There was much sadness when news came the other day that the agency responsible for the Digital Hub in the Liberties is to be dissolved.
The Dublin-based hub has served a valuable role as a launchpad for scaling companies since it was established in 2003 following the demise of Media Lab Europe. While in recent years it has been overshadowed by other start-up communities, not least among them Dogpatch Labs in the Docklands, there are many who still felt it had a role to play.
As well as sadness there was surprise. Not least because the Department of Communications came to its decision to transfer ownership of the enterprise campus for use as social and affordable housing to the Land Development Agency (LDA) without consulting the Digital Hub Development Agency beforehand.
The agency had last year spoke of the need for emergency funding due to the Covid crisis but its finances are understood not to have been a factor in the decision-making. Pre-pandemic, the agency covered about 70 per cent of its income through rents received from client companies, and there was an opportunity for it to become financially independent as more businesses embrace different ways of working.
In addition to its role as a campus for scaling digital tech companies, the hub also made a valuable contribution locally with its various inclusive programmes that are primarily aimed at local schools and senior citizens in what is a deprived area of the capital.
A review of the agency undertaken by Grant Thornton last year and published on the day the digital hub’s dissolution was announced makes interesting reading.
The report concluded that the agency was not required in order to sustain the continued growth and development of the digital tech sector. However, it added that the hub served as a counterbalance to the overconcentration of co-working office space in the Docklands and Dublin 2. More importantly it was also seen to be important to the ongoing regeneration of the Liberties, which the report authors noted, “continues to be one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Dublin”.
In its conclusions, Grant Thornton recommended that the best option would be for the Digital Hub be retained and be charged with developing an e-health cluster, while its undeveloped portfolio be given to the LDA.
This advice has been ignored. While the redevelopment of the 5.6 acres off Thomas Street, which will go towards developing more homes, is to be welcomed, there will be many wondering why selecting an option that allowed for this, and for the continuation of the Digital Hub, was disregarded.