Analysis: Limerick Twenty Thirty to tackle void left by private sector

Jobs announcement expected as scheme targets city centre sites for rejuvenation

Limerick "Twenty Thirty" is essentially taking the place of private sector developers and spending €500 million to kick-start the revival of the city's centre in a move that it hopes will create 5,400 jobs.

Its plan boils down to taking over derelict sites and building 1.4 million sq ft in commercial space to attract investment. Office-bound technology, finance and services companies prefer to house their operations in city centre offices.

Limerick has space in its city centre and the local authority is betting that it can be used to attract this type of company. According to the targets that Limerick Twenty Thirty has set itself, that should result in 5,400 extra people getting jobs over the plan’s life, which runs to 2020.

That is a modest enough target, Limerick City and County Council's chief executive, Conn Murray, says. He points out that over the last three years, multinationals have committed to creating 7,800 jobs there.


New jobs

"Many of those have been filled already," he says, adding that some of the bigger companies that have moved in over that time, Regeneron, Northern Trust and Johnson & Johnson, have all advertised jobs recently. An announcement on Tuesday is expected to add several hundred more new jobs.

So, if there is that much confidence in the area, why is there a need for the council, or any other arm of the State, to step in? “Because the market does not exist down here,” Murray says. “The evidence is that they [private sector developers] do not have the resources to do this.

“The only speculative investment in Limerick is a planning application by Butler, the construction group,” he says. “That’s very welcome, but we are coming from a low base here in Limerick.”

The council is hoping to tap the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) for part of the €500 million needed to fund its plan. Murray says that it is in talks with both organisations and those discussions have so far been positive. "We would not have taken the steps we have taken today in announcing this if we had not some level of confidence," he adds.

2010 bailout

The State-backed organisation is taking the €7.2 billion that was left from the National Pension Fund, most of which went into the 2010 bailout, and investing it in projects that will have deliver a “double bottom line” – a return on the money itself and job creation. It is due to commit €750 million this year.

While most people see that as a brief to invest directly in businesses rather than in property development designed to attract them to a particular location, there is a precedent of sorts for the fund to back urban regeneration.

Shortly after it was established, it announced that it was spending €12 million on a plan to redevelop the old Smithwick’s brewery site in Kilkenny city. In a similar vein to Limerick’s scheme, the local authority there also hoped that this would act as a catalyst for economic recovery.

That was much smaller than Limerick’s plan. There is no indication yet from the ISIF if it is going to take this on, as it does not comment on talks that “may or may not” be under way.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas