by Tom McCullough
THE designation of a 260-acre site bordering the University of Limerick campus as a strategic development zone would clear the way for a project worth more than €1.5 billion a year to the local economy.
That’s according to the university’s Founding President Dr Ed Walsh, who has injected new life into proposals to develop a new University Town on the Clare side of the UL campus at Plassey, which is divided by the River Shannon.
He described the plan as an undertaking of European scale that will provide the kind of academic partnerships being sought by global corporations.
Dr Walsh, who is deputy chair of the University Town project planning board, said that the plan calls for the new town to be designated as a strategic development zone (SDZ) in order to fast track development and give greater certainty to businesses.
Major employers in the aviation and life sciences sectors have already expressed interest in the project.
“The concept is seen as both innovative and attractive. Already five enterprises are in discussion and launch of the first phase is well underway,” he revealed.
The plan will involve radical changes to the university, which will be transformed into Ireland’s leading enterprise university and stimulate partnerships with like-minded universities throughout the world.
“It will act as a catalyst for multinationals to view the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area as the preferred location in which to develop a variety of education programmes, deliver them in their own setting and house their research in the same educational space.
“Projected output and employment data suggests that the gross value-added contribution of this project to Irish GDP will exceed €1.5 billion annually by 2030,” Dr Walsh predicted.
However, the proposal was met with a degree of concern by the Limerick branch of the Labour Party, who questioned if it would scupper the university’s plans to develop a city centre campus on the former Dunnes Stores Site on Sarsfield Street.
In a statement to the Limerick Post, branch chair Anne Cronin said the plan contravened regional and local development plans as well as national planning guidelines and Project Ireland 2040.
“Now is the time for UL to take a lead in the restoration of civic life in our city and county, not depart it entirely. Therefore the Labour Party urges the governing body to issue a statement regarding this new proposal,” Ms Cronin added.