As work progresses on the Mersey Gateway Project, Robert Smith, managing director of Towngate Plc, explores the opportunities the new transport network will bring to Widnes.
It’s one of the largest infrastructure initiatives currently taking place in the UK, and a priority within the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan. At Towngate, we’re certainly excited about the impact the Mersey Gateway Project will have on growth in the area when it opens this autumn, but just what will this mean for Widnes?
The six-lane construction will undoubtedly help ease congestion on the ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge by providing an alternative link between Runcorn and Widnes – making commuters’ lives much easier! The newly constructed 9.2 kilometre road network connecting the bridge to the North West motorway system will also improve accessibility into the area from the rest of the UK, which can only be a good thing for business growth.
While smoother journeys and less traffic will be welcomed by residents, these aren’t the only benefits the project will bring – improving the efficiency of the link between Widnes and Runcorn will open up opportunities within Halton and its surrounding regions too. In turn, this will promote business growth in the area, across the Liverpool city region and throughout the North West as a whole.
In the property sector, we’re already beginning to see promising signs for the future. The start of last year saw Merseyside’s industrial rental prices hit an all-time high, with demand rising for larger units. And while Brexit uncertainty did have a temporary slowing impact, the market soon bounced back again towards the end of 2016. Indeed, such rising demand from investors signals a definitive increase in market confidence, as businesses prepare to expand their operations.
At Towngate, we’ve been excited about the prospect of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ dream becoming a reality for a long time, and such rising demand certainly signals that steps are being made in the right direction. Requirements for space in the North West will undoubtedly increase as accessibility improves, so this is something Merseyside and Liverpool must accommodate in order to grow alongside Manchester and Leeds.
Regionally and nationally, Widnes has a long-standing reputation as a centre for industrial excellence. While the area is particularly renowned for chemical manufacturing, change and growth will open opportunities for more market diversity and expansion in other sectors.
The Towngate Business Centre in Widnes is just one of many sites we have across the North of England, and is already seeing the effects of growth in the area. Located on 18 acres just off the A562, and with easy access to the M62, M57 and M56 motorways, the centre has had a real upturn in enquiries and lettings recently, and we’re only expecting this to continue as the completion of the Mersey Gateway Project draws nearer.
The Government’s £500m investment in the new bridge has also acted as a catalyst to Towngate’s £0.5m investment in the Widnes site – we have substantially re-roofed our available 75,000 sq ft warehouse unit and will be commencing a recladding upgrade on four further onsite units shortly, including the 24-hour security gatehouse at the entrance to the site.
And this investment is reaping dividends. We were delighted to welcome Agrekko Limited to one of our Widnes units in July last year – a 15-year lease from such a global leader in power control rentals, demonstrates real confidence in the region’s potential. And 2016 also saw our valued tenants Xpel Marketing Limited expand their onsite occupancy, adding an extra 17,000 square feet onto their existing unit.
Our stories of expansion are, of course, part of a much bigger picture, but make clear the opportunities that Widnes holds for investors. If this is a sign of things to come once the Merseyside Project is complete, then it is truly set to be a gateway to a new era of Northern growth.