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Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram has been told that the world’s first pilot project using clean hydrogen energy to power a vertical farming system would be a unique model for production of healthy food that could be replicated around the globe.

The pilot to be undertaken at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn is being funded by John Lewis MBE, the boss of SOG Group which owns the Park. Vertical Farming forms a key part of his vision to transform the location into ‘Heath Park’, a 21st century version of Port Sunlight. ‘Heath Park’, officially launched in March 2020 and adopted as one of Liverpool City Region’s ‘Beacon Projects’, revolves around creating a sustainable and carbon free environment at The Heath where people can live, work and play.

Mr Rotheram visited The Heath on Friday, May 14, on one of the first official engagements following his re-election as Mayor, to be briefed on the progress of the ‘Heath Park’ programme.

Dr Paul Myers, co-founder and Managing Director of Farm Urban in Liverpool, who has joined the Heath Park team as a specialist adviser on vertical farming, told the Mayor:  “The Vertical Farms we are developing will deliver a financial, social and environmental return on investment. It is at the intersection of these three areas that Vertical Farms work best and it is this holistic approach that sets The Heath Park Project out from the rest of the world. Heath Park is a model for cities all over the world to follow, a world leader in hydrogen power and clean energy, Vertical Farming and urban design. When you combine these three together you have something very powerful.”

Dr Myers said: “Since joining the Heath Park team, I continue to be impressed by the capability, commitment, and pace of the team. It is this approach that has led John Lewis to sponsor a world-first pilot project using clean hydrogen energy to power a vertical farm system. If successful, this study will validate a model of Zero Carbon food production. This is in collaboration with Farm Urban and the University of Liverpool building on existing modelling data, the research will be conducted and published in a peer reviewed journal.”

He added: “Vertical Farming is not simply about producing food at scale in peri urban warehouses, Vertical Farms can do so much more. Vertical farms, if approached in the correct way; integrated into the fabric of society for people to see, feel and taste can have far greater impact. Vertical Farms can clean a region’s air, reduce Carbon, provide high tech meaningful jobs, provide green infrastructure and improve health outcomes by giving local people access to the freshest healthiest food on the planet.”

Mr Lewis told the Mayor that currently a detailed feasibility study is being carried out to determine that all the key elements of Heath Park, including employment, housing, leisure, community, vertical farming and energy consumption, are all realistic and deliverable but most important of all, are also commercially viable.

“Heath Park is genuine, it’s honest and it will make a difference, because we are touching on everything that the government and local governments are looking for, for a better way of living tomorrow, to live, work and play,” said Mr Lewis.

He added: “I think we can do something very special here. We are putting a lot of effort in and I’m personally investing a lot in here because I believe. I think we can do this. I’m not asking anything from you or anybody. But what I do I want, I want across the country; if people think we’re doing something good here, say this is a project that must happen, that’s all.”

Mr Rotheram said: “I think with John’s drive, it’s not just ‘it must happen’ it will happen with John behind it. And it’s appropriate that things like this start to formulate in the Liverpool City Region.”

Mr Rotheram said that Port Sunlight, hundreds of years ago, had a vision for treating people appropriately in the circumstances, so workers within the work force were given housing.

“It’s perhaps different circumstances but the same is true today, we need people to have decent housing, good housing, ecologically sound housing. We have to address the climate emergency, so all of those things are starting to coalesce aren’t they around what The Heath can offer, and I think it’s an exciting proposal and as I say, perhaps it’s not just ‘it must happen’, it will happen!”

Referring to Heath Park’s vertical farming programme Mr Rotheram said he has been ‘a big advocate of vertical farming for a considerable time’.  He added: “I’d love to see this on a large scale and we’re going to see this in The Heath in the very near future.”

Mr Rotheram added: “We’re trialling all sorts of things in the Liverpool City Region, governments are now looking towards us for the first time in many decades for the Liverpool City Region to be part of joint approaches, and this of course with climate emergency is really important to the whole country. We’ve got Cop26 haven’t we, later this year. We want to be able to demonstrate things that are happening here that can be rolled out, and I think this is another aspect of what the Liverpool City Region will be presenting, not just to the government, but to the whole world and saying that there are things that are happening here that you perhaps need to take some notice of, pay some attention to and you might be able to replicate that yourself in your own area.”