A former army barracks and Michelin’s former plant in the North have been shortlisted as possible locations for a new offsite construction hub that will support the expansion of Heathrow Airport and could potentially create 5,000 jobs for Northern Ireland.
Heathrow confirmed on Thursday that the former Shackleton army barracks in Ballykelly and the former Michelin site in Ballymena have been selected from a list of 65 potential locations across the UK for a shortlist of 18 that are in the running to become logistics hubs.
The former barracks is now owned by Newry-headquartered MJM Marine and the Ballymena site is owned by John Graham Construction.
It has been estimated that securing a logistics hub could deliver a £5 billion (€5.8 billion) economic boost for the North’s economy.
Both MJM Marine and John Graham Construction will now go forward to pitch to Heathrow bosses as part of the selection process to become one of the final four construction hubs that will be announced early next year.
Heathrow wants to build a third runway but its expansion programme has proved controversial. The airport group is facing a legal objection to its proposals from a number of parties including the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, five London councils, local residents and environmental charities.
According to Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow's executive director for expansion, its plans are "progressing apace" with work expected to start in 2021.
“Heathrow is as committed as ever to creating a plan that delivers for every corner of the UK. Logistics hubs are key to achieving that. Logistics hubs are also integral to harnessing the skills the UK needs post-Brexit,” she added.
Heathrow wants to build as much as possible for its expansion project offsite.
Its proposed four construction hubs will be located throughout the UK and will pre-assemble components offsite before transporting them in consolidated loads.
John McDonald, Graham group corporate development director, believes that if his company’s bid to secure a Heathrow hub in Northern Ireland is successful, it will also help to create other business opportunities for local firms.
“This is a significant opportunity for us to help to boost productivity, create jobs, supply chain opportunities and leave a skills legacy for future generations in Northern Ireland,” Mr McDonald said.