New cleantech innovation hub planned for County Antrim

An aerial view of Ballymena, which is set to host the new i4C Centre
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A new £24 million green energy business hub in County Antrim has been given the go ahead, with work set to begin next year.

The business case has been approved for the i4C Innovation and CleanTech Centre, to be sited at the St Patrick’s regeneration area in Ballymena. The 15-hectare site in the centre of the town was previously a military base.

"This exciting development will capture the innovative flair that Northern Ireland boasts and will be a great asset to the local community," said Northern Ireland Office minister Steve Baker.

"This will drive long-term economic growth, deliver a step change in the economy and help Northern Ireland take advantage of the opportunities of the future."

i4C will provide a physical base for businesses, with 'Grade A' standard office accommodation available for rent by corporate clients, and will include co-working space for small and medium-sized businesses. There will also be meeting and event spaces.

It will focus on the development of clean technology, and will include a manufacturing makerspace.

Meanwhile, an innovation laboratory called the iLab will house a team of technicians using specialist equipment to provide technical innovation support to businesses.

They will focus on developing products, services, training and solutions for the cleantech sector across Northern Ireland, for example in the emerging hydrogen economy.

The centre will have strong academic links to the new Northern Regional College campus, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

"i4C will help shape the Northern Ireland clean tech and hydrogen ecosystem into a world-class attraction for industry and academic partners," said Ian Snowden, interim permanent secretary of the Department for the Economy.

"Its priorities will be informed by industry, research partners and sub-regional stakeholders, in an inclusive and insightful manner, aligned to the department’s 10x goals for sustainable economic growth and place."

The development comes as part of the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD), which aims to create 20,000 new and better-paid jobs across the region. It also includes plans to improve infrastructure, digital connectivity, visitor attractions and innovation hubs, and to deliver a major skills and employability programme.

The idea is that the i4C centre will serve as the anchor tenant building for regeneration in the area, and act as an economic driver for future growth.

"We’re starting to see the benefits from the Belfast Region City Deal programme of investment come to fruition," said mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna,

“This business case approval is a major boost, taking us one step closer to visualizing the transformational impact it will have on the former St Patrick’s Barracks and realizing the economic impacts that it will offer businesses and residents in the Borough."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.