Multi-million pound investment in transport, industrial, and housing, alongside emerging Local Plans and Cheshire West & Chester’s £300m Northgate project were all under the spotlight at Place North West’s Cheshire Development Update.
More than 200 people attended the event at the Cottons Hotel in Knutsford, sponsored by Baker Mallett, Lexington Communications, Pochin, and Transport for the North.
See below for links to slides and gallery
Speakers included Lisa Harris, director of places strategy at Cheshire West & Chester Council; Bob Nicholson, development director at Pochin; Ewen Miller, managing director of Calderpeel; Tim Kenney, partner at Kenneymoore; Heather Thompson, head of business development at University of Chester; Lauren Newby, associate director at Regeneris; Matthew Morris, estate manager at the Bolesworth Estate; John Laverick, senior development manager at Warrington & Co; and Robin Miller-Stott, senior policy and strategy officer at Transport for the North.
Miller-Stott opened the event with a presentation outlining Transport for the North’s plans for Cheshire as part of its wider strategy for infrastructure investment across the region.
- A ‘West and Wales’ corridor, aimed at improving connectivity between Cheshire, Liverpool, the North Wales, and the Midlands. TfN expects a 200% increase in rail demand between Cheshire and Liverpool in the coming years and is looking to prioritise rail investment in the region
- Works to the Halton Curve, which were completed over Easter to add a new hourly service between Liverpool and Chester
- Improved links for the North’s manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital business hubs, including tying Cheshire’s science corridor to other similar innovation centres in and around Sheffield
- A smart ticketing programme across Cheshire, linking to Greater Manchester, Liverpool, and the rest of the North. Multi-modal contactless travel will begin to be delivered in 2020 across the region
- Investment in Crewe including dualling of the A500 and a new transport hub ahead of the arrival of HS2 to the town
An updated transport plan is due to be released later this year after a widespread consultation which closed this month, Miller-Stott said, with the current potential transport investment across the north adding up to between £21bn and £27bn over the next 30 years. “Change is happening but we know we need to do more”, he said.
Miller-Stott was followed by a presentation by Lauren Newby of consultant Regeneris, who outlined research by the company on behalf of the Cheshire & Warrington LEP which showed “game-changing opportunities” for Cheshire.
- Key to the region’s success would be working with inward investment specialists to provide clarity, scale, facts and consistency to sell Cheshire to both foreign and domestic investors
- The Cheshire and Warrington area is home to more highly-skilled workers than Liverpool, and is the most productive economy in the North of England in terms of GVA per head
- There are also 15 higher education institutions within 30 miles of the centre of the Cheshire and Warrington region, offering excellent opportunities for graduate retention and a strong talent pool
- London and the South East should be target areas for Cheshire and Warrington-based companies to look to attract firms that are looking to move away from their traditional southern bases
- Target sectors for the Local Enterprise Partnership for investment are advanced manufacturing, energy, nuclear, logistics, and life sciences, but the region should be open to conversations over “all opportunities in all sectors”
Supply and demand
Newby and Miller-Stott then joined a panel including Nicholson, Thompson, and Harris to discuss the development opportunities ahead.
- Nicholson said his firm had a full order book in an active market, but demand was still occupier-led, particularly in the industrial sector
- In logistics, he said the market remained resilient due to a significant lack of supply, and developers are now more confident they can attract occupiers to speculative units. However, speculative office development was “a different kettle of fish” entirely, with demand still occupier-led in this sector
- Thompson outlined the University of Chester’s plans at Thornton Science Park, which is focussed on attracting life sciences and manufacturing occupiers. The University was looking to add another 1m sq ft of space at the former Shell R&D facility, but Thompson called for “more investment to make it happen”
- Responding to a question from the floor on the use of electric cars in the region, Miller-Stott said plans were in place to “future-proof” new and existing road infrastructure, including the provision of charging points, to ready Cheshire and Warrington for electric and driverless vehicles
- An audience member asked for the panel’s view whether the region was capable of providing enough land that the development market requires. Nicholson agreed there was a shortage of land and called for “more clarity on Local Plans”, which he argued were often too focussed on residential use
- Harris said it was vital to get the balance right between housing and commercial use; over the last five years, Cheshire West & Chester has delivered 7,000 homes and there will be a public hearing in the coming months on the area’s updated local plan
- Thompson said it was a “challenge” to see where businesses can go once they outgrow smaller office and industrial space. “There is a real need for more options for office space in Chester, particularly flexible space for small businesses,” she argued
- Asked about Chester’s proposed Northgate shopping centre, which has struggled to attract funding, Harris said the development would be “key to the future” of the city
- “We’ve been overwhelmed by the positivity of international investors,” she said. “It’s always been a mixed-use development but we will continue to review that mix to make sure we are responding to the market”
What’s next for Warrington
Following a networking break, delegates reconvened to hear from John Laverick, senior development manager at Warrington & Co, who outlined the opportunities ahead as Warrington looks to transform itself from a town to one of the region’s key cities.
- Areas covered by the presentation included the Stadium Quarter, Waterfront East, Waterfront West, the Southern Gateway, and Time Square
- Time Square has continued to advance to overhaul Warrington’s retail and leisure offering. The latest phase, currently under construction by contractor Vinci, is due to complete in around 19 months’ time, and the council has already started conversations with retail and restaurant occupiers
- Laverick said Time Square would act as a “catalyst” for residential growth in the town centre: “We have developers wanting to bring forward tall developments in the centre, including one of 12 storeys in height which includes 144 apartments”
- At the Stadium Quarter, a business incubator building, The Base, is already complete and 60% occupied, while the council will bring forward another part-speculative office opposite Warrington Central station.
- Warrington has bid for Department for Transport funding to build a bypass, which Laverick said “would not be particularly cheap” due to a complex design, but added it would help to unlock two major areas for commercial development
- This would also help to open up Port Warrington as a potential tri-modal interchange, with discussions with landowner Peel ongoing to bring this forward
Laverick then joined a panel alongside Ewen Miller of Calderpeel; Angie Robinson, chair designate of Marketing Cheshire; Tim Kenney of Kenneymoore; Matthew Morris of Bolesworth Estate; and Adrian Fisher, head of strategic and economic planning at Cheshire East Council.
- Morris began by arguing the area’s rural economy was “in danger of being lost” with developers continuing to “focus on the big and shiny”. “The rural economy conjures up ideas of basket weaving and cheese-making, but more than 30% of businesses in Cheshire are in rural areas,” he argued
- He called for more digital connectivity across the region to improve prospects for businesses: “If we want to be the exemplar we need to go well above and beyond what’s expected on digital connectivity”
- Fisher said Cheshire East had increasingly seen development in the north of the borough, particularly around Wilmslow, Knutsford and Poynton. He acknowledged a decision to ease green belt boundaries in the local plan had been “controversial” but said the government had “put local authorities under the cosh” to deliver sites
- Miller said that, as an architecture practice, his company was spending “a vast amount of time and effort to get applications approved on appeal” in boroughs across Cheshire. “The planning system has to be more certain, dynamic, and fluid,” he argued
- On design guides from councils, he said: “More and more guidance and legislation does restrict creative design; we should be championing that instead”
- Morris added there was an opportunity to look at the private-rented homes model in rural areas, with a need for both market rent and affordable rent properties: “You can get it to stack up, depending on the land values,” he said
- On housing, Morris said: “If every village and town in the district had to grow by 5%, you’d hit your housing targets far, far easier. That answers the question about NIMBYs – if every community had to accept some development, there would be a focus on quality. Mass market developments leaves you with identikit places and harms what Cheshire offers”
Northgate: the right approach?
The discussion then turned to retail investment, where a heated debate over the future of Chester’s Northgate scheme ensued:
- Kenney argued there would not be enough retail demand to fill the potential retail offering in Northgate, citing the number of empty units already available in the city: “People don’t come to Chester to shop, nor should they,” he said. “We can’t keep chasing after retail demand that isn’t there anymore”
- More focus should be directed towards leisure and experience, rather than retail, he said, and argued the idea of competing with places like Cheshire Oaks and Liverpool One was not the right approach
- “Take a leaf out of Warrington or Altrincham’s book,” he said. “To keep ploughing on down this road would be an abject disaster”
- Responding to Kenney from the audience, Cheshire West’s Lisa Harris said the council would “listen to different approaches” but argued that standing still was not an option: “If we do that Liverpool and Manchester will overtake us”
- Laverick said it was important for councils developing retail to engage closely with potential tenants and look at “a local angle”: “Our anchor tenant at Time Square, Cineworld, wanted a certain sort of restaurant operator there, but we convinced them to look at a local operator instead,” he said. “That ongoing dialogue helps us fine-tune what we’re doing”
- Robinson argued regional centres in Cheshire and Warrington should not look to compete with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester; for example, in Chester, there was a huge opportunity to maximise assets like the zoo and the city’s heritage offer
See below for slides and presentations:
Click any image to launch gallery