Thornton seeks developer for £100m expansion

The University of Chester has launched the search for a development partner to deliver the £100m next phase of Thornton Science Park.

The university, alongside the Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, is set to open the contract for bids in November.

Formerly the site of the Shell Technology, Exploration & Research Centre, the 61.5-acre park is within the Cheshire Science Corridor and has Enterprise Zone status.

Since taking ownership of the site in 2014, the university has been planning to attract external investment into the project and expand the commercial floorspace, potentially adding 400,000 sq ft targeted at the energy and environmental industries, automotive and advanced manufacturing.

The development partner would also be responsible for long-term estate management.

A prior information notice regarding the project stated the university was aiming to create “an internationally significant” science park. Cushman & Wakefield is advising the university.

Development at the park has been subject to planning controversy in recent years, after Cheshire West & Chester Council rejected a retrospective planning application regarding the university’s already-built science and engineering campus. The refusal was based on advice from the Health & Safety Executive, which argued there was a risk to students using the campus due to its proximity to the nearby oil refinery. A planning appeal is ongoing.

Other businesses and start-ups on the park are unaffected by the council’s planning decision.

Regarding the next phase of development, Professor Tim Wheeler, vice-chancellor at the University of Chester said: “The University’s medium-term goal in acquiring such a distinctive and strategically important site as Thornton Science Park has been to seek further investment to expand the activities there, aligning perfectly with the aspirations for the region and beyond.

“Five years after the acquisition, and at the current phase in the site’s development, the time is now right to explore this and we look forward to the opportunity of working with a partner to realise the ambition and plans for Thornton as a strategic centre of academic and industrial excellence.”

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