An inventors’ village, an environmental visitors centre, sustainable housing and an eco-lodge are all features of an innovative project.
The project is the brainchild of Dunhill Rural Enterprise Ltd in rural Waterford.
It is hoped the project will create dozens of jobs and be a tourist attraction, while becoming a template for regeneration throughout Ireland and Europe.
As part of Phase 3 of the Dunhill Ecopark - which has just begun - the Copper Coast Eco-Lodge can provide community-owned accommodation for individuals, groups and schools visiting the area. Supported by Waterford Leader Partnership, the eco-lodge will be the first of its kind in the country and is due to open late next year.
Dunhill already hosts the Equality and Diversity Unit, supported by FÁS, which provides disability awareness training to help organisations and companies include disabled people in their workforces, while the multi-education centre provides a range of courses on an affordable, accessible basis.
The enterprise centre is home to 26 firms employing 85 people, but the existing 3,000 square metres of space will be complemented by an additional 7,000sq m enterprise building.
Among the innovations is an inventors’ village - 12 units of living and working space at initial rent discounts of up to 100% - to encourage inventors to turn their ideas into sustainable businesses.
Dunhill secretary, Dr Senan Cooke said the project should be an example to the rest of the country. “It’s about jobs, it’s about getting more from less, it’s about getting a real return on investment. This is the kind of thing the Government should be looking at if they want to find a better way to help communities.”
Other projects include the restoration of Dunhill Castle and six surrounding areas, landscaping of a sensory garden, a heritage trail and trees of honour commemorating people who emigrated from the south-east to Newfoundland, artistic festivals, walking routes and housing aimed at active retirees.
Mayor of County Waterford, Cllr Tom Higgins said the Ecopark represented a community response to the declining rural population and the difficult economic climate of the early 90s. “The Ecopark will be recognised as a pilot model for economic, environmental, educational and social regeneration of rural communities across Europe and elsewhere.”