Projected image of an expanded Magee campus along the riverfront
The local council has confirmed that its proposed £50m contribution to the Derry City Region Deal is dependent on the relocation of its headquarters to Foyle Street and other affordability factors.
It must also take into account “funding and planning” considerations before any Foyle Street build can take place.
It comes after it was revealed that City Deal funding will not be released for at least another year with project builds expected to commence a number of years down the line.
Ulster University’s preferred site for the development of its Medical School and associated innovation facilities is along the Riverfront.
It is envisaged that the site adjacent to the Council on the Strand Road will be part of that development with the potential to also include the Council Civic Offices building.
A Derry City & Strabane District Council spokesperson said that should this development come to fruition, then the Council’s preferred relocation would be to a site adjacent to the Guildhall “at Foyle Street car park”.
“These proposals are dependent on a number of factors, including funding and are all at an early stage of development with no decision having yet been made.”
Council has advised that, “subject to affordability and commitment”, the contribution from Council to the Government’s City Deal/Future Fund investment relates to “the relocation and development of civic/commercial offices at Foyle Street to facilitate the objectives of the riverfront development of Ulster University.”
If this is approved, money will be allocated to the continued regeneration of Derry’s city centre and the leisure element of the integrated Strabane Town Centre regeneration project.
The combined value of these projects is estimated to be in the region of £45-50m and will be dependent on “affordability and the economic and regeneration leverage benefits of such an investment as a catalyst for the advancement and development of the other projects,” a Council spokesperson concluded.
Ulster University will receive £85m of the £105 committed by the UK Government through its City Deal and Inclusive Future Funds. Official Council documents suggest it may be given additional funds if it’s included as part of the £40m set aside for Queen’s Quay/Riverfront projects.
UU’s £85m will be invested in centres of innovation and excellence in data analytics (CARL) and robotics and automation (CIDRA), the Graduate Entry Medical School (NIGEMS) and Personalised Medicine Centre of Excellence (THRIVE).
When match funding is added from the NI government, Council, private investors and possibly the Irish government, the total is anticipated to be around £300m.
The Derry University Group which is lobbying for an independent university in the North West said Council needs as an “urgent priority” to reopen the City Deal to allow the inclusion of new third-level education providers.
“It must also establish a Higher Education Development and Scrutiny committee entirely independent of UU.
“The North West handing over £80m-plus of its City Deal to an institution that has neglected it and bled it dry is nothing less than Stockholm Syndrome.
“Council is putting the entire future in this region in an organisation whose main purpose has been to drain talent and money out of this region and east of the Bann.
“Derry has been waiting for Phase 3 Magee expansion since Belfast civil servants first refused it in 1990. We cannot wait another 30 years, or even 30 months.
“If they are unable to deliver immediately they must move aside and allow another institution to deliver.”
UU said the proposed riverfront innovation hub will build upon the expertise of its first data analytics Institute, opened in 2017 and headquartered at Magee campus.
“A continued collaborative approach between all partners is essential as we prepare to take forward the projects through planning and design and development of the outline business cases.”
Asked about plans for the former Foyle College lands, which were acquired by UU at the beginning of this year, the university said it is exploring options in line with its “wider estates strategy and our plans for growth of the Magee campus.”
The Derry News also questioned the Norther Ireland Office (NIO) about a timeline for City Deal funding and whether the NI government is likely to provide match funding.
A spokesperson refused to comment on match funding, and simply said: "The Derry & Strabane City Deal is progressing well. The UK Government continues to assist the Council as with all City and Growth Deal partners, to advance progress as quickly as possible, whilst ensuring that each proposed project has a robust business case.
“We are currently working with NI Departments and the Council to deliver this at the earliest opportunity."
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