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Presentation Notes from Healthy City Conference

The Heath Business and Technical Park

SOG Group, owned by Merseyside businessman John Lewis MBE, are one of the UK’s top independent operators of business and science parks and are renowned site regeneration specialists. SOG own The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, Cheshire, which is home to over 120 individual businesses that between them support the employment of around 2,000 people.

What is this scheme?

Heath Park is not a conventional real estate development proposal. It is modelled on ‘Port Sunlight’, the Victorian village in Merseyside built by industrialist Viscount Leverhulme in the 1800s. Reacting to appalling living conditions at the time, Lord Leverhulme’s inspiring idea created houses and community facilities in a healthy environment for workers of his soap factory.

Taking its cue from Leverhulme’s Port Sunlight, Heath Park is a much broader consideration of how to adapt a 60-year-old regenerated / re-purposed corporate office/science campus into a holistic resilient system for future living, working and playing that can evolve over time whilst retaining the ethos of the key drivers established at the outset.

These key drivers, adhered to throughout the development of the scheme, and central to its future governance, were to protect an important employment asset, continue to be of value to the local community, and focus on health, well-being and the environment but most of all the people’s needs come first.

Having established the principles of Heath Park, another crucial factor in the design process was to ensure that we verified facts, and where hard facts weren’t to hand, we used best available knowledge from experts.

The design process has taken 3 years to date. We could bombard our audience with impressive soundbites on biodiversity net gain, social value, retrofit first, carbon neutral and so on. The point to note with Heath Park is that achievements in these fields are a by-product of our design process: not the primary end goals. The scheme we have put forward for planning is key to future society as, and this is the important point, it demonstrates that It IS POSSIBLE to have a commercially viable scheme that puts people and the environment first.

How it came about

A number of factors contributed to the “burning deck” that prompted the Heath Park idea. The buildings and infrastructure were approaching 60 years old, energy inefficient, and did not provide the workplace environment that business could expect in the future. SOG’s ongoing contribution to the local community in opening up the campus’ leisure facilities to the public was also a major consideration. These concerns provided the principles on which the Heath Park Fusion exercise was based.

The vision now presented for Heath Park evolved from a global competition, staged by RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects) and sponsored by SOG, which challenged architects, designers, planners and forward thinkers to create a sustainable futuristic environment, powered by renewable energy, where people can live, work and play.

It generated over 50 entries from across the world. The winning entry from Ecoresponsive Environments who used a complex systems approach in interpreting our brief forms the basis of the Heath Park masterplan. Our scheme was subsequently forensically examined. For more than three years, a team of experts appointed by SOG methodically researched and validated how the location can be regenerated in a realistic and commercially viable venture for ethical investors.

Predicted trends for future living including employment, housing, leisure, community, transport and energy consumption have been assessed in a feasibility study, carried out in conjunction with Lancaster and Liverpool Universities, to scrutinise the potential for the site in a data-driven process. Our scheme has already won several one major national design awards and is currently short-listed for another.

Where it sits and benefits it will bring

Our vision is to build on the success so far of the Heath Business and Technical Park by transforming the location to meet the challenges of the future by creating a vibrant Net Zero carbon environment of residential, commercial and retail space to complement the existing Park.

There’s also a ground-breaking Vertical Farm, powered by renewable energy, that is focal to a scheme that has superb ESG credentials and will appeal to global ethical investors.

Heath Park includes:

  • A mixed-use development with ultra-energy efficient housing, designed to maximise available space, in environments where people can gather, play and socialise in multi-functional streets.
  • Parkland and wooded areas for relaxation and recreation.
  • A vibrant new centre with accessible services including shops, restaurants, bars, leisure, arts and medical facilities.
  • A world-leading Vertical Farm totally powered by renewable energy that will grow carbon negative produce.
  • All built around an inclusive transport strategy, enabling people of all ages to be active and connected, whether or not they own a car…with safe walkways, cycle routes and easy access to public transport.

Recognition and support it has gained.

The result, we feel, is the creation of a dynamic regeneration vision.

Communicating the Heath Park vision has been a critical part of our process.

Engagement with a wide range of key stakeholders and interested parties ensures that investors will be buying into a ground-breaking project that has extensive support from Local, Regional and National Government.

Heath Park has been adopted as a ‘Beacon Project’ by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.

We’re also one of the UK’s top 35 Green infrastructure projects that has been, and continues to be, promoted in the UK Government’s Global Investment Atlas.

When will it all happen – Planning – Investment – Delivery

Our planning application is scheduled for determination early in 2024. We have engaged with the Director of Planning at Halton Borough Council and his planning associates every step of the way to ensure our scheme, as envisaged, meets the local authority’s criteria and is a central element of Halton’s own vision and strategy for the Borough. We have already secured pre-application support from the Council.

Meanwhile, we have been working behind the scenes to identify appropriate investors who can turn our vision into reality, and we are already in discussions with several major organizations. This process will accelerate once planning is approved.

We envisage securing the necessary investment during 2024 and that delivery of the Heath Park programme will commence, subject to approval of reserved planning matters in early 2025 in a phased development to reinvigorate our site by 2030.

Liverpool City Region

Why it is important Heath Park is recognised it is within the LCR.

The City Region of Liverpool is one of the most dynamic in the UK and together with Manchester, these two authorities combined make the North-West the most influential and aspirational part of the country outside of London.  The North-West has a fantastic future and I see Heath Park as a flagship development that underpins this.

About Liverpool – The importance of the Liverpool Brand

Liverpool really came to prominence during the Industrial Revolution with growth revolving around the development of the Port of Liverpool which transformed the way in which cargo was shipped. Liverpool Docks became the busiest and wealthiest port in the world. The River Mersey was the gateway to North America for both cargo and people and has played a key role in the cultural and industrial life of our city.

During World War Two the important global status of Liverpool Docks meant it was a key target for the German Luftwaffe. It became one of the most heavily bombed areas outside of London. Across Merseyside 4,000 civilians were killed, 10,000 homes destroyed and 70,000 people were made homeless during air raids.

The City was rebuilt post-war and today The River Mersey remains an artery for transatlantic trade as well as the sub-continent and Far East, thanks to Liverpool 2, the multi-million-pound deep water container terminal.

The historic Royal Albert Docks have been transformed into a major tourist attraction.  The magnificent buildings are now home to small shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, businesses and superb museums depicting the history of this great city.

Famous for football music and comedy which has brought further global recognition, the Liverpool brand is as strong as ever with fantastic plans to build on our heritage in the future through exciting new development projects.

Liverpool is a key location for film and television productions while the hosting of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has underpinned the city’s reputation for innovation and hospitality. It’s contributed to the city becoming an even bigger tourist attraction with 78 million people visiting the city – more than the entire population of the UK.

The Vision for the LCR

Mayor Steve Rotheram has pledged to continue to grow the brand of Liverpool to attract more businesses in Science and Technology, more national/ international events, more film and TV productions, expand on Liverpool’s tourism offering (With the growing number of cruise ships now coming to Liverpool increasing the already massive number of tourists wanting to visit this fabulous city), attract more business innovators into Liverpool forging sustained links with our world renowned universities and build upon the LCR’s heritage and culture that is established and engrained into our environment (Shakespeare North being one current example) across the LCR. Liverpool with the right political and business leadership can and will once again become the second city to London I am convinced of that.

Healthy Cities have to be more than clever marketing campaigns.

I believe Heath Park demonstrates a process which can truly deliver all the aspirations for delivering cost-effective, safe, healthy environments where we can live, work and play and which meet the challenges of Climate Change. By working from the outside in not only will this scheme influence city thinking and development it will complement a wider region and join the dots more effectively and sustainably. Something I consider is worthy of debate.

Fusion – By adopting the Fusion approach more fit for purpose schemes become the result.

The process of designing and delivering real estate, whether that is through a regeneration project or a new development, has never been consistently defined and therefore isn’t managed in an appropriate or systematic way, and there are a multitude of theories and practices. These tend to come from a diversity of professions and disciplines engaged in making places, from real estate companies and property investors to architects and urban planners. 

As a consequence, the Fusion Process was developed by SOG to ensure that projects undertaken by them deliver a defined vision against business drivers in a systematic and consistent manner that is data driver. Anything stated is underpinned by evidence, anything predicted is validated by experts in that field.  The name Fusion denotes the imperative of combining all the parts of the process together at the onset of a project. Blending the skills of a multi-disciplinary team, whilst applying broad horizon scanning to gather knowledge, evidence, and insight to deliver a cohesive and creative solution, results in a project that is greater than the sum of the parts. I key factor of Fusion is it is audited at every stage by an independent expert to ensure work being done does not meander away from the brief of the vison. In regard to Heath Park, we employed Professor Rachel Cooper OBE of Lancaster University to oversee this element.

What is wrong with the current approach (Local Authorities – Architects – Developers)

As explained above, the current process is too disjointed.  Successful projects require all parties to be pulling in the same direction and not to focus on who ultimately takes the credit. We also feel that the Planning process has over the years become more of a bureaucratic hindrance to developers. The time and expense involved in providing the detail required by legislation and Central Government Guidance for OUTLINE approval of a set of principles for a development is now preventing good/innovative ideas from being realised. The current UK planning Process needs to change. It is no longer fit for purpose, it is prevent the growth of development, it is affecting creative design and most importantly it is causing the International Investment Community to look elsewhere. I am pleased both the Government and Shadow Government are stating planning processes must improve and measures are being promised but Action is needed and needed now!

Joining the Dots – What are the Dots and managing the Virus’s

On paper we all think we know the subjects that need to be addressed to meet the needs or requirements of the Customers, whether they be private sector or public sector (well at least the architectural Profession does – sorry to sound cynical!)

Any medium to large development has to now take into consideration far more today than ever before e.g. climate, Environmental, health and wellbeing, nature, travel/traffic, noise, air quality to name the very few) and submit to consultees/planners in far more detail for vigorous examination. The cost of Planning applications overall to many is unaffordable and good schemes remain on the drawing board. It is harder now in the UK than ever to develop. When schemes do get over the line then the value engineering kicks in (The Virus) to make the scheme a profitable venture and the innovative parts of a scheme can be lost. I question just how are the dots for any scheme identified, who is involved and to what degree, are policy guidelines adequate and how does say an Architect/developer embrace the political environment for the area/region. Too many schemes winning design awards remain on the drawing board and those that actually move forward are value engineered to such a degree they become so disjointed from the original Vison and customer/locals expectations. Again, another one I would like to see more discussion on.

Concluding Paragraph

I’m delighted we have been invited to give a presentation at the high-profile Healthy City Design 2023 International Congress. It provides us with another excellent platform to promote Heath Park to a global audience as we continue engagement with the international investment community to enable our vision to be turned into reality.

It also gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our unique Fusion Process which has been so essential not just for the regeneration of The Heath Business and Technical Park but for a number of other large projects that SOG has been called on for our expertise.

Indeed, our most recent project saw SOG’s Fusion team spearhead the regeneration of a massive site in Dagenham, East London, formerly home to a global pharmaceutical company, where we created Londoneast-uk Business and Technical Park.  Until February 2019, SOG operated Londoneast-uk as a sister Park to The Heath before selling it to a company owned by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham. Through our Fusion concept, SOG helped to generate over £2 billion of inward investment to the Dagenham site regeneration programme.

16th October 2023