Middleton, who visited the site today to cut the first sod for this new state-of-the-art shared performance space in the heart of the city, said: “This new space will not only support a wide variety of arts and cultural activities, it will significantly rejuvenate this area, injecting new life and bringing with it great opportunity.

“The North West Cultural Partnership have successfully used arts and creativity as a catalyst for change over the years, bringing people from different backgrounds and cultures together in shared experiences.

“This investment of £1.6million by the Executive’s Urban Villages Initiative, in a new build multi-use performance space, will expand their ability and opportunity to facilitate more activities, training and performance, while connecting with wider audiences.”

Junior Minister Declan Kearney said: “I am delighted that work is under way on this transformative project.

“Through the Urban Villages Initiative we are committed to investing in the development of thriving communities in areas of highest deprivation and historical social tension.

“And I have no doubt that this new multi-use space will bring considerable benefits for The Fountain and the wider city. It will improve the physical environment of the area and give people from different backgrounds and traditions the opportunity to come together to enjoy artistic and cultural activities, helping to build connections across cultures and develop positive community identities for all.”]

Junior Minister Gary Middleton, Kyle Thompson, New Gate Arts and Cultural Centre, and Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke

The development will include a new welcome and reception area, a 140-seater flexible performance space, a dance studio and cafe. The plans also include an exhibition space, a rooftop break-out space and art room, as well as office and meeting space; all of which will be fully accessible.

Kyle Thompson, Project Capital Co-ordinator, commented: “The investment from the Urban Villages Initiative will transform the area; improving the physical environment, creating additional facilities and helping us develop a thriving, welcoming community.

“New Gate Arts & Culture Centre will act as the gateway to The Fountain, it will promote its rich cultural heritage, nurture and develop our community’s artistic talents and enable people to engage with, understand and appreciate the significant contribution that this community has made to the city and region. We are delighted that the contractors have been appointed and that construction has started.”

The project is designed to not only enhance the local environment and improve community relations and engagement, but to inject life and vibrancy into The Fountain area of the city, restoring pride and confidence among those living and working in this area of the city.

Speaking during a site visit today, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Alderman Graham Warke said it marked a very exciting milestone for everyone involved in the project, including delivery partners Derry City and Strabane District Council.

He said: “It’s a huge honour for me as Mayor to be here onsite and see at first hand work starting on this hugely significant and exciting community arts and cultural facility that will transform not only the Fountain area, but the entire city and North West region.

“This community arts and cultural centre will not only create a safe and inclusive space for artists, performers and the community to enjoy but it will act as a real catalyst for change in bringing people together from across the city and district to enjoy shared experiences and further enhance good relations among our communities.”

A two-week illumination festival will be held in Derry in February, with some of the city’s most iconic buildings transformed into pieces of art.

The ‘Illuminating the Walled City’ spectacular will run from February 14 to 27, from 5pm to 10pm daily.

It will consist of three main elements including an Illuminated Trail of Light, with props, performers and lanterns, a music programme embracing the theme of light in unique locations, and live illumination experiences featuring landmark buildings.

The plans follow the major success of the Lumiere light festival as part of the City of Culture 2013 programme, which highlighted the requirement for an out-of-season experience that will attract visitors to the city.

Derry City & Strabane District Council has received a Service Level Agreement (SLA) from Tourism NI for £451k to the two-week long festival. It is 100% funded with no additional budget required by council.

November marked a month of climate action for Derry and Strabane with a series of events highlighting environmental issues and the action being taken locally to combat them.

The risks of severe weather such as flooding, storms, heatwaves, ice and snow, plus practical advice on how to prepare for them, were discussed at two pop-up roadshows in Foyleside Derry and Asda Strabane.

Derry City and Strabane District Council officers and resilience specialists provided information on measures to protect people, homes and communities in the event of severe weather emergencies.

Making homes more energy efficient was also a focus, as well as the appropriate contacts to have to hand in an emergency situation, depending on the type of severe weather event and local impact.

A full digital campaign coincided with the roadshows to broaden the reach across the City and District.

Meanwhile, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Alderman Graham Warke led a delegation to the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration Food Systems event taking place during the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

The Council also showcased some of its recent initiatives promoting food sustainability, including the launch of the Sustainable Food Places network, a growing collaboration between local food producers and manufacturers.

Derry will become one of the first cities in the UK and Ireland to have a fully zero-emission bus fleet after funding of £30million was announced for greener public transport.

The Foyle Metro network is set to receive 38 zero-emission battery electric buses, which will all go into passenger service in 2023, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced.

The minister revealed the plans during a virtual address to the United Nations COP26 Global Climate Conference in Glasgow last month at an event hosted by Translink.

She said: “I am committed to building a better future where we make zero/low emission public transport accessible to communities across the North.” Minster Mallon added that the new buses would “herald a new cleaner and greener era in transport for the city and will make a positive impact on the climate emergency and help enhance air quality”.

Three local redevelopment projects have received a £16m boost as part of the UK-wide Levelling Up Fund.

The funding has been secured by the Council to progress with Derry’s Daisyfield Community Sports Hub (which received £4.2m), the Acorn Farm St Columb’s Park Regeneration project (£5.6m), and Derg Active in Castlederg (£6.4m).

A total of £4.8 billion in government Levelling Up Funding was announced across the UK, with Derry City and Strabane District Council receiving a third of Northern Ireland’s £49m allocation.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Alderman Graham Warke described the funding decision as “a really positive good news story for our Council area”.

Derry’s Walled City Brewery has beat hundreds of other taprooms to be crowned the best in the UK.

The Ebrington Square business, which has created more than 200 beers and received multiple accolades since it opened in 2015, was named Taproom of the Year at the nationwide Pub and Bar Awards.

WCB fought off competition from an estimated 600 other UK taprooms to win the top prize, with organisers called it “a cracking operation”.

The brewery, run by James and Louise Huey, is also planning a major expansion which will see it open a standalone Taproom and Experience Centre in 2022.

Derry’s affordability and attractiveness as a place to live has been highlighted by two major surveys.

The Walled City was named the most affordable city in the UK to live in for the third year in a row, while a separate poll selected it as one of the Top 20 best places to live in Ireland.

Research by Halifax found that with the cost of an average city home in the UK now eight times earnings, Derry remains the UK’s most affordable city, with an average house price of £155,917 or less than five times earnings.

Meanwhile, the city also joins the top 20 contenders in the running to scoop the Irish Times’ Best Place to Live in Ireland title.

A total of 470 locations were nominated and whittled down to just 20 by a panel of judges, based on criteria including community spirit, local services and amenities, diversity, transport links, vibrancy of the local economy, cost of living, safety and the unique ‘X factor’.

The Irish Times judges said: “Derry offers a good quality of life and the ‘best of both worlds’ in there is access to the amenities and opportunities provided by a city but also beaches and countryside nearby. The people are often cited as one of the best things about the city. They are extremely proud of their city and loyal to it, but also friendly and welcoming to outsiders.”

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins has appeared alongside international politicians, academics and writers at a virtual conference broadcast from Ulster University’s Magee Campus.

The ‘Heritage, Healing and Home’ discussion took place earlier this month at the American Conference for Irish Studies 2021, which also featured contributions from US Congressman Brendan Boyle the UK and Irish Ambassadors to the US, filmmaker Maurice Fitzpatrick and local journalist Susan McKay.

Professor Malachy Ó Néill, Irish language scholar and Provost of the Ulster University Magee campus said: “Ulster University is delighted to host the ACIS 2021 conference and to welcome academics from 110 different institutions across the world to this global conversation. In partnership with Derry and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council’s Colmcille 1500 initiative, this event is the academic highlight of the year-long commemoration of Colm Cille (Saint Columba), patron of the city of Derry and the wider North West and one of the most significant figures in early European Christianity. The overarching conference themes of ‘Heritage, Healing and Home’ act as a pathway for these times. Time for reflection, sense-making and collective restoration and healing is needed more than ever as we emerge from our homes after the challenging period during COVID-19.

City and region leaders got behind the international conference. Sportswear brand O’Neills designed a commemorative jersey featuring a beautiful digital artwork of Magee College by Carla Fulton, artist and recent Ulster University. Gavin Killeen and colleagues at NuPrint Technologies produced conference postcards to complement the O’Neills jerseys. Also, Visit Derry worked with Ulster University to bring this multi-faceted event online for the people of Derry.

A series of Fireside Conversations and speeches are still available to watch online.

An internationally recognised ‘people’s art project’ celebrating local communities is being held in Derry and Strabane.

The Inside Out Project displays large-scale black and white portraits of local people in public spaces, turning their untold stories into works of art.

More than 260,000 people have participated in the scheme in 129 countries, exploring themes including hope, diversity, gender-based violence and climate change.

The project is being delivered by UV Arts C.I.C and Derry City and Strabane District Council with the final installations located at Ebrington Square, Strabane Alley Theatre and the Queens Quay walkway.

Karl Porter, Director of UV Arts CIC, explains: “The project is about celebrating our local community and mostly those who make the community what it is. This is an opportunity to build cohesion, build community pride and to really love where you live as sometimes we can take the natural beauty of our locations for granted.

“This is a chance for the local people to send us their photographs/selfies and images that will be included in our large-scale printed posters that will then be pasted or glued onto various walls across our city and district.

“It’s such an engaging activity that anyone can get involved with, a fresh celebration of the people most important to us in our community and city.”