Peel L&P will submit a planning application for the £25m Maritime Knowledge Hub (MKH) in Wirral Waters in the next four weeks with work to start by the end of 2022.
Director of Development at Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters, Richard Mawdsley, told an audience of maritime industry leaders in Birkenhead that an agreement for a grant towards the project from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority was close to being finalised.
Once work starts on the project build time is expected to take around 18 months. First announced by industry body Mersey Maritime at London Shipping Week six years ago, it is projected the MKH will lead to the creation of 4,000 jobs in the first five years. It will also house a supercomputer.
A 60,000 sq ft facility, it will be built around the Grade II-listed 19th century hydraulic tower building, a copy of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, close to the Birkenhead waterfront.
Speaking at the monthly Face-to-Face breakfast event at Mersey Maritime, Mr Mawdsley said the hydraulic tower was itself a piece of cutting-edge innovation when it was built in Victorian times.
“It was a power station to power the lock gates and the cranage and some of the bridges in the dock system in the 1800s,” he said. “It took a direct bomb hit in the Second World War. At the time it was built it was pretty pioneering in terms of its engineering prowess. And though it was a power station it was beautifully designed.”
Mr Mawdsley outlined progress across the multi-billion pound Wirral Waters project including the completion of modular homes in a joint venture between Peel L&P and House by Urban Splash, a £130m project to build 500 new homes and the delivery of the Hythe office building, a 25,000 sq ft facility that has secured its first tenant.
The MKH project will see work done to restore the bomb-damaged parts of the hydraulic tower and a glass atrium will then connect to a four-storey new building. This will offer a rooftop tower with spectacular views across to Liverpool waterfront.
“There is plenty of space and we are inviting interest from occupiers,” added Mr Mawdsley. “There will be office space, managed workspace, incubator space, R&D, laboratory space and workshops, plus all the business support that you would expect.
“There is access to the water, there will be a cafe, a roof terrace overlooking the Liverpool waterfront, a walled garden and some cultural space. This is a good quality project. Work will start at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023 with an 18-month build.
“Big thing that we need is a grant and we are working very closely with the Combined Authority. That will plug the viability gap. We have market failure in this area – issues with occupier confidence and investor confidence. All the projects need some support from Government. We are pretty close to securing that support.
“They understand the need for this project. This is industry-led. Mersey Maritime came to us a number of years ago and said this is what industry needs – a hub bringing together industry, academia, knowledge creation and SMEs.
“There is also a big focus on decarbonisation, knowledge transfer and skills. This will be part of the city region innovation eco-system to drive the economy forward. We are speaking to a number of partners – engineering organisations, the universities, SMEs and tech firms.”
He also revealed discussions with a technology firm that will see a supercomputer installed on the first floor of the building. He said: “Moving up a floor we have a higher education partner. From a sustainability perspective it will be cutting edge. There will be solar panels on the roof.
“Over the last six months we have re-engaged with the design team. We are looking to get a planning application within the next four weeks. We have taken the design through a Places Matter review process which is a panel of architects to bring out the best features.”
Mersey Maritime chief executive, Chris Shirling-Rooke, added: “When you think about the MKH it is not just a Wirral or Liverpool city region project – it is a UK project. We are competing with all the other maritime nations in the world on decarbonisation and digitisation.
“What central Government really likes is having a globally-renowned centre of excellence not in London. That is why we have had so much support. With all the issues around climate change and decarbonisation, this could not be better timed. This is a global centre of excellence – the best of its type anywhere in the UK.”