Broadband key to Shannon town development plan


20 Jul 2004

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A new initiative to catalyse the regeneration of urban towns in the West has been launched today by Shannon Development.

Called eTowns, the scheme will cover four towns in the region – Miltown Malbay, Co Clare; Cappamore, Co Limerick; Newport, Co Tipperary and Tarbert, Co Kerry – with a fifth town, in Co Offaly, to be added in 2005.

Developed in partnership with the local authorities and local communities, the eTown idea has four elements: architect-designed residential-business accommodation units; broadband connectivity; community training and development; and physical town renewal via a town plan.

Investment in the physical construction of each eTown, including Miltown Malbay, is estimated at €3m to €4m (subject to site and complex size), which will be funded through a public-private partnership. Planning permission for Ireland’s first eTown in Miltown Malbay has been granted and the project is now at tender stage with construction scheduled to begin in early 2005.

Speaking at the launch, Kevin Thompstone, chief executive of Shannon Development, said that all of the elements which combine to make an eTown are now in place in Miltown Malbay.

“The town plan, incorporating the 2.2 acre eTown site, has been completed with Clare County Council; broadband access has been studied and a solution identified; 12 members of the community have completed courses in web authoring and mentor training; and the physical element of the product – the ‘Courtyard’ – an integrated complex of workspace and residential accommodation, has been designed,” he said.

The Miltown Malbay Courtyard will accommodate 10 houses – a combination of detached, three story and townhouses, incorporating ‘wired for broadband’ office space, designed to complement the existing townscape. House sizes will average 2,000 sq ft, with business units ranging from 750 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft.

The houses will be for sale and will be targeted at established businesses in the traded services sectors – businesses such as graphic design, consultancy, web design, publishing and professional services. DTZ Sherry Fitzgerald will act as ‘selling agents’ for all sites. The price of the properties has yet to be disclosed.

An additional €400,000 is being invested in ‘knowledge support’ elements including connectivity, training and marketing – this element has been part-funded by the EU, through the Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly’s Regional Programme of Innovative Actions.

Thompstone said that Shannon Development’s role as a regional development company is to ensure that all parts of the Shannon Region are developed to their full potential.

“We have developed eTowns to support and enhance local enterprise investment in the smaller rural towns where lack of broadband connectivity is discouraging this type of investment.

“While broadband is being rolled out nationwide and Shannon Development, through Shannon Broadband, is part of this process, the initial concentration has been on urban centres; the smaller, more rural towns will be slower to benefit. Technology will play a key role in each eTown. We regard it as the catalyst which will attract new business to each area and have therefore placed a lot of emphasis on getting this element of the project right,” Thompstone added.

Commercial, scalable broadband will be delivered to each eTown through a combination of fixed wireless access and satellite.

The success achieved to date in bringing the first eTown to Miltown Malbay is due to the level of commitment at local level, Thompson emphasised. The community – through the local iBrickane network – has played a key role in harnessing local support and involvement.

“Twelve members of the community have recently completed six-month technology and community training courses, for which they were awarded FETAC Level 2 Certification in Web Authoring and Certificates in Training and Development. The courses were organised by Clare VEC.

“This now enables the community to play a real and active part in all technology aspects of the project,” said Thompstone.

A new website (www.etownsmiltownmalbay.ie) has been created and the community will be responsible for content management of the website when it becomes operational at the end of July. They will also be available, on a voluntary basis, to give businesses, community groups, and voluntary organisations, guidance and support in accessing and using the internet.

Alec Fleming, Clare county manager, said: “Clare County Council is committed to the economic development process in County Clare. We recognise the importance of partnership with state agencies and communities and are delighted to be involved in the eTowns programme. We see this as a blueprint for economic development in other parts of the county.”

By Brian Skelly