Regeneration proposals include £13m home for digital industry

A LANDMARK £13m building housing a hub for digital industries is being lined up for one of Hull’s key regeneration sites.

The Centre for Digital Innovation or C4DI, based in the city’s Fruit Market, will provide space for 65 businesses, creating as many as 235 jobs.

The hope is that the scheme will kickstart the redevelopment of the wider area used by the fruit trade for more than 200 years and which was earmarked for a £100m mixed use development until it was killed off by the recession.

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The plot, bounded by the River Hull, Humber Street and Queen Street, is owned by Wykeland Group and Hull Council, two of the partners in a scheme also involving the University of Hull, Hull College and Hull-based telecoms firm KC’s parent company KCOM.

The developers have applied for £5m European Regional Development funding towards the cost of the new “incubator” building which would front onto Queen Street, and pay for removing silt and improving flood defences in the derelict former Ruscadors dry dock – subject of a separate project for a £13m sister attraction to the Deep.

The director of Wykeland, Stephen Hudson, said: “Our understanding from our research is there’s quite a strong digital industry in Hull, but what there isn’t is a focal point for promoting it. Although it would be a centre with accommodation it is also there to assist and help people in digital industries.

“There’s about 30,000sq ft in C4DI and another 45,000sq ft of offices for any sector. We haven’t got down to the detailed design but will be a building that will make a statement, one seamless building.” The director of the University of Hull’s Knowledge Exchange, Bill Walker, said there had been talk of a digital centre for years.

He added: “There’s been a succession of false starts, it’s important that this isn’t a false start.

“There’s the Media Centre in Huddersfield, Leeds has its Round Foundry. You come to Hull and it’s not obvious and it doesn’t shout out at you that there’s a business centre of some merit and there’s a digital cluster of some merit.

“When you bring in a focus, a hub, you can start to sell the city in a much more positive way.

“As a university we want a buoyant local economy because everybody benefits from that. The more businesses that are trading successfully in knowledge business areas the more opportunities there should be for the university.”

KC director of business services Mark Conway added: “As well as benefiting existing knowledge-based and digital businesses, the proposed Centre for Digital Innovation would also help to attract inward investment and encourage new start-ups in this field.

“We’re at the early stages of planning, but we’re delighted to be working with the Wykeland Group, the University of Hull and the other partners involved on a project that will benefit the local economy and improve an area of the city that’s in need of regeneration.”

The bid says the city’s economy is more diverse and vibrant than that portrayed, adding: “There are distinctive ICT/CDI businesses and expertise in the city whose potential is undeniable. Digital 2020 lists 26 CDI business in the region. In the Humber there is one, at Barton Ropewalk. The C4DI project’s time has come.”

Meanwhile, officials are planning a feasibility study into the River, directly opposite to the Deep. The attraction would house an exotic array of plants, birds, mammals and reptiles beneath a tortoise-shaped glass dome. Half the funding is from the Government’s Working Neighbourhood Fund and the study is expected to be completed by next April.

More conducive environment

ACCORDING to a 2006 study there are 400 firms in Hull employing just short of 8,000 people in the digital and creative sectors, many of whom “make do” in former shops on radial roads. The funding bid states: “Whilst cheap and adequate, these are not business environments conducive to the profile and networks that digital businesses need in order to convey a professional image.”