A not-so-quiet revolution is underway across Cheshire and Warrington which looks set to continue at pace throughout 2018, writes Heather Standidge, associate director at Cushman & Wakefield.
Long overlooked by many as a dairy farming mecca, the home of footballer’s wives or a dormitory to the major urban centres of Manchester, Liverpool and Chester, Cheshire’s strong and very real economic strengths are starting to get noticed nationally and internationally. In particular, its enviable assets for businesses within a number of key growing science-based sectors.
The pace of economic growth over recent years has been impressive. When the Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership was formed in 2012, the aspiration was to grow the sub-regional economy to £26.6bn GVA a year by 2021.
By the close of 2015, this figure had already been exceeded by £1 billion, creating 33,000 new jobs over the period. Reflective of this, the revised target is to double the size of the economy to £50bn by 2040, as set out within the refreshed Strategic Economic Plan.
Cheshire and Warrington already have the key ingredients in place to achieve this ambition, including above average GVA output and educational attainment; international occupiers and established clusters in key growth sectors; and a strong supportive quality of life offer.
Looking forward to 2018 and beyond, Cheshire will continue to build on these competitive advantages with a particular focus on its high value science sector strengths with the greatest potential to contribute to economic aspirations.
The Government-backed Cheshire Science Corridor Enterprise Zone backs this strategy, providing significant financial and market incentives to attract science-based businesses to some of the area’s key sector focused employment and development clusters including nuclear, energy, advanced manufacturing, automotive and life sciences.
The Government is increasingly recognising Cheshire’s innovative approach to solving some of the key national challenges identified within the recently released Industrial Strategy. For example, the launch of the UK’s first Energy Innovation District spanning the industrial heartland from Ellesmere Port towards Runcorn aims to secure low carbon, low cost indigenous energy to intensive users. The British Geological Survey has also announced Ince Marshes as the preferred location for a new underground observatory researching natural heat and energy sources. Further public and private investment is likely to be focused on advancing such proposals over coming years.
The Industrial Strategy’s Life Sciences Sector Deal will also serve to reinforce Cheshire’s established life science cluster which includes global brands such as Astra Zeneca. Alderley Park has successfully attracted a number of significant high profile occupiers and supported the growth of new start-ups as it progresses its transition to a multi-occupancy science park seeking to retain and maximise the skills and facilities on site.
As skills, innovation and collaboration become increasingly important to globalised businesses, the cluster is anticipated to grow. However, the announcement that insurance firm Royal London will take space at the Park also acknowledges the prospects for diversification and attractiveness of the wider offer.
We also expect to see continued market confidence and the delivery of a pipeline of new employment floorspace in more traditional employment areas such as Ellesmere Port where a significant volume of space has been delivered speculatively and taken up over the last 18 months by occupiers, particularly within the advanced manufacturing sector, seeking affordable efficient space with good accessibility to labour, supply chains and customers.
This year saw the purchase of the very successful Birchwood Park by Warrington Borough Council. As the public sector takes an increasingly pro-active role in generating their own revenue streams and supporting job creation, it is anticipated that similar transactions will follow suit across Cheshire and further afield.
Finally, as businesses become increasingly globalised and confidence rises, expect to see an enhanced profile at the international scale as Cheshire & Warrington seeks to compete for, retain and maximise investment potential, starting with a stronger proposition and larger presence at MIPIM in the spring.
The North West in 2018 series features guest contributors looking ahead to next year and is published throughout December.