Belfast Telegraph

Expanding Magee 'a bigger boost to Derry than tax cut’

By Brendan McDaid

Expanding the University of Ulster’s Magee campus and increasing the number of students there would grow Londonderry’s economy even more than lowering corporation tax, it’s been claimed.

The man who will lead Londonderry’s Chamber of Commerce during 2013’s City of Culture also highlighted the damage that out-of-town developments were doing to the city centre.

Incoming Chamber president, current vice-president Philip Gilliland, challenged politicians at the chamber’s annual dinner at the White Horse Hotel in Derry.

He said the single biggest boost the Government could give — “bigger even than lowering corporation tax rates, or providing fit and proper roads to Belfast and Dublin, all of which we support — is to give full force and effect to the university pledges within the One Plan which is now in the Programme for Government.

“Such expansion will lead, supply and nurture the nascent digital economy renaissance, as well as delivering many other well-rehearsed economic benefits.”

He added: “The legacy of the City of Culture will be the permanent establishment of Derry as a place for talented young people to choose to study, live, work and start a business.”

Mr Gilliland also told his audience — which included Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Professor Richard Barnett from the University of Ulster — that the city centre must be supported to maximise opportunities offered by City of Culture.

He also expressed alarm at the growing number of applications being lodged for developments outside the centre of Derry. He said: “For maximum effect, 2013 needs an animated and vibrant city centre: excellent and innovative retail, cultural and night-time attractions, and an improved public realm.

“There is no doubt that there are challenges for independent retailers and that rates of city centre vacancy are too high.

“We continue to view the sheer volume of out of town planning applications with concern.”

Founder of the Playhouse Theatre, Pauline Ross, was awarded the business achievement award for her work.

The keynote address was given by Labhras O Murchu, director-general of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the organisation bringing the All-Ireland Fleadh to Derry in 2013.

In his speech, Mr Gilliland told the Chamber members that City of Culture meant much more than boosting Derry’s tourism industry and cultural reputation.

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