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Clare expects Limerick opposition to ‘Europe’s first University town’

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Getting approval for the South Clare Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) that would “become Europe’s first 21st Century University town” is expected to be “an uphill battle” due to opposition from Limerick’s elected representatives. 

Senior Planner of Clare County Council, Brian McCarthy has acknowledged recognition to the SDZ in the draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) “is a good start”. “I’m quite pleased to see there is a page and a half on the South Clare SDZ in the document”. The Cork native was of the view the draft of the 12 year strategy was “a starting point” as it gives “regional endorsement”.

As identified in the RSES, “an opportunity for the development of a South Clare Economic Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) has emerged at the University of Limerick (UL) on a large scale strategic site zoned as a University Zone”.

UL is working in conjunction with Clare County Council on the development of a proposal which must receive Government approval. “The establishment of a SDZ at this strategic location will be a catalyst for the further economic and social development of the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area and the wider region. It will establish a zone of substantial scale and strategic importance, advancing the region by creating a prime global site for International investment with the potential to generate 3,500 jobs,” the document noted.

“Based on the existing zoning in the Clare County Development Plan, the proposed South Clare Economic SDZ is planned to become Europe’s first 21st Century University town”. It will merge education, enterprise and employment. International partnerships with the US, Europe and the East is planned to be the site’s industrial population focus.

Economic activity in the villages of Clonlara, O’Briensbridge and Castleconnell is envisaged to get a lift if proposal gets the go-ahead. The SDZ will “allow for the redevelopment and integration of the Errina Canal which will link the nearby villages of Clonlara, O’Briensbridge and Castleconnell and provide a direct inland waterway connection between Limerick City and Belfast thereby reopening the historic all-island inland waterways system. The envisaged re-opening of the canal will significantly boost economic activity in these villages as has been the experience in each settlement on the route of the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal project. In addition, the proximity to Ireland’s first hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha will provide a direct feed of green energy to the zone”.

According to the document drafted by the Southern Regional Assembly, “The site will be accessed through a new link from the planned LNDR linking the zone directly to Shannon International Airport and onto the cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway on the motorway network. From a European perspective this is a potential project of scale. From a national perspective this is an exemplar project enabling an early win to the balanced regional development strategy set out in the National Planning Framework. At local level, the economic resurgence effect of this development will be highly significant for Limerick City and will complement the Limerick 2030 plan”.

Director of Economic Development with Clare County Council, Liam Conneally stressed the SDZ would not be retail competition to Limerick City. “It is not a new town, it is a significant expansion of the campus. We will not be competing in a retail manner, we are not a threat to the city centre. We need to rise above the county boundary issue”. He highlighted a “significant amount of lobbying” is required to get the project off the ground. Deloitte had been appointed by the local authority to complete the SDZ application.

Cllr John Crowe felt the SDZ was “very important” to the county’s future. “We’re only going to get one crack at this. It is vital to open up East Clare,” the Fine Gael stated at the most recent meeting of the Rural Development SPC. At the same meeting, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr Michael Begley pondered if their Limerick colleagues had studied the draft. “I wonder if Limerick councillors including Kieran O’Hanlon have read the document,” he felt the SDZ application had been degraded from a national to regional project, however McCarthy confirmed the project was “what it was intended to be”. Cllr Begley also cautioned “newspaper articles emanating from Limerick are not good”.

At last Monday’s meeting of the Economic Development SPC, Cllr PJ Ryan relayed details of a conversation he had at a HSE West assembly in Galway. “Some of us had an informal meeting with 4 Limerick councillors, to our surprise they have changed their thinking on SDZ and the LNDR. There are some of them, not all of them coming around to the idea that it will benefit them as a neighbouring country. It makes perfect sense, if you have a thriving neighbouring county, they have realised some of their opposition would have a negative affect on them, what we don’t know is there is probably ten of them on the other side”.

However Conneally warned Ryan could be spreading false hope. “I’m fully of the belief that this will be an uphill battle for that text to remain in final document, whatever ways that our representatives on SPC that are on the Assembly can objective support for it, please do it, it will take a continuous cultivation of support. Informal context around this meeting and other fora have indicated there is a strong opposition from our neighbours, let us not be of another mindset that there is anything else”.

Newmarket-on-Fergus native, Páraic McMahon is a freelance journalist and broadcaster currently working for numerous national and local publications including The Clare Echo, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, RTÉ, TheJournal.ie, The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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