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Knock Airport development would boost north-west economy

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TRANSFORMATIVE POTENTIAL Ambitious re-zoning of land around Knock Airport can ‘dramatically’ grow the economy in the west of Ireland, according to Mike Devane of the Atlantic Economic Corridor Business Forum.

Oisín McGovern

AN ambitious re-zoning of land around Ireland West Airport Knock has the potential to ‘dramatically’ transform the economy in the west of Ireland, according to a leading advocate for the region.
Mike Devane, Chairman of The Atlantic Economic Corridor Business Forum, told The Mayo News that the airport has the potential to become a hub that would allow Mayo to become a net exporter of energy.
Speaking yesterday (Monday), Mr Devane lauded the introduction of a masterplan for Foynes Port in Limerick to become a hub for floating offshore wind energy.
He outlined a number of proposals which he believes are needed for Mayo to fully realise the potential of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC), an regional economic concept running from Derry to Kerry.
These included the re-zoning of Knock airport to facilitate the location of businesses involved in the servicing of utilities like offshore wind.
Currently, the Knock Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) aims to facilitate businesses that require a link to the airport. Mayo County Council states that the SDZ has the potential to create 4,200 jobs if fully realised.
Mr Devane said the opportunity to expand the SDZ to other industries was ‘absolutely huge’.He compared it to the industrial development that took place around Shannon Airport during the 1960s and 1970s after it was re-zoned.
“The zoning that they are talking about it quite limited in that it allows them to do some technology type of enterprise locked into the aviation [sector].
“That’s fine, if it’s a limited plan. But the opportunity to create large-scale zoned area around Knock airport is absolutely huge,” he stated.
“It would dramatically change all of the west north-west economy. Your immediate catchment for that would stretch over to the border counties, it would stretch up into Sligo and Donegal and it would stretch right across the top of Mayo into Westport and Newport and so on. You have a huge catchment in that area, and similarly south into North Galway.”
Mr Devane echoed calls from local representatives that Knock airport should be linked to the proposed reopening of the Western Rail Corridor from Galway to Sligo.

ELECTRICITY CAPACITY
He also cited the lack of capacity in the region’s electricity grid as a major impediment to the industrial development.
He said the further exploration of the Corrib gas field should form part of Mayo’s energy strategy in the coming years.
“That problem has been around for a long time,” he said, referring to the shortage of electricity capacity.
“It’s being masked by the fact that large investments were able to take place in other parts of the country, but we haven’t been able to put in large-scale developments for a long, long time into the west north-west.”
Mr Devane suggested the re-zoning of five brown field sites in the county, in towns including Claremorris and Killala, as industrial zones.
He added that the instillation of more marine research centres could put the west of Ireland to the forefront of bio-marine research.
“It’s the most sensible thing to do from an investment point of view, very low cost of entry,” he said.
“You are talking about giving access to marine researchers to the marine and setting up
research type technology industry... out in Connemara and linking it back in to the [research] that we are doing in Galway University and Cork.
“My view is that we should be signing onto that immediately and we should put one further up the coast to Newport or further up... and build out a whole series of them around the coast.
“Strategically it is the most valuable resource that we have,” he continued.
“It is a resource that can be used to lock in a lot of pharmaceutical industry in Ireland for the next generation.”
Mr Devane said that a lack of political ambition was the main thing holding back major industrial and infrastructural development in the west of Ireland.
“People say: ‘Why isn’t this done?’ I get this question all the time. My answer is very simple.
We do not have the political ambition to do it,” he said.
“This bulls**t about tax cuts, ultimately we do not have the political ambition to do this. It’s probably a lot more complex and people don’t understand it or whatever else, but we don’t have the ambition and that’s the only reason it’s not being done.”

For more see News Analysis pages 22-23.