Feedback and FAQ's

Thank you for taking the time to visit our Frequently Asked Questions section. Halton BC have shared with SOG not only responses to the “Outline” Application for Heath Park received from Statutory Consultees but also concerns raised by the public. The following answers we provide to FAQs are intended to clarify Planning-related issues and also to clear misunderstandings of what Heath Park is and why it is necessary.

 

If, after reading through these FAQs, you still have unanswered questions please use the form provided in the CONTACT section of this website.

SOG Ltd have applied for Outline Planning Permission to develop part of the land on Heath Road South known as “The Horses Field” and to further redevelop The Heath Business & Technical Park, and this project is known as Heath Park.

To start with, it may be useful to provide an explanation of what the differences between “Outline” and “Full” Applications are.

Outline planning and full planning are 2 separate stages in the process of obtaining planning permission for a development project.

Outline planning applications are used to gain an understanding as to whether the nature of a development is acceptable, this can help ensure viability up front. Specific details known as reserved matters can then be confirmed later.

Outline planning permission involves seeking approval for the general principles of a development, such as the use of the land, the maximum size of the buildings and the access points.
Detailed aspects of the proposal such as the design and specific layout are not actually considered at this stage.

Full planning permission, on the other hand involves submitting detailed plans and designs for the development, including all relevant information such as building materials, landscaping and access. This stage requires a more comprehensive assessment of the proposed development.

In summary outline planning sets the general parameters of a development while full planning, involves detailed plans and design for the project.

The Heath Business &Technical Park – what is it today?

Formerly the chemical headquarters of ICI and a vital employment centre for Runcorn. The Heath Business and Technical Park has been an acclaimed, successful venture since its acquisition from ICI by SOG ltd in March 2000. As well as providing a valued community
resource, it supports in the region of 1,200 jobs over a wide variety of sectors, mainly in science and technology where it can offer facilities unique to the North-West.

Why the need to redevelop The Heath Business Park and What is Heath Park?

The Heath Technical and Business Centre faces challenges, including aging infrastructure, energy inefficiency,
and funding issues. As a privately-funded entity competing with public counterparts, there is a need to future-proof the employment and community
resource for future generations. “Heath Park” envisions a Port Sunlight-inspired space, addressing the needs of people and the environment.
An international competition by the Royal Institute of British Architects attracted 50+ global submissions. The winning design, overseen by academics
from Liverpool and Lancaster Universities, prioritises resilience and meets contemporary challenges. Rigorous commercial viability assessment which confirmed the need for inclusion of the North Site aims to attract
investor/developers. Recognised at local and national levels, Heath Park is a Liverpool City Region Beacon project, featured in the UK’s Global Investment Atlas and has been awarded the 2022 Pineapple Award and 2023 Urban Design Group Award.
The Vision has gained widespread support and acclaim.

Central to the reinvention of Heath Park is the introduction of up to 545 new homes, marking a significant
stride towards transforming it into a vibrant urban village. This initiative presents a singular opportunity to infuse renewed vitality, viability, and
sustainability into the application site, safeguarding the enduring prosperity of Heath Park for generations to come.

SOG Group – Who are they?

SOG Group are the owners and operators of The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, SOG was formed from the Site Operations Group of ICI. John Lewis MBE was a founder member of SOG in 1999 along with former ICI managers.  John had worked on the site as a contractor since 1977. He ultimately became the major shareholder in SOG in 2010.  For more than 20 years John has been the
driving force to secure The Heath Business and Technical Park as a key employment and community asset for the Borough and has been the inspirational figure behind the vision to create Heath Park. The Heath Business and Technical Park is currently home to 120 individual businesses that between them support the employment of around 1200 people. It has also opened facilities on site for use by the local community. SOG also offer specialist technical support and services to the resident businesses many of whom are at the very cutting edge of scientific R&D, providing high-quality employment in Runcorn.

SOG’s experience in transforming the site into a successful multi-tenancy site has since helped international companies looking to achieve a similar positive outcome to site closures.

Heath Road South land (North Site) – who owns this land?

The land North of Heath Road South is owned by the SOG Pension Fund and maintained by SOG Ltd. A third of the land is rented for equine grazing which is not affected by the proposals.

Heath Park planning application – who has applied and for what?

SOG has applied for Outline Planning Permission (with all matters reserved for consideration in future “reserved matters” planning applications) at the Heath Business and Technical Park and for the land north of Heath Road South. The proposals apply for the agreement on the principle of the following:

–Up to 545 residential units including dwellinghouses (use class C3) and senior living and extra care (use class C2) with ancillary car and cycle parking;
–Ancillary floorspace for flexible E use classes (including office, conference centre, retail, health provision, leisure [including food and beverage]), F2 use classes (meeting places for the local community and indoor pool), and a hotel (use class C1);
– Sui generis uses including STEAM spaces, a drinking establishment, and a vertical farm;
–Principle of Highways access and servicing arrangements; and
–Infrastructure provision, inclusive of a new living machine (emerging wastewater treatment technology), and all other associated works including re-configuration of existing buildings on site, landscaping, public realm, and biodiversity improvements.

Current Status of SOG’s Outline Planning Application (April 2024)

  • The original application was made 14th October 2022
  • Following responses from consultees and HBC a revised application was submitted on the 30th November 2023. Following further requests for updated comments from statutory consultees since then, and in response to comments and objections from the public, amendments have been made to the scheme (March 2024) which confirm the strength of the expected social, environmental and economic benefits.
  • Halton BC now have all the information needed to determine the application.

Have the requirements for an Outline Application been met?

SOG have commissioned international Planning Consultants WSP to manage the collation of the required elements necessary for the application. These elements included assessments of the impact on;

·      The design process

·      Transport

·      Trees, Landscape, Greenspace

·      Ecology (birds, bats, badgers, GCNs, etc. and biodiversity)

·      Health, Wellbeing, Air Quality and Noise

·      Nearby retail and the Town Centre

·      Water use and discharge

·      Energy use

·      Risks from nearby industry and ground contamination

·      Community uses and involvement

Through consultation with statutory bodies and officers at Halton BC, the application has been amended to address concerns and to identify where further work will be necessary in the future detail approval process for reserved matters.

Has the local community been informed and consulted?

As part of any planning process whether that be Outline or Full Planning Permission a Consultation Period is part of th e process, this gives the local community the opportunity to thoroughly investigate the scheme and raise support or concerns.

Consultation: Planning Consultation is the way in which members of the public are involved in the planning process. When planning applications are submitted there is a system in place which ensures that proposals are publicised in order to invite comments from the local community. Publication is by site notices, local press and notifications to local representatives and directly affected neighbours. Comments can be submitted by direct contact with the Planning Authority or through local representatives.

The Heath Park Project was launched in 2019 but groundwork for the future of The Heath was begun in 2009 with Halton BC’s paper “The Heath: 2030 and Beyond”.

This paper mooted the introduction of housing, a hotel and other community facilities onto the site to facilitate upgrading of infrastructure and buildings in order to ensure employment opportunity.

A number of outline applications were submitted to test the viability of these ideas over the ensuing years including a proposal for a Supplementary Planning Document which would provide the ground rules for future development. A formal public consultation exercise was carried out for this in late 2013 which included leafletting of the surrounding area, advertising and a Q+A surgery.

SOG received two responses.

Outline applications for a hotel on the north site and a retail unit on the main site were approved in 2016 and a proposal for a retirement village withdrawn due to public objections which were acknowledged.

Since its inception, the development of the Heath Park Project between 2019 and 2023 has been featured regularly in the local and regional press. A Pre-application enquiry was made to Halton BC Planning in 2021 and this provided an acceptance in principle of the Project.

As part of SOG’s outreach to the local community a comprehensive interactive website providing full details of the application went online in October 2022. This followed on from the Heathlive website which was launched during the pandemic in order to keep business and community in touch. Local Councillors requested a meeting with SOG following submission of the outline planning application which resulted in the inclusion of the FAQ section on the Heath Park website. The feedback received over a period of time helped to develop this FAQ section which is continually updated (latest update April 2024). 

Following amendments to the application in November 2023, a second version of the website was launched which included amendments made following feedback from Consultees and objections received relating to Outline Planning issues. This latest update addresses comments made since then.

SOG continue to listen and give consideration to comments where they do not conflict with the Vision’s aspirations and its viability. Where they do, and if they raise a planning issue, we hope our answers help. It should be noted that the Heath Park Vision document sees the local community and businesses having a say, once the outline principles have been approved, in the detail of how a modern Port Sunlight can work for all.

Through the consultation process SOG Ltd have received many suggestions that have been well presented from both local residents and consultees which helped SOG to review various aspects of the scheme. 

Various changes have now been incorporated into the scheme which are visible in the submitted application publicly viewable on the HBC Planning Portal.

How was the amount of development determined?

The scheme has an approach to social and environmental sustainability which proposes a sustainable balance between people and the environment. The amounts of development have therefore been determined such that positive environmental and social benefits are achieved. This approach has received global recognition having been included in the UK’s first Global Investment Atlas (promoted by the Department for International Trade) and has also resulted in receiving the prestigious Pineapple Award for Future Place (sponsored by the Design Council).

Although the Project requires a fair return on investment, its main drivers are the creation of a living/working community with health and well-being at its core.

Should the Local Planning Authority grant outline planning permission they will impose planning conditions and request the applicant enters into a legal agreement that will set the parameters for future “reserved matters” planning applications with the objective of safeguarding the site from over-development so that the project progresses in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Employment – will jobs be lost because of this development?

  • No jobs will be lost because of this development, it will enhance employment opportunities for the area.
  • The development represents private sector investment in terms of construction costs delivering over 709 gross person years of construction employment. This will have a significant effect in terms of new jobs creation and other businesses and services that are employed through the construction of the proposed development and the associated supply chain.
  • Total of 3,186 new employment opportunities through direct/ indirect employment.
  • Total of 2,202 FTE jobs created within the development, which assumes 1,242 full time employees associated with the existing retained commercial floorspace and an additional 960 FTE created through the redevelopment proposals.
  • Total 867 FTE jobs in local economy of Halton.

Do the proposals comply with Planning Policies?

The site extends to 21.187 hectares and consists of two separate areas: the established Heath Business and Technical Park and a greenfield land parcel situated to the north-west. While physically divided by Heath Road South, both areas are designed eventually to operate as an interconnected scheme in order to achieve financial viability. The site allocations are shown in the DALP Policy map and comprise the following:

– The Heath Park Site is allocated as a ‘Primarily Employment Area’, under DALP Policy ED2.

– The north-west land parcel is designated as Greenspace (Natural & Semi-Natural) and is part of a Nature Improvement Area.

The proposals seek to reinstate Halton BC’s original intention to allocate the main site as mixed use, and the north west land as residential. These land allocations were resisted by the Inspector on HSE’s advice at the DALP Inquiry  but it has since been established that HSE’s data is 30 years out of date and that Heath Park is not at risk from a Chlorine release (See FAQ on Chemical Risk below).

This is the only area where the proposals conflict with the DALP. In all other respects, the proposals exceed National and Local Policy requirements.

Heath Business & Technical Park and Heath Road South land (North Site) – what is the land contamination status?

The land to the north of Heath Road South has been extensively surveyed over recent years and the results have been assessed by HBC who have stated that “The site is not listed as contaminated on the Part 2A register”

Timescale – when will the development commence?

Heath Park will be a phased development with an outline plan for some 6 Phases anticipated. The final phasing of development will be controlled by planning conditions and through future reserved matters applications. Completion is likely to be within 10 years of the approval of the final “reserved matters” planning application.

Traffic impact – how is this being considered?

Central to the design of the development is the aim of minimising vehicle traffic as far as possible. The Heath will be a modern vision of sustainability with the aim of attracting people to live, work and play in the same community, which will enable a high proportion of trips to be made by walking and cycling. This will minimise the impact on local roads.

While some people will choose to travel by car, the Heath will be designed so as to minimise the impact of vehicle traffic including: applying a measured approach to the level of car parking being provided, having multiple access points rather than a single access allowing the distribution of vehicles across the road network, and removing the ability to ‘rat-run’ through the centre of the development. The Planning Application is supported by both a detailed Transport Assessment and Framework Travel Plan, which in combination provide an assessment of the impact of the development on transport modes and a strategy to monitor future travel behaviour to promote sustainable choices.

We are continuing to work with the Highway Authority to ensure any transport impacts arising from the development will be appropriately mitigated through an appropriately designed Section 106 agreement.

Will additional housing have an impact on local schools, health services, emergency services etc ?

Exactly what measures might be needed to address any impact cannot be identified at this time. But, as part of the planning application process, a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA) has been undertaken to evaluate the potential effects of the Proposed Development on various aspects, including local schools, health services, and emergency services. This assessment meticulously examines the socio-economic and health profile of the surrounding area across different scales.

Furthermore, as an integral component of the HIA, a thorough desktop audit of healthcare facilities within a one-mile radius of the site has been carried out. This audit encompasses GP surgeries, dental practices, pharmacies, and hospitals. The findings indicate that the Proposed Development is anticipated to yield an overall positive impact on the health and well-being of both the local population and future residents at the site.

For detailed insights into the outcomes of the Health Impact Assessment and its implications for local infrastructure and services, please refer to the Health Impact Assessment submitted in support of the outline planning application. Note that work will continue with the Local Planning Authority to ensure any impacts on social infrastructure subsequently identified will be appropriately addressed.

Loss of green space ?

There is a nett loss of greenspace from the overall scheme of 1.33 Ha (3.28 Acres) of the overall development of 55 Acres.

The proposed residential development on the north west development parcels will result in a loss of 3.12 hectares of designated greenspace (comprising Natural and Semi-Natural typology/Nature Improvement Area) but overall, due to new greenspace being introduced on the main site, the net loss will be 1.33 Ha. This net loss is to be compensated by the on-site provision of an additional 0.9 Ha of new and enhanced publicly accessible Natural and Semi-Natural greenspace. The additional new greenspace has been included (as illustrated by the introductory video) such that provision exceeds the requirements outlined in part 4.b. of the Development Allocation Local Plan (DALP) policy HE4, and ensuring the realization of habitat creation and management benefits as identified in DALP policy HE1.

It should be noted that grassed areas of the main site where buildings have been demolished over the last 10 years must be counted as existing greenspace. If they had been left as hard areas, the existing greenspace total would have been reduced by approx 1.0 Ha, i.e. a resulting net gain from the Project of 0.43 Ha.

Furthermore, the integration of a publicly accessible, high-quality network of green infrastructure as an integral component of the reimagined Heath Park has been purposefully designed to address the provisions of part 1. of DALP policy HE4, with benefits serving both the new residents of Heath Park and the existing surrounding community, fostering a sense of cohesion and well-being for all. The combined development therefore aims to maximize the connectivity of green spaces on-site with existing public right-of-way paths, long-distance footpaths, and national cycle routes, creating a cohesive network for residents and the broader community. See planning application drawing ATC.22.1229.122.r2 (Access & Connectivity) and figures 6.1, 6.3, 6.4, and 6.5 of the Planning Statement (January 2024).

Note that the area currently used for equine grazing (let at a peppercorn rent to a local farm business) will not be affected, nor will it affect the east-west footpath across the site.

What is the environmental impact and how is this being assessed ?

Heath Park’s impact on the environment has been one of the more important drivers (along with health and well-being) behind the scheme. An independent study by Liverpool John Moores University shows improvements across the board to the environment (eg. Climate regulation, noise, pollution and air quality).

Extensive collaboration between the applicant and the Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service (MEAS) has been pivotal in developing a robust landscaping and greenspace masterplan strategy, aimed at achieving Biodiversity Gains. The Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Assessment, conducted by Amenity Tree Ltd, demonstrates significant achievements, with a remarkable +29.26% increase in habitat units under the BNG metric 3.1 and a +24.28% increase under the 4.0 metric. This has been more recently updated as a result of additional greenspace and tree mitigation measures to show an increased net gain in biodiversity of +31.76%. These findings far exceed both local and national planning policy requirements regarding Biodiversity Net Gain. The Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Assessment also includes an extensive series of habitat creation and habitat management method statements, and the applicant (or their accredited agent) has the responsibility to ensure a 30 year habitat creation, management, and monitoring plan is in place to achieve and deliver biodiversity net gain. Both of these measures can be the subject of a planning condition to ensure their implementation through future Reserved Matters applications.

The greenspace masterplan includes a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing biodiversity, such as hedgerow restoration, increased planting along the development’s perimeters, and the establishment of additional green infrastructure and linkages within the site. Native tree and shrub planting along site boundaries serve to enhance habitat connectivity, fostering a more cohesive and sustainable ecological landscape.

Furthermore, the redevelopment of previously developed land by the Proposed Development (a significant portion of the main site is classified as brownfield) reduces pressure on greenfield sites, supporting sustainable land use practices, and helping to preserve valuable green belt areas. This approach aligns with broader environmental conservation objectives while promoting responsible urban development principles.

What sort of housing is proposed?

Given that the proposed housing development is proposed as outline, the mix and type of affordable housing that could be provided is not yet defined. This will be the subject of further discussions with the LPA and approval in future “reserved matters” planning applications. In order to optimise the delivery of affordable housing and mixed communities, the applicant will seek (where viable) to provide a sustainable mix of rental and intermediate homes in line with strategy objectives of the DALP and long terms sustainability of the proposed development.

What is a vertical farm?

It is a sustainable way of growing food close to where it is consumed with vertical farms at the moment growing mainly leafy green crops such as lettuce, spinach and herbs. The produce is grown in layers stacked one on top of the other in a closely controlled environment. The range of plants that can be grown is expanding all the time; strawberries, blueberries and wheat are among some of the crops that are currently being trialled.

  • Its advantages are that it uses 90% less water than traditional soil-based methods, it does not require the use of pesticides, and can be positioned close to local populations minimising the need for transport (and the energy use, pollution, and loss of freshness that follows). Vertical Farms can also reduce the need for intensive conventional farming allowing agricultural land to recover its natural role as a habitat for wildlife. This was highlighted by David Attenborough in his recent series A Life On Our Planet 

We have also commissioned a study of the social benefit a Vertical Farm could bring. Our “Field of the Future”, a circa 5,000 sqm. building, will result in a contribution of some £14M/year to local health, education and climate improvement.

  • The main challenge is the considerable energy needed to power lighting and maintain suitable temperature and humidity. The Heath Park “Field of the Future” will be powered by clean energy by using hydrogen from the forthcoming HyNet hydrogen pipeline network. SOG, in conjunction with The University of Liverpool, carried out a controlled experiment at The Heath which shows that food can be grown with hydrogen power in a Carbon negative way: i.e. We can grow food AND reduce carbon dioxide at the same time
  • We anticipate somewhere in the region of 50 skilled, green jobs being created by our “Field of the Future”. It will provide employment opportunities beyond HeathPark. The supply chain supporting our “Farm of the Future” replicable model, will contribute to replacing local declining heavy chemical industries.
  • As food grown is intended for the local population, we anticipate service traffic to mainly be cargo bicycles and zero emissions electronic vans.

How has the approach to the design of Heath Park accommodated the local community and any associated social needs ?

Throughout the development cycle our bespoke process “The Fusion Process”  is referenced.

The Fusion Process is a five-stage, systematic and consistent approach to designing and delivering real estate developed by SOG Ltd that aims to combine multi-disciplinary team’s skills and knowledge to deliver cohesive, creative solutions by considering the site as part of a wider economic, social and environmental system, with a focus on vision and values throughout the development process.

The full document is linked here: FUSION WEBLINK

  1. Heath Park is about people.
  2. Facilities currently available to the community will be enhanced by additional new ones helping to support our aim of improving health and well-being in Runcorn.
  3. To understand and manage  social issues we have used the principles of  ‘Well-being’  in dealing with the root causes of many of today’s social problems. Furthermore, ‘Well-being’ encompasses a much broader range of topics and benefits which is why the expertise of Liverpool and Lancaster Universities has been integral in the design of our vision for a sustainable living and working community.
  4. The resulting proposals, health-checked by specialist assessors and both universities, project significant benefits to The Heath and surrounding areas. These include:

·      The aim to reduce the need for private cars by promoting walking and cycling. Increasing the accessibility to green space and the use of
communal transport will reduce air pollution and improve general health, saving nearly 4 lives per year and also reducing the burden on (and the cost to) the NHS from general health issues.

·      The intended use of hydrogen as an energy source and a Vertical Farm providing the freshest local source of food will contribute even
more to our ‘well-being’ aspirations.

·      The mix of generations and social groups, along with Facilities and Social Site Management, is intended to promote and maintain
pride and care of place. This has a number of benefits including reducing loneliness and crime, but significantly stabilises the community by providing the opportunity for an existing ageing population to stay in the area while downsizing to more manageable accommodation, thus releasing larger homes to their younger families.

·      Alongside the new science-related jobs that will be created as a direct result of the re-vitalisation of the existing Business and Technical Park, there will be lots of opportunities for smaller local businesses, spin-out companies, and charities. These organisations can develop existing or new skills in Arts, Crafts and Recycling/Repurposing as part of the Heath Park ethos to offer local people a chance to influence how the location will look and feel.

What is the planned site layout ?

It is important to note that the illustrative masterplan submitted in support of the application is intended solely for illustrative purposes. The proposed quantum of development outlined therein serves as an indication of the maximum capacity for both residential and non-residential uses that can be accommodated on the site. Whilst this is the case, the illustrative masterplan seeks to establish clear principles of design and layout for future “reserved matters” planning applications.

  • Starting with the wider green infrastructure, it was established early on that opportunity existed to connect Runcorn Hill and the agricultural land
    adjoining it to the golf course to the south-east of the site by creating an ecology corridor along the line of the existing overhead power lines.
    This corridor would be reinforced by existing and new trees and landscape along the way, and extend through a hierarchy of spaces into courtyards within the built-up areas.
  • Analysis of the topography of the site suggested opportunities for a water strategy which maximised the use and visibility of the water system, both collections, use and re-use, discharging to a new wetlands on the east edge of the site.
  • The existing central boulevard forms a useful spine, in spatial terms, to the existing built-form which will be retained and also connects to the
    surrounding road network at both ends. To prevent the site being used as a shortcut between Heath Road South and the Southern Expressway the boulevard will be blocked to through traffic. The internal street system has been developed to largely separate working and living areas and
    creating a “filtered permeability” using new access points from Heath Road South.
  • The proposed layout concentrates the “working” elements of the scheme along the central boulevard with residential uses to the east and west having closer connections to green space. Leisure and retail use to service the living and working community are located to the north around a new “high street” off Heath Road South which terminates in a new public plaza at the north end of the boulevard

How will Heath Park Look ?

Whilst the specific details of the scale of built form across the proposed development is a “reserved matter”, drawing 19-02 app 112 E (scale parameter) sets a maximum set of storey heights that will govern the scale permitted through future “reserved matters” planning applications. The general principle of scale across the proposed development is mainly determined by the decision to re-use existing built form as much as possible in order to reduce the carbon cost of the scheme. The existing 60s buildings are well proportioned and sit entirely on the lower plateau of the site. Although they are 3-storey buildings with roof-top plantrooms, their spacing and disposition allow daylight into generous courtyard spaces. None of the newly planned additions (Vertical Farm) will exceed the height of the existing 3- storey buildings.

Could a chemical leak impact the Heath Park development ?

The Heath Park development is not at risk from chemical leaks at the Runcorn Chemical Site which is a Tier One COMAH Site. 

Chlorine is the only chemical produced at the site determined to be a risk to health in the event of leakage. SOG have employed internationally renowned specialists in the fields of CFD modelling and risk assessment to undertake a comprehensive and extensive study, using the latest technology and up-to-date data on chemicals production at Weston, which concluded that Heath Park is not at risk from a chlorine leak.

This report has been presented to and accepted by HBC and the same specialists have presented it to the UK Health & Safety Executive. Furthermore Heath Park fully complies with HBC Planning for Risk Policy which is an essential part of any planning application presented to HBC Planning Authority.