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The Northern Powerhouse concept continues to exercise public and public sector thinking over the what, where and how. Yet the findings of a raft of published reports confirm that Warrington continues to deliver on its reputation as a genuine northern powerhouse of economic prosperity.
The 2016 Centre for Cities report ranks Warrington in its’ top ten locations best placed to drive national economic growth. The magnitude of this ranking is underlined by Warrington being the only location outside the south of England to feature in the top ten.
Centre for Cities identify Warrington as the sixth most successful location for both its level of employment and private sector job creation. And Warrington is one of fourteen UK locations (and one of only three in the North) already achieving a ‘high wage, low welfare’ economy – a vision set out by the Chancellor in the Summer Budget.
Further evidence of its powerhouse status was the increase of almost nine percent, during 2015, in the town’s business stock – now 7,340 businesses. According to Start-Up Britain, the daily tracker that counts new business registrations, Warrington moved up from 28th to 22nd in terms of UK locations’ performance – the third highest ranked northern location. And nationally, in terms of start-ups per 1,000 population, Warrington ranked tenth. With a rate of 24.4 start-ups per 1,000 population, Warrington outperformed all other northern locations.
JLL’s ‘The New Geography for Office Demand – Where Next in the UK’ report, published during 2015, highlights Warrington as one of the ten future potential growth centres. The report predicts Warrington will see the second-highest employment growth in the UK, in the office sector, over the next five years, largely due to the strength of, and further investment in, its nuclear industry cluster. The report declares Warrington to be fifth highest in the 37 listed UK locations, in terms of economic growth, with its credence as a northern powerhouse underscored by it being the only northern location placed in the top 20.
The report also identifies Warrington as being expected to have a stronger than average economic performance over the next five years, and singles out the town as the top ‘Potential Performer’ in the North of England office market. Warrington’s close proximity to Manchester and Liverpool and the area’s robust employment growth and growth of occupiers – in particular within the nuclear and technology sector – contribute to this strong economic future.
In his Autumn Statement Chancellor George Osborne announced Birchwood will be given ‘Enterprise Zone’ status, as part of a new Cheshire Science Corridor that joins the Cheshire and Warrington sub-region’s nationally and internationally significant research facilities and the nuclear cluster at Birchwood. And in connection with the latter, 2015 saw Amec Foster Wheeler announcing they have been selected to lead a £2 million project to establish a new nuclear research centre in Birchwood. With grant support from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the company will spearhead efforts to launch a high-temperature facility for conducting tests on materials used in nuclear reactors. The centre will be home to a research programme based on recommendations made by the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board.
2015 also saw further evidence that Warrington’s economic powerhouse reputation is founded on across the board activity. Firstly, it was named a UK top ten town for small and medium digital, creative and professional services, in a separate Centre for Cities report. Secondly, at Omega – the largest mixed-use development site in the North West – a £23 million forward funding arrangement was agreed as part of a deal with French car parts manufacturer Plastic Omnium. And Hermes Parcelnet purchased further land to enable the business to double the number of parcels it can handle on site. Also, a £30 million deal was concluded with London Metric Property for a speculative 33,000 sqm (356,000 sqft) logistics warehouse. Omega’s owners, Miller Developments and KUC Properties also submitted a planning application for 1,100 homes on Omega South.
During 2015, Warrington Borough Council unveiled a revised and enhanced masterplan for its flagship Time Square Regeneration Project. The upscaled project is significantly larger than that previously announced, and now includes a 2,000 seat Cineworld cinema that will sit at the core of the £107 million development. This will be accompanied by a new market hall, a 1,200 space multi storey car park, Council offices, restaurants and a new public square.
Phase 1 of the Stadium Quarter project, a £190 million regeneration scheme revitalising a 36 ha site to the north of the town centre, was also completed at the end of 2015. This involved completion of a business incubator facility, The Base. Phase 2, which includes construction of a £10million University Technical College by Manchester Metropolitan University, commenced in 2016 with opening scheduled for September intake.
The Professional Services sector is a particular strength of Warrington’s economy. 2015 saw an innovative initiative within this sector, with the opening of an accountancy academy at Centre Park. This is the product of a partnership between national education and training specialist, Learning Curve Group and Warrington-headquartered professional services company, Optionis. The Accounting Apprenticeship Academy is based within Optionis’ Centre Park offices. Thirty students, aged between 16 and 18 years old, have begun the one year apprenticeship which combines academic teaching with work experience and mentoring at Optionis.
Warrington’s growth and continued success has been the consequence of commitments by both the private and public sectors. As further evidence of this, in August 2015, Warrington Borough Council became the first UK local authority outside London to enter the bond market for more than ten years. The Council issued a £150m bond deal of which £50m has been sold to a UK insurance company. The bond was structured and placed by TradeRisks, a corporate finance firm specialising in social infrastructure funding. The Borough Council will use the bond to fund its capital programme, including asset and infrastructure costs within the borough, and in particular the new town centre Time Square development.