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Science Corridor development gathering pace

By Chris Austin

It’s one thing to throw around impressive numbers and come up with catchy branding campaigns which grab attention. It’s quite another, though, to prove you can live up to all the hype.

The Cheshire Science Corridor has certainly set the bar high with a strong marketing launch and bold job-creation targets – but it’s already starting to deliver on some of those promises.

The crescent-shaped zone covers more than 100 hectares and links nationally and internationally renowned names like Urenco, Sellafield Ltd, Rolls Royce, Essar, AstraZeneca and Waters Corporation. 

It’s described as the most internationally significant cluster of commercial science and technology assets north of Oxford, with the potential to attract up to 500 companies, bringing in some 20,000 jobs.

The project has only been up and running for two years, and has its sights set on more than two decades of strategic growth, but even in its first year it created 330 new jobs, brought in 20 new businesses and attracted over £1 million of private sector investment.

There’s a wide-ranging portfolio of affordable development sites and world class laboratories on offer – concentrating on many areas of Cheshire which have seen significant job losses in the recent past, like the former home of Shell's main UK research and development centre at Ellesmere Port which closed in 2012 with the loss of 280 jobs.

The idea of the corridor is to foster a community of collaboration and synergy between like-minded businesses, institutions and research establishments in areas such as environmental sciences, scientific analysis and research, energy and nuclear engineering, astronomy, astrophysics and life sciences.

Word is spreading far and wide. Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership’s promoted the corridor at the world’s premier investment conference, Marche International de Professonels d’Immobilier (MIPIM) on the French Riviera.

It showcased the strengths and investment opportunities of the Science Corridor, which stretches from sites in Ellesmere Port and Thornton Science Park, part of the University of Chester and a rapidly developing centre for R&D in energy technologies, to Birchwood Park in Warrington where most of the UK’s nuclear engineering is done, to Alderley Park in Cheshire East, a major centre for life sciences.

The zone also includes the internationally recognised Jodrell Bank and the newly launched Protos, Peel Environmental’s £170 million energy and innovation hub next to Thornton Science Park.

Cheshire and Warrington LEP chief executive Philip Cox led a panel discussion at MIPIM, focused on the significance of science and innovation in the county.

He said: “Cheshire’s Science Corridor is home to world class assets, and our aim is to put the area on the map, which together with Liverpool Knowledge Quarter and the Oxford Road Corridor in Manchester could form a new Golden Triangle for North.

“The Cheshire and Warrington economy continues to go from strength to strength – we have the second highest income per head of any sub-region in England outside London – making us one of the country’s most successful economies.

“The Cheshire Science Corridor is one of our most exciting and significant growth propositions, and this event was a valuable opportunity to demonstrate to an international audience the scale of opportunity that we have to offer.

“Science is one of Cheshire and Warrington’s key strengths and its growth will play a key role in our ambitions to deliver a £50 billion economy for the area by 2040. 

Henry Brooks, executive director of the Tatton Estate said: “The enterprise zone status recognises the fantastic range of existing employment assets the Cheshire Science Corridor offers.

“New supporting development will help the UK and the Northern Powerhouse capture inward investment, nurture our home grown, scientists of the next decade and take advantage of the incredible quality of life we can offer the science sectors.”

It was the award of Enterprise Zone status in October 2015 which triggered the creation of the Cheshire Science Corridor, stretching from Urenco at Capenhurst in the west, through to AstraZeneca at Hurdsfield in the east and south down to Jodrell Bank.

It is led by Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership in partnership with the three local authorities of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire East Council and Warrington Borough Council.

There is significant help with business rates on offer to high growth companies in the life sciences sector at Alderley Park, the leading life science facility in the North of England and the largest R&D facility of its kind in the UK.

The corridor team also promotes the development of the nuclear cluster at Birchwood through infrastructure and other improvements, and encourages new investors to benefit from enhanced capital allowances in Ellesmere Port and at Thornton Science Park.

Benefits of the zone include:

Cheshire East Council has just been awarded £1.6 million to boost greener transport and connectivity in the borough – improving connections between key economic development sites in the science corridor.

The Local Growth Fund money, from Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, earmarks £1.1 million for one sustainable transport scheme covering north west Crewe and £500,000 for another in Wilmslow.

The council has hailed the funding for these ‘exciting’ schemes – the North West Crewe Cycling and Walking Link and the Wilmslow Strategic Cycle and Walking Route – as ‘fantastic news’ for the borough

It is the biggest tranche of funding for such projects that the council has received in recent years and will contribute to achieving the vision set out in the council’s cycling strategy for ‘more people to cycle safely, more often and with confidence for everyday and leisure journeys’.

The North West Crewe Cycling and Walking Link will deliver a strategic cycling and walking route into the heart of the north west Crewe development area, providing connectivity from Crewe and Nantwich to 1,600 new jobs and 1,750 new homes, the Bentley strategic employment site (which currently employs 4,500 staff), Leighton Hospital and existing residential areas. 

The project includes extending the Connect2 shared pedestrian/cycle pathway from the A530/A532 roundabout northwards along the A530. The route links into the Bentley site and runs parallel to the alignment of the Leighton Spine Road and link road. It ends by linking to Leighton Hospital and providing key routes into existing residential areas in north west Crewe.

The Wilmslow Strategic Cycle and Walking Route will deliver a high-quality strategic cycling and walking link through Wilmslow to ‘plug’ existing gaps. It will improve access from residential areas to employment sites including Alderley Park, Waters and the Manchester Airport Enterprise Zone. 

Councillor Don Stockton, Cheshire East Council Cabinet member for environment, said: “This is fantastic news. This £1.6 million Local Growth Fund allocation will help the council continue to deliver more-sustainable transport solutions and facilities to help deliver jobs, growth and healthier communities.

“Crucially, these link schemes will improve access and connectivity to thousands of homes and help in the delivery of more than 3,000 new jobs at key employment sites identified in the Cheshire East Local Plan – as well as providing key, ‘greener’ infrastructure to enhance people’s lives.

“Work will be conducted over the coming year to plan and design these schemes for both Wilmslow and Crewe, which will include consultation with stakeholders and the local communities to help shape and inform the projects.”

The two cycle and walking schemes are due to be completed by spring 2021. These create a model that the council aspires to replicate across the borough, particularly as work continues on the local transport plan.

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