The Belfast Region City Deal is pumping £20.5m into Ballymena’s new i4C Innovation and CleanTech Centre as part of a deal that will meet the majority of the costs of the project.
Designed to support local business and industry to innovate and help them transition to net zero, I4C will be located on the regeneration site at the former St Patrick’s army site.
Already housing has been provided in the transformation of the 15-hectare site, which is within walking distance of the town centre and the ECOS nature reserve.
Work on the state-of-the-art i4C Centre will begin in 2024. It is designed to provide a physical base offering a range of accommodation types and programmes to support businesses and entrepreneurs with innovation and commercialisation.
The Mid and East Antrim council website said this level of practical support will be vital in helping businesses launch ideas or improve their existing product and service offering.
The i4C Centre will focus on the development and adoption of clean technology (CleanTech) as part of the transition to net carbon zero and the creation of solutions in response to the challenges of climate change.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna, said: “The Mid and East Antrim area has a proud tradition of enterprise and innovation and has been a hub for manufacturing and power generation in Northern Ireland for many decades.
“The new i4C Centre is very timely as local businesses need to continue to invest in skills and innovation if they are to grow or even survive in increasingly competitive markets.
“The i4C concept has been developed to not only meet the needs of local entrepreneurs and businesses, but also to attract potential new investors, developers and businesses to establish a base in our Borough.
“It will play a key role in cementing the Borough’s reputation as a centre for innovation and in driving and supporting the CleanTech sector across Northern Ireland. We are so proud of the world-leading achievements and innovation of our local companies in this sector, most notably Wrightbus, and are confident that this will support and enable further growth and prosperity.”
The i4C Centre will offer ‘Grade A’ standard office accommodation available to rent by corporate clients that want to establish an office footprint in the area close to clients or customers.
The labs and co-working space for rental at i4C will target the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by providing facilities to support their innovation and growth journeys.
The heart of i4C will be a manufacturing makerspace and innovation laboratory called the iLab; the base for a team of technicians using specialist equipment to provide technical innovation support to SMEs.
Specialists will also provide bespoke skills training in key areas such as the emerging hydrogen economy and build on initiatives like the award-winning Hydrogen Training Academy that Council developed and delivered over the past year.
Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Steve Baker, said: “Northern Ireland’s City and Growth Deals are a key example of the UK Government commitment to ensuring that Northern Ireland is a great place to work, live and invest.
“This exciting development will capture the innovative flair that Northern Ireland boasts and will be a great asset to the local community. This will drive long-term economic growth, deliver a step change in the economy and help Northern Ireland take advantage of the opportunities of the future.”
The Department for Communities (DfC) is leading on the regeneration of St Patrick’s, a 15-hectare mixed-use development at the site of the former Ministry of Defence Barracks in the heart of the town. The regeneration will act as a catalyst for inclusive growth in Ballymena and the wider Borough and will generate significant economic benefits once established.
Colum Boyle, Permanent Secretary, Department for Communities, said: “This is a very welcome milestone for St Patrick’s. The i4C project has a crucial role to play in the regeneration of this site and will be a significant driver in the delivery of the Department’s strategic objectives there, as well as contributing to the future vitality and sustainability of Ballymena town centre and the wider area.”
The i4C building will be located beside the new Northern Regional College campus and with work set to begin on-site next year, the competition to appoint the design team to oversee the planning and construction phases is currently underway.
Ian Snowden, Interim Permanent Secretary of the Department for the Economy, said: “The approval of the £20.5m i4C Innovation and CleanTech Centre, funded by the Belfast Region City Deal, is excellent news.
“i4C will help shape the Northern Ireland CleanTech and hydrogen ecosystem into a world-class attraction for industry and academic partners. It will provide a testbed for industry, with strong academic links to the new Northern Regional College campus, QUB and UU.
“Its priorities will be informed by industry, research partners and sub-regional stakeholders, in an inclusive and insightful manner, aligned to the Department’s 10x goals for sustainable economic growth and place.
“The Mid and East Antrim area has a strong track record of manufacturing innovation. i4C will build on these close relationships with industry, helping industry to grow further, positioning Northern Ireland alongside national and international networks of Centres of Innovation & Excellence, to create global impact.”
The Mayor added: “We’re starting to see the benefits from the Belfast Region City Deal programme of investment come to fruition, and this business case approval is a major boost, taking us one step closer to visualising the transformational impact it will have on the former St Patrick’s Barracks and realising the economic impacts that it will offer businesses and residents in the Borough.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the citizens and businesses of Mid and East Antrim and thanks to its strong focus on innovation and CleanTech, the i4C Centre will ensure that its positive legacy is felt for many generations to come.”
The Belfast Region City Deal sets out a vision to create 20,000 new and better-paid jobs across the region’s growth sectors, accelerating inclusive economic growth and ensuring opportunities are accessible across all our communities. It will also improve infrastructure, digital connectivity, visitor attractions and innovation hubs; and deliver a major skills and employability programme.
A key strand in the Belfast Region City Deal under the ‘Tourism and Regeneration’ and ‘Innovation and Digital’ pillars, i4C is one of three projects in Mid and East Antrim that, collectively, will benefit from investment as part of the Deal.
The regeneration of Carrickfergus and The Gobbins Phase 2 project are also to receive funding through the Belfast Region City Deal.