Heath Park CGI Vertical Farm p Paul Smith Associates

The vertical farm would be powered with hydrogen from the HyNet hydrogen pipeline network at nearby Ellesmere Port. Credit: via Paul Smith Associates

SOG puts plans in for ‘modern-day Port Sunlight Village’

The landowner’s masterplan to regenerate the 57-acre former headquarters of chemicals giant ICI in Runcorn includes more than 500 homes, 20,000 sq ft of retail and a 55,000 sq ft ‘vertical farm’.

SOG Group has submitted a planning application to Halton Council for Heath Park, a project intended to create a “21st century version of Port Sunlight Village”, the Victorian model village in Merseyside created by soap manufacturer Lever Brothers for its workers in the 1880s, according to SOG.

Lever Brothers’ founder was British industrialist Lord Leverhulme, who responded to appalling living conditions for workers at the time by creating a healthy environment in which they could, live work, and relax.

SOG’s owner, business tycoon John Lewis MBE, is the sole landowner of the ICI site, which now houses a business and science park, The Heath Business and Technical Park, which is home to around 120 businesses. Under the plans, the park would be adapted to incorporate a major mixed-use scheme comprising employment, housing, leisure, and community assets.

The development would aspire to be net zero carbon, with a “groundbreaking” ‘Field of the Future’ vertical farm at its heart, powered by hydrogen and producing healthy, net zero food for the local community.

The 545 homes would all be net zero carbon and include 59 senior living and extra care apartments, under the plans. There would be ancillary commercial uses including a hotel and leisure facilities, as well as 20,000 sq ft of retail and the park’s existing office and research space.

The project has been in the pipeline since 2020, when SOG sponsored RIBA’s Vision for Future Living competition challenging architects, designers, planners, and forward thinkers to create a “sustainable, futuristic environment, powered by renewable energy, where people can live, work and play”. The aim was to generate conceptual ideas that could be incorporated into the emerging masterplan for Heath Park.

Momentum slowed during the Covid-19 pandemic, but in March this year, SOG relaunched its hunt for investment into the project. Heath Park has since triggered interest from investment organisations across the world, including Japan, China, the US, France, Germany, the UAE, and the UK, with funding talks ongoing, SOG said.

Heath Park CGI Oct p Paul Smith Associates

The scheme would adapt and incorporate the existing Heath Business and Technical Park at the site. Credit: via Paul Smith Associates

Heath Park has repeatedly been described as a ‘beacon [trailblazing] project’ by the Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram and is backed by the UK Government. It is one of 35 ethical projects (two from the North-West and Wales) that feature in the Department for International Trade’s 2022 Global Investment Atlas, which aims to attract global investors.

SOG’s owner and managing director John Lewis said: “We now have an extraordinary and visionary scheme to meet the challenges of climate change, which addresses the predicted trends for future living including employment, housing, leisure, community, transport, and energy consumption.

“Our masterplan has taken more than three years of meticulous research by SOG’s dedicated team of expert consultants, who have worked with leading academics from Lancaster and Liverpool Universities, to produce an exceptional application to put before the planners.”

He added: “Heath Park is intended to be a vibrant new centre with accessible services including shops, restaurants, bars, leisure, arts, and medical facilities that will be complemented by parkland and wooded areas for relaxation and recreation.

“We’re particularly excited by the vertical farming element of our plans where our ‘Field of the Future’ model will see a world-leading Vertical Farm at the heart of the community. This will be powered by hydrogen from the HyNet hydrogen pipeline network [established at nearby Ellesmere Port] , and for the first time realise the aim of producing Net Zero food.

“This is a genuinely pioneering vertical farming model which evolved from a world-first pilot study undertaken at The Heath by leading academics and industry experts. It promises to revolutionise existing vertical farming technology with a model that can be replicated globally.”

Halton MP Derek Twigg said the scheme was “really important in terms of the future of Runcorn”.

The planning application has yet to be validated by Halton Council.

The project team comprises:

  • Client-side architect: Terry Rogan, Cheshire
  • Masterplanner: EcoResponsive Environments, London
  • Transport consultant: DTPC, Lancashire
  • Landscape and ecology: Amenity Tree, Cheshire
  • Ground investigation: LK Group, Greater Manchester
  • Vertical farming: Farm Urban, Liverpool
  • Social and economic value consultant: Greengage, London
  • Real estate consultant: Coverwood, Surrey
Heath Park Aerial View Port Sunlight p Paul Smith Associates

Aerial view of the Heath Park proposals. Credit: via Paul Smith Associates

Your Comments

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“Beacon Project” is not an official Liverpool City Region designation. Unless the developer can point to an adopted document that uses such terminology, it is marketing bumph and misleading.

By BeConArtist

    Thank you for your comment – we are checking this out with the LCR combined authority and the developer and will make any necessary amends/clarifications when we receive more info from them.

    By Sarah Townsend

    We have now heard back from the developer and LCR and ‘Beacon Project’ is a phrase metro mayor Steve Rotheram has used several times in the past few years to describe Heath Park. It is not, however, an official designation or part of an ongoing programme, and there are no other ‘beacon projects’ as yet. We have amended the sentence accordingly. Thank you for flagging ths!

    By Sarah Townsend

A very interesting proposal and somewhat along the lines of Poundbury in Dorset, also it`s been declared a ” beacon” project by the Liverpool City Region, hoping therefore that Steve Rotheram takes note of the housing designs as he has said previously he wants raised standards in design and quality as a new model for the region.

By Anonymous

Interesting to see what the HSE has to say about this given that the site is within the inner ring of a consultation zone which has already blighted allocated development sites in the adopted Halton Plan.


no thought for local people and effect on house prices another John Lewis madcap scheme.

By Anonymous

what will happen about the chemicals that were buried years ago ?
a lot of properties in that area were knocked down approximately 20 years ago or has this now been forgotten about ?

By Anonymous

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