Cheshire and Warrington will look to MIPIM as a platform to tell the story of a rapidly growing and diversifying science and energy base, a Place North West roundtable session was told this week.
Sponsored by Cheshire & Warrington LEP, the session took place at Birchwood Park and also highlighted the necessity to be part of the national conversation around transport, and the need to drive skills improvement and housing provision.
For the North West’s most productive sub-region, the MIPIM story is a strong one, delegates agreed. Cushman & Wakefield partner Caroline Baker, adviser on the Science Corridor enterprise zone, said that the key to success has been areas recognising each other’s strengths – Alderley Park is the life sciences green business park setting, with Ellesmere Port in the west being more affordable and energy-focused.
Neal Biddle, group development director at Langtree, spoke about lettings successes at Sci-Tech Daresbury and the need to bring architectural quality to the next phase at the site’s gateway. He said that in tenant surveys, skills were the largest concern.
For Bruntwood’s director of strategy Jessica Bowles, the key is changing mindsets from an early age. She said: “There is a need for highly skilled people and part of that is how business engages with schools and how we support strategic connections – business needs to demonstrate the wealth of opportunities and draw on its networks to make an impression.”
Martin O’Rourke of Patrizia, which manages Birchwood Park, observed that the businesses which leave for Manchester or Liverpool tend to be young, tech-focused, in search of a ‘city centre cool’ that is now coming to Warrington.
Addressing that, Steve Park, chief executive of Warrington & Co, said: “Placemaking starts with place storytelling, and with the investments we’ve made since 2013 we’ve developed a story – Omega has seen 7,500 jobs created.” The focus now is on “re-engineering” the town centre to provide a better retail and leisure offer.
As far as Chester is concerned, James Lunt of law firm Knights said that public and private sectors have worked well together in recent years, with the Chester Business Quarter and the Storyhouse successes, along with progress made on Northgate.
A more varied housing offer is required, it was agreed. Henry Brooks, managing director of Tatton Estates Management, said: “Cheshire is vibrant and dynamic, we’re not a commuter dormitory. We’ve got businesses like The Hut Group, here the average age is something like 23, we’ve got fintech businesses.”
Traditional housebuilding and office parks might not be enough alone, he said, suggesting that the PRS model might be explored more.
Transport is key. Karen Tierney of the Constellation Partnership said: “We have tremendous opportunity in being between the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, but the risk of that is you can get overlooked. HS2 alone is not enough.”
Lisa Harris, director of place at Cheshire West & Chester, said that the West & Wales Strategic Rail Prospectus has been launched with that in mind, by setting out a list of costed priorities so that the region’s network doesn’t miss out in the national conversation.
Overall, with no devolved powers, more certainty is required from central government. Philip Cox, chief executive of Cheshire & Warrington LEP, said: “There has to be a holistic deal – having to continually go to different departments, we don’t have the ability to join things up.” Too much Government thinking is seen through the prism of the South East, attendees felt.
Cheshire and Warrington’s MIPIM schedule is available online.