Tech innovation to fore as clearer picture emerges of our City Deal

The public got a first real glimpse of what a City Deal might look like when details of the Derry City & Strabane District Council's Vision and Outline Bid Proposal were unveiled this week.

DC&SDC Chief Executive, John Kelpie, and the city accountant, Alfie Dallas, provided the clearest picture yet of what the initiative might yield in a presentation to the Council’s Governance & Strategic Planning Committee.

The bid identifies three areas for investment, namely Innovation and Digital, Enabling Infrastructure and Regeneration, and private sector buy-in.

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But it leans heavily on the first of these, as Mr. Kelpie explained, the Treasury will only fund deals that have cutting edge research at their core.

This was signalled by the British Chancellor Phillip Hammond in July when he specifically visited the Ulster University’s Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL) and its Centre for Industry Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation (CIDRA) on the Strand Road.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ then, Mr. Hammond said: “The only way for this sub-region is to develop the economy through innovation and technology. It’s got to be moving up the value added curve to raise incomes and living standards.”

CARL and CIDRA, alongside a new Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee, the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) at Altnagelvin and the Virtual and Augmented Reality Centre (VARC) at the North West Regional College have been identified as major components of this strategy.

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Equally, an Industrial Creativity Institute that involves collaboration between Magee, Harvard, DUFE (Dalian, China) and Jefferson University, Philadelphia, and an Innovation Station partnership between NWRC and Ulster University, are being pushed.

Asked by UUP Alderman Derek Hussey if there was any tension within the university sector over Derry’s and Belfast’s rival bids, Mr. Kelpie indicated there was not, and said the Council’s partners at Ulster University were fully supportive of the city’s proposals.

Indeed, the Treasury has insisted the Derry and Belfast deals are “complementary and distinct” and negotiations are ongoing to ensure that this is the case, he revealed.

Several exciting local regneration projects are also included in the proposal including a new ‘Signature Creative Experience’ on the Derry riverfront and ‘The Canal Basin Regeneration Project’ in Strabane, the latter of which Mr. Kelpie said would perhaps become the biggest ever local government investment in the North West.

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The development of the A2 economic corridor around Fort George, City of Derry Airport, Foyle Port and a new Templemore Health and Wellness Centre are also central to the Infrastructure and Regeneration element of the bid.

The A5 and the A6, however, though key parts of the Council’s Strategic Growth Plan and complementary to the proposal, are the responsibility of the Belfast and Dublin authorities for delivery.