Limerick: Growing a vibrant 15-minute city for working, playing and living in

To create the Limerick of the future, several construction projects are bringing additional cultural amenities as well as much-needed housing for a growing population, says Vincent Murray, director of economic development at Limerick City and County Council

Vincent Murray, director of economic development at Limerick City and County Council: ‘There is a huge amount of business to be done in Limerick and the council will lead out on that.’ Picture: Arthur Ellis

With Project Ireland 2040 envisaging population growth in Limerick of 50 to 60 per cent within the next 15 years, the city and suburbs could be home to between 47,000 and 56,000 more people by 2036.

And, in-keeping with the vision of compact smart growth, Vincent Murray wants to create a “15-minute city” for this burgeoning population, where all amenities are within easy reach.

The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated this vision, generating much discussion about the future of remote working. Limerick auctioneers are reporting an increase in demand for residential property, specifically from Dublin buyers, according to Murray.

Vincent Murray wears many hats in his role as Director of Economic Development at Limerick City and County Council, preparing Limerick’s development plan for 2022 to 2028 as well as his roles with Limerick 2030 DAC and Innovate Limerick.

“We’ve granted permissions for over 2,000 new homes across the city that have yet to commence construction,” he said.

“We are putting the building blocks in place now for a post COVID Limerick. We will soon have two new hospitals as well as an expansion at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), a new secondary school on the outskirts of the city and multiple new river crossings in the city centre.”

The Limerick Development Plan is an ambitious piece of work, aimed at bolstering the city’s infrastructure – from new homes and office buildings to retail units and pedestrian bridges – in order to meet the needs of Limerick’s growing population and international investment in the region.

“There is a huge amount of business to be done in Limerick and the council will lead out on that,” Murray said.

A major part of the initiative is enhancing the city centre as a place to live and work by building and expanding infrastructure and developing quality public spaces for the coming years and decades.

“This concept of the 15-minute city — where everything you need is within a 15-minute walk of your house — is becoming very important for us and something we're trying to build into our development plans for sustainable city living,” Murray said.

Innovate Limerick operates Engine, a start-up hub in the city centre. It provides shared work space for start-ups, and landing space for Foreign Direct Investment.

Plans were now in place to expand the Engine hub network to 10 sites, Murray said, allowing for greater connectivity and access to services for those living in the county or closer to the coast. “This will further enhance the region as a great place to live and work,” he said.

Attracting more investment into Limerick is a key part of the city’s strategy. Limerick is home to some of the biggest firms in the pharmaceutical industry,

Among them is Regeneron, which is not only one of the biggest employers in the region, but also the largest biotech facility in Ireland.

Other major multinational players in Limerick include Analog Devices, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Edwards Lifesciences, Dell, BD Medical and General Motors (GM).

IDA Ireland, the inward investment agency, had “done great work” in attracting FDI to the region. This has, however, put pressure on Limerick’s housing stock.

Murray said the council would do everything it could to support job creation in the region, including building more houses.

“Limerick 2030, the strategic development company established by Limerick City and County Council, has a housing development site that is going through planning at the moment,” Murray said.

“The site in Mungret (on the outskirts of the city) will consist of approximately 250 new houses, of which a big proportion will be affordable homes. We also have a big focus now on getting residential back into the city centre.

“A lot of the centre of Limerick is old Georgian buildings, which may not be suitable for modern living. We’re running a couple of pilot projects to convert some of those old buildings into modern homes. We want people to live in and enjoy our city centre.

The Land Development Agency had also come on board to develop a large site around Colbert Railway Station in Limerick City Centre.

“They’re master-planning at the moment, but it looks like we might get up to 2,500 new homes over the next ten or 20 years on that site,” Murray said.

“These will be sustainable, modern, homes in our city centre. We will also have commercial space around the railway station, which could be accessed by public transport, but also exploit people living within a few minutes’ walk.”

Any ambitious plan involving redevelopment and site construction, whether commercial or residential, must also contend with planning objections.

“There are always challenges with construction in a city centre. It’s very important to have a good communications plan in place, and to get your message out there, engaging with the community at an early stage in the development,” Murray said.

Limerick City and County Council is still a relatively new entity, formed through the amalgamation of the city and county councils in 2014.

“The two councils were probably sometimes pulling in opposite directions prior to the amalgamation, we’re now all focused and have one voice, one local authority, one council for the city and council,” Murray said.

“Limerick has reinvented itself over the past 10 years. Working with the IDA and other state agencies, everybody collaborating together with the new local authority, Limerick has managed to create a lot of new jobs, good paying jobs, across a variety of industries.

“The new development plan we're working on at the moment is setting out a vision for a new Limerick, a post-Covid Limerick — a Limerick that we're going to build together over the next ten years.”

The Limerick agency bringing Lego to the boardroom

When Ronan Healy and his wife Jane Hession returned to Ireland from Australia after eight years, their friends assumed they would set up their business in Dublin, writes Jonathan Keane.

The Limerick natives moved to Australia in 2010 but decided to return home to be closer to family and to set up their consultancy How Might We.

“We want to be seen as the most creative problem-solving agency in Ireland and we want to be based in Limerick. That’s a statement of intent for us,” Healy said.

How Might We has a notable quirk. It runs workshops with companies to help managers and employees improve their creative thinking and communications – through Lego blocks.

The method, called Lego Serious Play, uses Lego building blocks to help improve employees’ communication, listening and creative thinking.

In workshops, managers and staff take the creativity associated with children and Lego and apply it to company strategy.

It was devised in the 90s by Lego along with organisational theorist Johan Roos and Professor Bart Victor. In 2010, Serious Play was made open source so any company could use the methodology.

This created an opportunity that was the basis for How Might We after Healy and Hession noted that some agencies were using it only partially.

“We haven't seen any agency leading with this, definitely not in Ireland, and a handful globally so we thought we’ll come home and give it a shot.”

The core focus is bringing together a company’s different teams and departments for exercises around strategy development or to improve different processes in the company.

“It’s cross functional teams and different departments together. That’s the core of it because ordinarily when you’re bringing different departments together, there can be barriers and silos. When heads come together, they’re fighting their own corner. What we’re trying to do is eliminate [that],” Healy said.

“The method is beneficial to increase creativity and decrease internal competition or friction between teams.”

In groups, teams use the Lego blocks to create ‘builds’ that represent different issues they or the company face.

In one example, when a business is trying to change their strategy, the group is asked to make a build based on components of the existing strategies that they would like to retain. Each person has an opportunity to say their piece.

“If we've got 15 people on the day, you get 15 different perspectives on what needs to stay within their department, and then they will communicate that.”

Healy said that listening is the most important part of the exercises to avoid dominant personalities taking over.

“If you go throughout the day you will have listened more than you talked,” he said. “With this method, you actually listen to other people’s perspectives.”

Lego blocks may seem like fun and while the mission is to stimulate more creativity, Healy is quick to point out that the exercises aren’t intended to be distractions like off-site team building days.

Healy comes from a business consultancy background while Hession comes from an academic background. They are joined by a psychotherapist and psychologist.

He said he is keen to build out a boutique consultancy business from Limerick, though it has faced many challenges with Covid-19 hampering its ability to do in-person workshops, but it also presents opportunity.

During the past year or so, more companies have started noticing problems within their own businesses and felt the need to inject more creative thinking, he said.