FURTHER details of a government agreement to underwrite a scheme to develop a university of ICT at the landmark Castle Mona Hotel were outlined in Tynwald.
Under the proposals, the historic Castle Mona, which has been empty since it closed five years ago, could become a university feeding degree qualified students into the island’s IT sector and related industries.
The three local businessmen behind the Manx Educational Foundation scheme - David Butterworth of Skanco Professional IT Services, 3FM’s Ron Berry and Kurt Roosen, group head of IT for Duncan Lawrie Private Bank – are now appealing for private sector funding to help turn the project into a reality.
The government has provisionally agreed to underwrite the project to the tune of £5 million over the 10 year period of the proposed lease.
Economic Development Minister John Shimmin told Tynwald that the agreement was conditional on the Foundation providing a viable business case.
He said: ‘I can advise that there is an agreement with government that under certain circumstances we would underwrite the ICT University.
‘It is a project which I believe has significant benefits for the Isle of Man. However, as it is a charitable organisation, were it to be done in isolation without any government underwriting, it is unlikely it would be successful in getting off the ground.
‘However, the safeguarding of taxpayers’ and public money at this stage is critical and therefore the demands put upon the MEF by government, particularly through Treasury and my department, are significant to indicate that the bodies would have raised a significant amount of private sector donations and would have a business case to ensure that there was a realistic and viable proposition going forward.’
The university will have charitable status. It has already attracted support from businesses which have pledged £5,000 a year each over a three-year period.
Part of the planned refurbishment will provide about 70 rooms for students and it would also see the demolition of the former bowling alley that was a later addition to the historic main building.
Mr Shimmin added that he was ‘very excited’ about the ICT university project - but that ‘time was running out’.
He said: ‘I think that there are currently a minimum of 12 businesses that have all submitted a significant amount of contribution and that gives a fighting fund for the MEF to try and attract some of the donors required.
‘However, we have got to work collectively and quickly because time is running out. The viability for this scheme depends upon our success of being able to open it by September 2014 in as much that if we miss that date, then it loses a year of potential opportunity for not just getting the undergraduates, but also getting the development of one of the buildings intended to be utilised.
‘So I am very supportive of the theory behind this. I hope that the court and indeed, more importantly, the private sector would rally behind the opportunity this might give.’