A new Enterprise Hub is set to open at Ebrington this summer while work to help ready Fort George for economic development is to get underway in the coming weeks, the Journal has learned.
The Executive Office yesterday confirmed that the new Hub, which is opposite St. Columb’s Park at the eastern entrance to Ebrington, will consist of high quality office accommodation aimed at creating new jobs.
The facility, located in a renovated 114-year-old former army barracks block, will act as a business incubation area for up to 16 new or growing local businesses.
However the Department confirmed that there is still no date fixed for the planned transfer of the Ebrington site to Derry City and Strabane District Council.
A spokesperson for The Executive Office said: “Over the coming months, work will begin on the new access road from Limavady Road and continue with our programme of enabling works to some of the 24 buildings that we have on site. The plan is to have the new Enterprise Hub at Building 104 completed and occupied mid-year.
“Work is ongoing with several private sector entities who aim to bring a number of projects to the Ebrington site across a variety of uses. Discussions are ongoing between our respective legal teams so we are not in a position to comment further on these matters.”
He added: “The Executive Office is working with the Council to agree a specific date for transfer of the site. The due diligence process is ongoing and Council officers are being provided with information in relation to developments at the site.”
Development plans for the Ebrington site also include a new Maritime Museum, hotel complex, Irish whiskey distillery and visitor centre, and grade A offices across the site.
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said that they hoped that the transfer will occur at “the earliest possible date”, but cautioned:
“Work continues on the extensive due diligence required before any successful handover and on agreement of budgets required to progress the development of the site.”
She added: “Following the handover, Council looks forward to further progressing the development plans which are now underway with a view to fully unlocking the potential of one of Derry’s most strategically significant sites.”
The Department for Communities - which has responsibility for Fort George on the cityside - said that the planned schedule of remediation works will address the Japanese knotweed problems.
The Department for Communities spokesperson said: “Following a recent procurement process, the Department anticipates appointing a contractor in late February/early March 2018 to carry out remediation works at Fort George. These works are expected to complete within eight months.
“The remediation works will also address any residual Japanese Knotweed present on site.”
The Department said that, in liaison with Council and other key stakeholders, it is considering “the most effective methodology and the most appropriate timing” for offering the Fort George site to the market.
She added that, unlike the Ebrington site, there were “no current plans to transfer the site to the Council”.
“However,” she said, “ the Department will continue to lead on the development of the Fort George site in close partnership with Council.”
The 14 acre Fort George site was vacated by the Ministry of Defence in 2001 and later handed over for public use. The Ebrington site - which had similarly been off limits to the Derry public for generations- was vacated by the army in 2002 before being handed over.
Both sites are viewed as being of key importance to the future economic development of the city and wider region.