A national conference hosted by Mersey Maritime in October has led to a flood of enquiries about the £23m Maritime Knowledge Hub (MKH) project in Wirral Waters.
At the Maritime Exchange event in the middle of last month Richard Mawdsley, director of Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters project, said potential occupiers for the 60,000 sq ft scheme had already come forward – but added they were keen to speak to many more.
Now Richard has returned to Mersey Maritime to report that more organisations had made their interest in the scheme known. He told Mersey Maritime members at their latest Face-2-Face event: “We are now looking to curate the occupational mix so it fits with the wider LCR business ecosystem.
“We saw a number of organisations come to us following the Maritime Exchange. We are already talking to a number of those and we would like to talk to more. By Christmas we should have a clear idea of the demand.”
First announced at London Shipping Week six years ago, the MKH project will provide a national base for marine engineering research, development and decarbonisation as well as skills training and business accelerator space. It will create 4,000 jobs in its first five years. Work is scheduled to start next summer.
The facility would 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 in Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters development. It will be based in the original building and in a connecting new building.
Mersey Maritime chief executive, Chris Shirling-Rooke, told the Face-2-Face that work would start on the business incubation element of the MKH in the next few weeks. He added: “We want to get the business accelerator up and running.
“That will be all about supporting businesses with great ideas. We will also be working with universities, looking, for example, to arrange long-term work placements for students with businesses in the MKH. We will see this part of the project taking shape in the next few weeks.”
Richard explained how the MKH was the latest in a series of projects envisioned and brought forward by Peel L&P part of the wider Peel Group. Launched in 2006 under the Ocean Gateway banner, the strategy would focus on £50bn of investment across 50 projects over 50 years.
As of 2018, around £5bn had already been invested in projects such as Liverpool2, Salford Quays and the Manchester Ship Canal and the Trafford Centre since the launch of Ocean Gateway. Located on both banks of the River Mersey, the multi-billion pound Liverpool and Wirral Waters schemes are integral to the Ocean Gateway programme.
“Wirral Waters comprises 20m sq ft of floorspace and is a project fully supported by both local and central government,” said Richard. “We now have momentum and a lot of activity on site. We are focused on homes, industrial space and educational space.”
He described how Wirral Waters will be divided into different neighbourhoods. Northbank will house the first phase of residential development, with the construction of 1,100 homes “for everyone” under way. Four Bridges will be home to the MKH and the new No 1 Tower Road office building, comprising 33,000 sq ft of grade A space. And Egerton Village will create amenity provision alongside a potential centre for the arts.
The MKH’s partners are Mersey Maritime, Peel L&P, Wirral Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. Construction will take around 14 to 18 months and is expected to be completed towards the end of 2022 if all goes to plan.
According to both Richard and Chris, both the MKH and the wider Wirral Waters projects have the potential to be “exemplars” for decarbonisation, inclusive growth and sustainability in terms of power generation, waste management, materiality and how people get around.
On the MKH, Chris said: “Decarbonisation will be a big driver for the project as will be the ‘levelling up’ agenda for the north of England. It will look to find global solutions for the big questions around these issues.”
Richard added that Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) were a key focus for Peel L&P at Wirral Waters and that it was working closely with Wirral Met College, already based at the site, and with the new Eureka project for young people planned for Birkenhead waterfront.
“Sustainability is a key part of the whole project,” he said. “Although elements of what will happen inside the MKH exist elsewhere this will be the first time they have all been brought together in this form within the UK. That is what makes it a unique project. We want to have first-move advantage and get working on it as quickly as we can.”
Both Chris and Richard also emphasised that local firms will be involved in the construction of the project as much as possible. They said meet-the-buyer events would be arranged over the coming months.
“We have been inundated with enquiries about the MKH,” said Chris. “We would have no problem filling – but we have to make sure we choose the right partners for this project. It will initially be 60,000 sq ft but, if we need to, we can make it even bigger.”