NW Emerging Development Hotspots C PNW

The conference was held at Bridgewater Hall. Credit: PNW

Event Summary

North West Emerging Hotspots | Summary, photos, and slides

The speakers were jostling for position at the 2024 North West Emerging Development Hotspots event, each keen to showcase exactly what their part of the region has to offer. From Cumbria to Greater Manchester, and everywhere in between, Julia Hatmaker, editor of Place North West, led a bespoke tour of the places to develop and invest on 15 February at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

The sponsors were Wigan Council, Morgan Sindall Construction, JMW, and Mansell Building Solutions. 

NW Emerging Development Hotspots sponsors for promo

New contenders

Blackpool and Barrow wouldn’t have been seen at event like this a few years ago, said Nick Gerrard, growth and prosperity programme director at Blackpool Council, and Angela Jones, director of thriving places at Westmorland & Furness Council.

They said it was a testament to hard work and investment that these two towns are now emerging from the shadows.

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Westmorland and Furness Council’s Angela Jones highlighted Barrow as a place to invest in. Credit: PNW

Describing the patch covered by her new unitary authority, Jones talked of its world-class assets, engineering expertise, universities, academia and skills, and its breathtaking landscapes. Known nowadays for building submarines, it has an industrial history dating back 150 years.

“We are a new council with new ambition, new vision, new leadership team, new administration, and there’s a lot going on,” she said.

Speaking specifically about Barrow, she added: “We have a trilateral agreement between government, ourselves, and BAE Systems. A statement made by Michael Gove said we want Barrow to become the new powerhouse for the North.

“The workforce is expanding, increasing by 5,000 to 6,000,” she continued. “Why is that a problem? We have a small population and also huge growth in other sectors including net zero and carbon capture. That’s a real challenge. We need more people, more housing, a good lifestyle offer, town centre regeneration. Some of that was underway – we now need to accelerate it.”

Download Jones’ presentation on Barrow

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Nick Gerrard highlighted why Blackpool was a development hotspot. Credit: PNW

Flagship schemes

Of his town’s journey to success, Gerrard said: “Blackpool wasn’t a place for investment. It needed its economy turning around.” He went on to describe £2bn of progress with three objectives: town centre regeneration, the extension of the tourism season to cover the entire year, and increasing jobs in growth sectors.

Gerrard also detailed the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone and its promise of £300m investment and 5,000 jobs. In the same area is Silicon Sands, a proposed data centre cluster powered by renewable energy.

“The reason we are pursuing this vision is, serendipitously, one of the new transatlantic cables which carries a third of the world’s internet traffic comes to land here,” Gerrard explained. “That’s giving us a great competitive advantage.

“On top of that, we have a very ambitious initiative to create renewable energy either from wind or the solar farms we are hoping to build to provide sustainable powered data centres.”

Barrow’s Marina Village was another development site under the spotlight. Council-owned, the 44-acre plot has space for 800 homes. Jones added: “It’s at a critical stage and we are looking for development partners.”

There is also a need for student and temporary workforce accommodation and Jones said to the audience: “Join our journey.”

Sefton Investment Zone and its focus on life sciences was highlighted by Christian Rogers, assistant director of place at Sefton Council. That includes a £1.5bn development of Ashworth Hospital, which is attracting big tech and pharma tenants.

Sarah Ashurst, head of partnerships and investment at Salford City Council, said MediaCity is due to double in size in the next decade with the aim of prosperity for all, and giving it a ‘town centre feel’ with all the ‘everyday uses’ people expect.

“A lot of people think MediaCity is done,” she said, “but we’re just at the start. We want to connect local people to these opportunities and make them real.”

NW Emerging Development Hotspots C PNW

Wigan Council’s Aidan Thatcher spoke about the authority’s ambitions for Leigh. Credit: PNW

Leigh’s location

Aidan Thatcher, director of place at Wigan Council, focused his attention on Leigh, one of two ‘rival’ towns in his borough, the other being Wigan itself. Emerging from its former coal mining past, part of it, the Flashes, has become the first town National Nature Reserve.

Thatcher said: “Leigh is just across the boundary from Salford so it’s really well positioned. We’ve been expanding walking and cycling networks with the combined authority. A guided bus way is the main connection into Greater Manchester – people complain they can’t get on them because they’re so good. We’re thinking about the next phase so Leigh can grow and realise its potential and as part of that we’re really keen for a connection of the Metrolink tram on the Eccles line.”

Outlining funding wins of more than £30m, Thatcher said projects included the transformation of the civic square, road improvements, grant-funded building enhancements in the conservation area, and regenerating the town’s market. He added: “It’s really well occupied at 80% but its fabric is run down. A lot of that money will pump into the market.

“Our focus is to make sure we drive change in Leigh and it’s going to be at a fast pace.”

Download Thatcher’s presentation on Leigh

NW Emerging Development Hotspots C PNW

Talbot Gateway is a site with great potential, said Blackpool Council’s Nick Gerrard. Credit: PNW

Booming Blackpool

The Talbot Gateway, a four-phase scheme around Blackpool North Station, involves a civil service hub and a multiversity, tram extension and retail units, new Holiday Inn and Marco Pierre White restaurant.

Elsewhere in the town, there’s Abingdon Street Market where a major refurbishment is bringing diversity to the food and beverage offer. An IMAX cinema opening in March, Town Deal cash enabling the creation of The Edge business incubation space, and the transformation of Blackpool Central with 1,300sq ft of car parking, were also on Gerrard’s list of recent successes.

Download Gerrard’s presentation on Blackpool

NW Emerging Development Hotspots C PNW

Sefton Council’s Christian Rogers spoke about the potential of Bootle. Credit: PNW

Bold Bootle

Sefton Council’s Rogers is on a mission to boost Bootle’s fortunes. It’s home to the Port of Liverpool, is within sight of Ainsdale, Crosby and Southport’s beaches, and the Royal Birkdale Gold Club, and borders the city of Liverpool. He says Bootle has suffered some decline in recent years but this ‘bold little town’ is now changing its fortunes.

Bootle’s Triad Building, with its views across the Mersey to Snowdon, is part of a ‘significant pipeline of opportunities’, alongside six strategic residential sites including some along a canal corridor. The Town Hall is another project raising excitement, with the chance of a mixed use development of the historic building and its surrounds.

The world of IT is playing a part here too. Rogers said: “Bootle is at the confluence of two data cables so it’s a really good place for data intensive businesses.

“The council is really positive about working with partners. We’ve just launched a new blueprint for all opportunities, including residential. We’ve got sites ready to go now.”

Download Rogers’ presentation on Bootle

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Salford City Council’s Sarah Ashurst said there was more work to be done at MediaCity. Credit: PNW

Selling Salford

Salford City Council’s Ashurst was keen to pinpoint the ‘fundamental transformation’ of the city, which has seen the highest GDA and employment growth across Greater Manchester over the last five years, with 14,500 new homes and 2.3 million sq ft of commercial floor space.

“This is about a continuation of our vision and plan in four key strategic growth locations – City Centre Salford, Salford Quays and MediaCity, the Greater Manchester Western Gateway and, because of success in the city centre, an outward look now into our towns.”

Download Ashurst’s presentation on MediaCity

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Wirral Council Leader Cllr Paul Stuart extolled the virtues of Birkenhead. Credit: PNW

Choose the view

Wirral Council Leader Cllr Paul Stuart said his authority was ‘moving from masterplan to delivery’ and described the borough as ‘one of the most exciting regeneration opportunities in the UK’.

He questioned why anyone would want to live in Liverpool when they could choose property in Wirral and see that iconic waterfront across the river – and be just two minutes’ travel away via one of the three underground Metro-style stations. The area’s Woodside development is, he said: “A window on Britain’s finest urban panorama.”

He also outlined Birkenhead’s new central business district and said: “Town centres thrive on footfall – workers, shoppers and visitors –and Birkenhead has struggled on all three but we have a strategy to turn this around.”

Hind Street Urban Village was another project he singled out, where flyovers are being removed to open up an area for 1,600 new homes, 648,000 sq ft of commercial space is happening, along with facilities like schools.

“Move, dwell, relax and spend,” he said. “You do not want to miss out on Birkenhead’s renaissance.”

Download Cllr Stuart’s presentation on Birkenhead

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More than just presentations, the event included a panel on investment, viability, and partnership – a panel that included CBRE’s Will Church. Credit: PNW

Finding the finance

Will Church, executive director at CBRE Lending, was asked what the funding scene looks like and he said: “There isn’t as much equity about generally at the moment and what’s really great about the North West is that there is more local equity than in some other places. Equity that comes in from abroad is quite fickle and that’s very difficult to source.

“The debt market hasn’t changed a lot since we set up the [North West] Evergreen Fund 13 years ago to deal with the shortage of debt funding but it is more expensive. Funding for development projects is really difficult to find. We are seeing more public sector funds being set up.”

Discussing viability he said: “The bed sector seems to be holding up fairly well but the employment schemes are difficult, which is sad to see when rents are pushing on and occupiers are still there.”

With a tough funding scene facing schemes, partnerships can prove the key to enabling a good project to move forward. This includes working with organisations like Homes England.

Duncan Inglis, director of the North for Homes England, gave a specific example of money well spent in Wigan. He said: “We had some revenue to do the early work, due diligence and masterplanning so Wigan had a stronger proposition to go to the combined authority that’s got the Brownfield Land Fund to address the viability issues.”

NW Emerging Development Hotspots C PNW

In addition to CBRE’s Will Church, the panel included Homes England’s Duncan Inglis and Westmorland and Furness Council’s Angela Jones. Credit: PNW

The planner problem

The issue of a lack of planning officers raised its head, yet again, with many audience members wanting to know what panellists thought about whether the skills were there to redevelop the North effectively.

Inglis said: “There is a skills shortage, particularly in regeneration. Where Homes England is trying to play a part is recognising that capacity in local authorities isn’t there.

“We used to go into local authorities and a whole floor was a regeneration department. You can go in now and it’s two people. How can we bring our surveyors and planners, not to backfill those posts, but to drop in and say ‘what’s the wider masterplanning’, etc and be flexible with those resources.”

Westmorland and Furness’s Jones added: “It’s not just regeneration. It’s construction, surveyors, ecologists, heritage. It’s people who’ve got that expertise.”

NW Emerging Development Hotspots C PNW

Homes England’s Duncan Inglis highlighted Liverpool City Region as a development hotspot. Credit: PNW

Small and perfectly formed

Asked about hot sectors, Church said: ”It’s about individual projects in micro-locations.”

Inglis wanted to see more focus at ‘the other end of the M62’ in Merseyside, while Jones says the spotlight is on towns – and added: “There is funding available to unlock that. This is our time to shine.”

Join Place North at our next events

Yorkshire Emerging Development Hotspots | 5 March

Place Young Things | 25 April

North West Rental Market | 9 May

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