Hope, pride and ambition the watchwords as £250m Derry City Deal moves to delivery phase with promise of 7,000 jobs and £210m-a-year boon to local economy

Hope, pride and ambition were the watchwords as Heads of Terms were signed for the £250m City Deal agreement for Derry and Strabane this week.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 11:42 am

The landmark development is a key step on the road to delivery of a multi-million pound investment that it is projected will yield an extra 7,000 jobs in the next decade.

Around £100m in total is to be spent on robotics, artificial intelligence, personalised medicine, health and life sciences and the Magee medical school among other cutting edge projects in order to place Derry as a world leader in emerging technologies and create a talent pipeline for inward and local investors.

A further £150m will be spent regenerating Derry and Strabane and enhancing an already strong tourism offer. This will include developing a vibrant tree-lined riverfront with pedestrian friendly public plazas in Derry city centre, completing the Derry North Atlantic (DNA) maritime museum in Ebrington, and investing heavily in a new Walled City economic project.

The Mayor of Derry, Brian Tierney, said: “It is difficult not to overestimate the importance of the signing of the Heads of Term. It means that the projects set out in the City Deal are now able to move to the next stage towards delivery and long term sustainable growth through what is a very aspiring, create and forward thinking range of innovative projects.”

Derry City & Strabane District Council Chief Executive John Kelpie got down to brass tacks in spelling out what it will mean for Derry at a special launch event in the Guildhall.

“For me this is about the delivery of hope and ambition. Our project partners, lots and lots of organisations and colleagues and government departments and institutions across this city and district, have been working and collaborating on these projects for so many years.

“Today is the beginning of the delivery...it’s going to mean great things. It’s going to provide new jobs in this city and district - higher paid jobs, a greater range of jobs, opportunity, investment. It’s going to mean the complete regeneration of the riverfront in Derry, investment in the Walled City. It’s going to see the complete transformation of Strabane town centre.”

Opportunities for youth

He said this sent a clear signal to young people in the city and district in particular.

The City Deal has been described as a game changer for the city and district.

“It’s going to provide you with a real opportunity to grow and prosper and to make a life in this city and region whether you are at university, whether you are thinking about going to university, whether you are at regional college, whether you are an apprentice or at school.”

Matthew Devine, a young Derry man who took part in the launch, concurred: “This comes after decades of being left behind. What we do have now is real progress. That’s progress in so many areas, health and well-being, tourism but the key one for me and for many other young people is the Magee expansion.

“This will be absolutely fantastic for allowing young people the opportunity to live, work and study in the region that they call home and that will be transformative for the entire region and for across NI.

“The future looks so uncertain at the minute but this is a massive vote of confidence in our future and what we need to see now is delivery.”

Danny Walsh, a Year 14 student from Strabane, said: “It’s £250m coming in to where we live. We need good universities and high paying jobs to keep us here. You feel happy when you see there are big companies coming in giving us high paying jobs that in the future we can go and do.

“I’m in my last year in school in Strabane and I’m going to ‘uni’. I’d rather stay here but I can’t. But for the next generation in a couple of years’ time I know there are high paying jobs in the north west that I can come back to which is what you want. I’m from Strabane. I want to be in Strabane because this is where I am from.”

Alfie Dallas, DC&SDC Lead Finance Officer said: “In relation to innovation, digital and health we have six very exciting projects. We have a great starting point here with so many people who are working at the leading edge of their industry.”

Mr. Dallas said the investment includes £25m for the Centre for Industry Digitalisation, Robotics & Automation (CIDRA) and £20m for the Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL) at Magee; £20m for the Innovation Centres of Excellence - Personalised Medicine Centre of Excellence (T-HRIVE) at Altnagelvin; and £10m for investment in fifth generation digital and SMART City technology across the district.

Of the £150m being directed towards regeneration Mr. Dallas said, “£45m will be spent along the riverfront here in the city and that’s really aimed at creating a world class riverfront where people want to come and spend time and stay and invest and live and study.”

He continued: “A third component will be investing circa £12m into Ebrington with the DNA Maritime Museum project and finally we’ll be investing £15m into our Walled City. Our Walled City is our biggest tourism asset in the region effectively and we all know that cities and town centres have suffered dramatically as a result of the pandemic so it’s really important that there be tourism led regeneration investment in our Walled City.”

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Ulster University economist Dr. Eoin Magennis said that if the investment comes to fruition it could bear 7,000 extra jobs from now to 2032.

Equally the City Deal could add £210m per annum to the Derry and Strabane economy.

“If we, as economists, look at how the economy in the council area would grow over the next ten years, we are expecting an additional 7,000 jobs over and above the growth that would be happening anyway.”

The economic spin off, he said, will help address key structural problems that have blighted Derry and Strabane for decades such as high unemployment and economic inactivity.

“Seventy per cent of those additional jobs will go, we believe, to residents with 30 per cent going to people who are either commuting into the council area or are coming to live anew in the area.”

Alisha Coll, a Stratified Medicine Student at Magee and the Clinical Transitional Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) delivered what hopefully becomes a message from the future once the City Deal projects take off.

“I did my placement at Northern Ireland Clinical Research Services Ltd. under the guidance of the company’s director Dr. Geraldine Horigan.

“I became a qualified phlebotomist and assisted in recruiting for numerous participants on multiple research studies in areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, COVID-19 and nutrition in pregnancy.

“I now work for the company’s newest addition Melrose Clinic where we deliver a range of comprehensive health checks, blood tests and COVID-19 PCR and antibody tests. I believe that my experiences thus far have equipped me with skill sets that I can carry forward to implement personalised medicine in the North West. I aspire to pursue a career in research and medicine and I am excited that the City Deal investment in the health and life sciences sector will create more opportunities for me as a graduate.”

Professor Carol Curran, Executive Dean at the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at Ulster University, said: “This investment helps to position Derry as a hub for the health science sector and, of course, the subject adjacencies that we are creating on our Magee campus very much add value to the student experience because it provides opportunities for students to embark on multidisciplinary teaching and research.”

Mr. Kelpie said: “It’s a great place to be right now. It’s going to be an even greater place in the future as a result of today.”