SOG bullish following Heath selection

The owner of the Runcorn business park has spoken of its confidence in securing investment for its sweeping 57-acre redevelopment after a “mind-blowing” design won a RIBA competition.

In October, London-based EcoResponsive Environments was named as the winner of the competition for what will be billed as Heath Park. The scheme is a beacon project for Liverpool City Region, and LCR’s design champion Paul Monaghan said ERE’s design would “create a truly 21st century sustainable campus”.

The Heath Business & Technical Park is a former ICI headquarters campus: it was taken on by SOG Group in the early 2000s and currently houses around 120 companies. SOG’s other projects include the 108-acre former Sanofi pharmaceuticals site in Dagenham, where its masterplanned redevelopment has secured a deal with an LA film company, with studio construction due to begin in 2021.

The brief for the 57-acre Runcorn site was roughly for 19 acres of employment land, 27 for mixed-use including residential, and seven acres to house a retirement community – and although this mix guided designs, that blend of space is not final.

SOG said in March it was launching a £400m search for investors to make the winning vision a reality.

Terry Rogan, consultant architect for SOG, told Place North West: “Each of the shortlisted schemes were fantastic, but EcoResponsive’s ideas were mind-blowing, proposing a systemic approach to how the employment, community ad other elements can work together.

“It’s a holistic, all-encompassing design, providing a sensitive, innovative but realistic framework for the future Heath Park, also being mindful of the ethical investment needed to achieve it.”

Rogan continued: “John Lewis, SOG’s managing director, is very inspired by Lord Lever’s creation of Port Sunlight in providing housing and facilities for workers, and is looking for a modern, more democratic version of that: a community with care for the environment at its centre.”

The project now moves into the feasibility stage, in which SOG will determine the respective sixe of the various elements, and work out potential stumbling blocks and how planning should be approached. Once that is fleshed out, the search for investors to come in and bankroll the project will begin in earnest.

Lewis himself said: “We saw extraordinary ideas and designs which set the judges an enormous challenge to choose a winner, but ultimately the submission from Eco Responsive has offered us a breath-taking glimpse of the possibilities for The Heath. It will certainly help us to attract interest from global investors to turn our dreams into reality.”

EcoResponsive was established in winter 2018, with its first highlight being the winning of an earlier RIBA competition, “Reimagining the Garden City” in Letchworth. The ither shortlisted designs came from Kimia Benan with Paul Treacy and Tom Cookson with Sarah Carroll.

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