THE University of Limerick has thrown its support behind a proposal to build a 'new town' on the Clare side of its campus, which it is claimed has the capacity to generate at least 3,500 jobs.
Clare County Council is seeking government approval to designate the UL campus in County Clare and its hinterland as the South Clare Economic Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) - which it claims will be will be "Europe’s first 21st Century University Town".
A 300 hectare site has been identified and Clare councillors have now given unanimous approval to the plan for a new economic development zone mixing academia and private industry on the north side of the UL campus.
The progression of the Northern Distributor Road has been central to the planned development, which is zoned for mixed use and the concept now requires government approval. Clare County Council believe that it could be a significant way towards completion within ten years and that a target of 3,500 jobs is at the minimum level.
The idea is modelled on the University of Bologna and UL is seen as unique in Ireland in that it has a wide availability of green space at its disposal.
It is working closely with Clare County Council on the plan and Dr Des Fitzgerald, UL president, said the university was "delighted to support Clare County Council’s application to Government for the establishment of this Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) adjacent to the north campus of the university.
"UL works closely with both Clare County Council and Limerick City and County Council to fulfil its strategic development responsibilities in the Mid-West. This designation would position UL as the first university to participate in an economic SDZ, complementing our longstanding commitment to the economic development of our region.
"A strategic development of this scale, in a position so close to and including the university, would enhance our world-class educational and research proposition, would supplement our ongoing relationships with enterprise, industry and community, and would further establish UL as a hub for innovation.
"The announcement of the SDZ plan by Clare County Council is another milestone in the story of UL’s transformative impact on the economy of the Mid West and we look forward to the implementation of this over the coming years,” added Dr Fitzgerald.
Elected members and the Clare County Council Economic Development have given backing to the plans and the Clare local authority claims the new zone "will be Europe’s first 21st Century University Town providing for a full range of living, working, amenity, social, cultural and recreational spaces integrated with a range of University facilities, including teaching, learning and research".
The SDZ also will include the redevelopment and integration of the Errinagh canal, thereby providing the final inland waterway link between Lough Erne in County Fermanagh and Limerick City as well as the Shannon Estuary.
Cllr Tom McNamara, the Mayor of Clare, said Clare County Council was "working in close collaboration" with UL and other agencies in the delivery of the Economic Strategic Development Zone for South Clare.
"The establishment of a SDZ at this strategic location will be a catalyst for the further economic and social development of Ireland in line with national and regional policy," said Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council.
"The SDZ will establish a zone of substantial scale and strategic importance, advancing the region by creating a prime global site for investment with consequent high level employment opportunities for 3,500 people. The figure will be achieved by a mix of foreign direct investment and enterprise of indigenous origin.
"The SDZ acting as a homeland for significant investors and leaders of enterprise will become a fertile field of opportunity for entrepreneurs fresh from UL’s NEXUS incubation hub to gain partners, raise capital and accelerate their innovative ambitions.
"The early deployment of these enterprise partnerships will greatly enhance the long-term prospects of young entrepreneurs in this ‘Shannon Valley’ site as is evidenced in current Silicon Valley models,” added Mr Dowling.
Liam Conneally, Director of Economic Development, said "the site has the capacity to become a game changer both regionally and nationally.
"Orderly, planned development as envisaged in the legislation enabling designation as a Strategic Development Zone will see the site generate 3,500 jobs in addition to the employment generated in construction and spin-off. Investment in both foreign and indigenous industry will partner with the University in expansion, placement, research and careers," he said.
"From a European perspective this is a project of scale. From a national perspective this is an exemplar project enabling an early start to the balanced regional development strategy and creating an early win for the vision set out for the Limerick Metropolitan Area as outlined in the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan,” said Mr Conneally.
Clare County Council said it would submit a formal application to Government for the designation of the South Clare Economic Strategic Development Zone in the coming weeks.
If the application is successful, a detailed masterplan for the area will be developed by the Local Authority, in conjunction with UL, local landowners and other stakeholders, it added.