The Secretary of State said the £6.2m ‘Acorn Farm’ project at a derelict ex-military helicopter landing site on St. Columb’s Road has significant job creation potential.
Mr. Lewis was in Derry yesterday to view the project with the Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke, Karen Philips, Derry & Strabane Council Director of Environment & Regeneration, and, Colin Kennedy, DC&SDC Natural Environment Regeneration Manager.
The Council has received £5.6 million from the UK Levelling Up Fund in order to create the new urban growing space that will include vegetable gardens, glasshouses, greenhouses, a pet farm and a number of spectacular geodomes that will become eye-catching visitor attractions in their own right.
“It will potentially increase tourism as people will come to see this,” Mr. Lewis told the ‘Journal’ yesterday. “Geospheres do attract people’s attention in themselves. They are beautiful things any way but it’s also doing it in a way that is very sustainable. They are looking at solar and wind for energy creation, rainwater, which obviously we have plenty of, for the water side of it.”
The Secretary of State said the project chimes with central government’s climate change agenda. “It’s the ability for people to learn more about how to be self-sustaining and to grow food in a natural way which helps long-term with food security but also with the skillset for all of us.”
Clearing work at the old helipad is already underway with the aim of completing the project in 2024. Mr. Lewis said the farm has the potential to contribute to Derry’s job growth ambitions. “We’ve got a couple of years of production to go through but potentially, if you take tourism into account as well, it could be hundreds of jobs,” he said.
A £5.4m funding injection for the Acorn Farm was announced in British Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Autumn Budget. It is part of a £16m allocation from the UK Levelling Up fund secured by DC&SDC. The Daisyfield Community Sports Hub (Redevelopment) has also received £4.2m while the Derg Active (Community Infrastructure Development) project has got £6.4m
The ‘Journal’ asked Mr. Lewis if allocations like these are enough to ‘level up’ a city like Derry, parts of which suffer among the worst levels of deprivation in western Europe. “It’s part of a wider package. We’ve also got the City and Town Deals which we are doing. The biggest financial investment in the City and Town deals in the whole of the UK are here in NI and Derry/Londonderry has got a chunk of that as well,” he replied.
Mr. Lewis also pointed to the recent progress that has been made at Magee College. “We are in the first academic year of the new Magee campus medical college and we need to build on that work,” he said.
He believes ‘Levelling-Up’ is part of a ‘wider piece of work that brings together lots of different things that will mean we can see the area develop and grow in the future’.
“I think one of the challenges for us in NI is, I think, too often people look at inward investment in NI and talk about NI in terms of Belfast.
“Belfast is a great city but obviously I want to see NI benefit and that means going beyond Belfast - Derry/Londonderry obviously but also Ballycastle, Ballymena and Fermanagh as well.
“Levelling-Up is about opportunity for everybody wherever they may live.”