*University of Limerick’s campus. 

“PETTY” Limerick councillors have been blamed with delaying efforts to create a new university town within Co Clare that estimates creating 3,500 jobs.

Since 2018, Clare County Council and the University of Limerick have been attempting to build a new university town on the Clare side of the campus which is called the South Clare/UL Strategic Development Zone (SDZ).

It is now two years since an application was made to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to designate lands on the Clare side of the UL campus as an economic SDZ, the application was made in February 2022 and further information on the was requested by the Department in August 2022.

Before this application was submitted, both UL and Clare County Council prepared an economic report and a designated active company (DAC) which has a fifty fity ownership between both organisations also created.

Europe’s first university town could generated a gross added value of €1.795 billion annually to the Irish economy, the economic report found. The designation of the lands as an Economic SDZ will enable the site to generate upwards of 3,500 jobs with additional employment being generated in the construction phase and subsequent spin-off developments.

An update on the present situation of the SDZ was sought by Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) at a sitting of the Shannon Municipal District where it has been a regular item on their agenda for meetings.

Newly appointed Director of Services in the Shannon MD, Alan Farrell stated that the Department were still considering the application made by the County Council and UL. “We remain committed to the principle of the SDZ and we will work with the Department in whatever way possible”.

Farrell had not met UL in his first month of his new job it emerged following questioning by Cllr Michael Begley (IND). “Could we have early contact with UL, they are the main drivers of this project with ourselves to see what is the up-to-date situation, we assume it is with Minister for the last year, the advice at the time is that a three month decision from the Minister is the maximum it would take, is it being held up behind the scenes, someone needs to come clean on the progress of the SDZ”.

Strong criticism was also voiced by Cllr PJ Ryan (IND). He acknowledged senior officials in UL are fully behind the project “but there are certain people who have petty ideas that it shouldn’t be developed yet they had no problem when Shannon Industrial Estate was developed which has helped give huge employment to Limerick people, I can remember when there was fifty buses a day travelling from Shannon to Limerick giving people employment. Maybe the idea is that Clare had the idea first and not Limerick”.

Policy support for the plans in the Clare County Development Plan and the Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) allow for further expansion of the University into Co Clare. Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) was a central figure in its inclusion in the RSES, he stressed the importance of getting the project over the line to the new Director. “Some councillors have been dragging their feet to put it mildly, they haven’t held it up but they have slowed it down”.

UL growing their accommodation base is reliant on the SDZ, Cllr Flynn stressed. “We have met with representatives of the University of Limerick and we approached it with great gusto putting it through our planning system but there doesn’t seem to be great traction to put it forward. We know space is very important and the space for accommodation for students in UL and they can only expand in Clare”.

No progress has been made in four years on the SDZ, Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) felt. “I got co-opted to Clare County Council four years ago following Cathal Crowe’s election to the Dáil, at my first meeting Liam Conneally gave a big speech on it but it seems that it hasn’t moved an inch since”. He added, “If UL is to develop there is only one way that it is to go and that is into Gillogue and that corner of Clare”.

There is a level of frustration growing amongst the public, Cllr John Crowe (FG) flagged. “People want to know what is happening, it just seems to be sitting there”. He said it was important to contact the Oireachtas members to push the project on “especially with an election coming up”.

Farrell admitted to the meeting, “I haven’t been able to download as much info on the SDZ, it is a SDZ and about expanding the university, there will be political realities when we are crossing boundaries so it is good to get that heads up on it”. He believed there was learnings that could be applied from the Knock SDZ which progressed in 2023 and he committed to contacting colleagues in Mayo County Council on this. “In terms of feeding proper future growth of the area we need education so that is one of the items on the top of my agenda”.

Responding to this, Cllr Ryan stated, “We were informed by John Moroney and Kirstin Mey that numerous American firms had expressed interest in research and development when it was up and running with the potential of 4,000 people working there. People opposed to this are turning down huge employment prospects”. Cllr Begley stressed, “There is no cost to the Minister to do this”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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