A £23m Maritime Knowledge Hub close to Birkenhead waterfront is gearing up to submit a planning application to the local council, to enable construction of the 60,000 sq ft facility to start next year.
First announced at maritime industry expo London Shipping Week six years ago, the Peel L&P-led MKH project at is intended to provide a national base for marine engineering research and development, as well as skills training and business accelerator space.
The centre would be built around the grade two-listed 19th century hydraulic tower building – a copy of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, close to the Birkenhead waterfront at Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters mixed-use scheme.
The project is being delivered by developer Peel alongside Wirral Council and industry body Mersey Maritime and is expected to create 4,000 jobs in its first five years, the partners said.
Funding is in place for the project, they added, and details of a second phase of the project are to be announced by Liverpool City Region leaders at the second annual Maritime Exchange conference this Thursday.
The exchange initiative was set up last year to respond to the Government’s Maritime 2050 report, which sets out a long-term strategy for the UK’s maritime sector, which in Merseyside is said to be worth £4m each year.
Construction of the R&D hub is targeted to commence in summer 2021 subject to planning permission and once a contractor is appointed.
The scheme was designed by Danish architect Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Liverpool-based Ellis Williams Architects. Under the plans, the existing listed hydraulic tower and engine house at the centre of the Wirral Waters site will be restored and a new-build extension built to act as a centre for marine enterprise, skills, and culture.
Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Mersey Maritime, said: “This is a real breakthrough and could not come at a better time for the Liverpool City Region economy, which has taken such a hammering from the Covid-19 crisis.
“Over the past six years, our industry has made it their mission to ensure the Maritime Knowledge Hub becomes a reality. It is a project that answers so many of the challenges coastal communities are facing – of job creation, skills and levelling up.
“That is not to mention the opportunities the UK maritime industry has with the direction set in Maritime 2050 and, more recently, the Prime Minister’s announcement on the green agenda.”
He added that the maritime and logistics industry has played a significant role in supporting the local economy throughout 2020 – in particular, by aiding delivery pf the 95% of UK food, fuel and supplies that come to the country by sea.
“Our members have literally been helping to keep the lights on and the shelves stocked during the past few months, now they are ready to provide the engine of the city region’s recovery,” Shirling-Rooke said.
“The Maritime Knowledge Hub will be right at the heart of that. It will be a significant focus for the work that will propel the maritime industry forward in the years ahead – from focussing the industry on ‘green maritime’ to ensuring that we have a skilled workforce for the sector and can support for new business opportunities and an entrepreneurial spirit.”