Why the North West’s science and technology communities are getting bullish in a bid to take on the south.
When innovators step foot on British soil all signs should point North. That’s the challenge being put forward by the North West’s science and tech companies in a bid to shine a light on the region’s own trinity.
The lure of the South’s ‘Golden Triangle’ as a UK pull for bioscience investment is well-documented. But it’s not the only answer. A collective of disruptive developers, start-ups, academics and industries are bidding to firmly lodge their own pin in the world map for innovation clusters. They’re focusing on the industry-intensive trinity of Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool.
It’s an approach that spans innovation in sectors such as pharmaceuticals; bioscience; energy production and consumption; digital tech; and international exports. While varied at a glance, they’re united behind a common goal: This area must sing its successes nationally and internationally in order to compete.
When written down it’s a compelling offer. The area boasts some of the UK’s most important science assets. It includes the Manchester Science Parks collective, the AstraZeneca-anchored Alderley Park; and Cheshire’s new headquarters for the world’s largest radio telescope project the Square Kilometre Array at Jodrell Bank. What’s more, they are set alongside established industrialised heartlands in areas that spawned the first industrial revolution.
The uphill struggle is getting international investors to turn northward after touching down at Heathrow (or even better, landing here in the first place). Much of this is built on perception, one the North is rallying together to influence.
While for so long the international community had their attention on Oxford, Cambridge and London, the North quietly laid the foundations for a compelling destination. Its two international airports amassed more travellers and added new global routes. Peel’s Liverpool2, the £400m deep-water container terminal opened in 2016, established a freight gateway to the world. And our renowned universities created – and importantly retained – a talented workforce in *STEM subjects and digital industries.
Those wanting to invest in a UK base (either to test, deploy or expand new technologies) also stand to gain from locating in the North. Cheaper land values and lower living costs mean the workforce can afford to live close to work.
Cheshire itself is emblematic of the perception challenge. The Cheshire and Warrington LEP this month made a significant play at MIPIM, with property opportunities linked to energy and science at the core of their offer. Part of this is a mission to openly challenge perceptions of Cheshire as a leafy utopia for footballers’ wives and make people sit up and take notice of its contributions to UK PLC. That said, those leading the pack aren’t naïve. While raising Cheshire’s profile, they also know that positive association as the third angle in a Manchester-Liverpool triangle will pay dividends.
Collaboration is happening no more so than in the energy sector. The newly-launched Energy Innovation District is seeking government backing to become the first of its type in the UK. Within a relatively small zone, it brings together world-leading subsurface research by the British Geological Survey; development of disruptive energy technologies; a mix of energy generators at Peel’s Protos flagship destination; and a cluster of energy-hungry industries eager to remain competitive in a post-Brexit landscape. This group have identified energy (in all its forms) as a common currency to underpin productivity.
Crucially, this Golden Triangle will deliver on the Government’s aspirations for a place-led approach outlined in the Industrial Strategy, rebalancing the economy and safeguarding the UK’s reputation as a global innovator. For those looking for a destination that embraces innovation, it’s time they looked North.
Written by Lewis Jones, Associate Partner, Newgate North.