Sunday, March 3, 2024

Birr Technology Centre discusses its Development Plans for 2024-2026

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BIRR Technology Centre has presented the results of a strategy review for the Centre and its three buildings, which encompass 30,000 square feet of mixed-use space in Birr town centre.
The three buildings, the Technology Building, the Enterprise Building and the Old Cinema form Birr Technology Centre and are managed by European Tech Hubs. The objective of the strategy review was to deal with the challenges in the office market, a new acquisition and focus on opportunities.
“The working strategy can be summarised in three strands” said Denis Madden, CEO of European Tech Hubs. “The establishment of a not-for-profit Green Energy Labs to promote green energy firms to locate in the Technology Building and provide much in demand energy services. Secondly, the development of Live-Work units for the former Enterprise Building, and finally to investigate housing and other concepts for the Old Cinema.”
The Green Energy strategy for the Technology Building is focussed on building a cluster of companies active in the green energy renewable market. Over 6,000 square feet of high quality office space, originally fitted out as FÁS headquarters, is available on the first floor of the TechnologyBuilding for this purpose. Green Energy Labs CLG was formed in December 2023 and is a not-for profit social enterprise. The company has made a detailed application under the EU Just Transition programme which seeks to create sustainable jobs in the Midlands. If successful, the application foresees the creation initially of four direct jobs in Green Energy Labs CLG and at least 25 indirect jobs over a two-year period.
The objective of Green Energy Labs is to provide a landing and business development service to new energy companies locating in Offaly; demonstrate green energy technology; and provide sustainable energy consultancy services. It is expected to have a strong focus on hydrogen and biomethane as well as wind and solar energies. The strategy was presented at the Birr 20:20 Vision November meeting and was welcomed as a positive initiative.
A decision by Pobal on this EU Just Transition funding application is expected before the end of February and the programme, if approved, will commence in April 2024. Other aspects of the strategy have been the appointment of a new dedicated Business Development Manager for the hub to encourage uptake of remote working and co-working offerings and to support existing and new tenants.
The strategy review also addressed the Enterprise Centre building, which is the smaller single storey courtyard building directly on St Brendan Street. Two alternative strategies are still being looked at for the building. One alternative is to finish an upgrade programme to the building and rent spaces to businesses. The second alternative is to adapt the office spaces to Live-Work units, and this strategy includes a possible stepping stone, the provision as an interim use for accommodation of Ukrainian refugees. Both alternatives are being assessed.
The review highlighted the difficulty with developing more office space as there is already ample Grade 1 vacant space in the main Birr Technology building next door. It is difficult therefore to justify adding even more space to a weak office market at this time. Small Live Work units are identified in the new Birr Town Development Plan as a welcome additional accommodation solution for Birr. The seven, own-door courtyard units were identified as ideal live-works units for new staff relocating to work in Birr.
“As a first step to Live-Work units we are looking at the feasibility of accommodating Ukrainian refugees as there is urgent demand for this accommodation. The change from vacant office means more bed spaces are created in the town and avoids pressure on other forms of accommodation. We are in an early stage of the process of assessing and addressing the Department´s requirements. An application was made to Offaly County Council in January to clarify planning aspects, there are several other operational and technical issues to assess. This would be a small accommodation centre with approximately ten bedrooms. We will also liaise with existing business tenants and the community. No decision has been made on this or the other development alternatives.” said Denis Madden, CEO of European Tech Hubs.
Finally, the third building, the vacant Old Cinema on Brendan Street was acquired by Birr Technology Centre in early 2023. It had been used as a wholesale warehouse distribution building for over thirty years. The strategy with this building is to complete feasibility studies on different uses. The experienced team at Ailtiri Architects were appointed in December to complete a residential development feasibility study for the property. The initial results are expected in March and will inform the decision on the development of the property. Other directions are not ruled out including its use by companies based in the main Birr Technology Centre or a multi-media centre. In the interim community uses are welcome in this building.

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