Part Eight planning permission was granted by the elected members of the Ballina Municipal District for a potentially game changing digital hub in the old Military Barracks in the heart of the town on Wednesday.
Ballina was selected last year for a €3.2 million investment into this project under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF ) and the approval of planning permission is the next step towards getting this project up and running.
Manager of the Municipal District, Declan Turnbull, told the members that the project was a "major investment in the town and will regenerate a whole area in the town centre". Once planning permission was approved the council would move on with the tender process, which could see construction starting on site by the end of the year.
Director of services for Mayo County Council, Tom Gilligan, described the project as "a game changer for Ballina, that is vital for business growth, investment, and activity in the town centre". He added: "Projects like this need to be encouraged and talked up to show what Ballina has to offer."
The granting of the planning permission was proposed by Cllr John O'Hara who described it as "a Rolls Royce of a project - right in the town centre". It was seconded by Cllr Jarlath Munnelly who said he believed it could be the start of something great for Ballina, citing the impact that the first digital hub in the country had in Dublin. "I'll happily second it," he said. "This a great sign for the town and opportunity and example of Ballina looking forward and growing from there. If you look at what happened in Dublin with the first digital hub it acted as a springboard for the regeneration and a rejuvenation of an area and that's what we hope to see happen here.
"The benefit of this is that it is right in the middle of the town and it will help reinforce the good work already done by the council in the town. This is happening right in the middle of the town which will be great for the development of the whole town.
"This is a real show of confidence in Ballina by the Government, this is being funded from the national regeneration fund, that is a competitive national fund there is no guarantees that towns will get funding from it. It is based on the quality of applications put in and this shows how good our application was and credit must go to Mayo County Council and Moy Valley Resources who put together the plan."
Independent councillor Gerry Ginty also welcomed the movement on the project, saying: "I am delighted and very thankful for the Government for this, I'll criticise them, but will give them credit when due, Senator Michelle Mulherin put a lot of work into this and I say she twisted a lot of arms to get this done and I thank her for that.
"The terrible tragedy I see in Ballina is all the young people unemployed in the town, I hope this could see a change in that. It is a tragedy to see people unemployed who educate themselves and having to emigrate or take jobs they are overqualified for and this could be a beginning to help that. The town needs a push and hopefully this is what we need to give it that push."
Cllr Michael Loftus told the meeting: "Recently I had the good fortune to visit a digital hub in Philadelphia, and the vibrance and energy I saw there was phenomenal it was roughly the same size as this, and if we can duplicate that here it will be a tremendous success."