Regeneration of Wirral engineering landmark to help drive Northern economy

A disused Grade II Victorian building on the banks of the Mersey is set to receive a new lease of life as an education and collaboration campus for advanced manufacturing and engineering skills. The Hydraulic Tower, which used to drive lock gates and bridges in Birkenhead, is the centrepiece of a new project that aims to provide the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to support the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

The private and public sector consortium behind the initiative, including Peel Group and Liverpool John Moores University, revealed a vision for the site last night (Wednesday, 9 September) at an event held as part of London Shipping Week at DWF LLP’s office in London. The project, which is expected to cost around £30m and take three years to complete, aims to benefit the local economy with skills development and opportunities for knowledge-sharing.

The tower, which is modelled on Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio, is located in the heart of the Mersey Waters Enterprise Zone, itself an existing centre for advanced manufacturing and engineering, automotive, energy, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and business services.

Chris Shirling Rooke, Chief Executive of Mersey Maritime added: “This is a real partnership between local private and public sector organisations, working towards a common cause. We have a unique chance to create a lasting legacy by developing knowledge, increasing productivity and driving our economy forward. As well as the direct benefits to employers, we see the knowledge hub as having huge potential to act as a catalyst for other developments, both in creating an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and in helping to regenerate this part of the community.”

Gary Hodgson, Chief Operating Officer of Peel Ports, part of the Peel Group, said: “We’re building a new gateway to the UK economy in the form of our Liverpool2 deep-water container terminal. We have the Manchester Ship Canal, two international airports on our doorstep and a recent £13 billion government investment in rail and road networks. It all adds up to a world-class supply chain and enviable connectivity. So what better place to create this exciting development to help provide the innovators and entrepreneurs who can lead our growing economy. It also brings together the area’s rich maritime heritage with a new vision for the future, as we celebrate this 300th anniversary year for Liverpool’s old dock - the world’s first commercial wet dock.”

Professor Ahmed Al-Shamma’a Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Liverpool John Moores University said: “It’s well known that some manufacturers and other employers find it difficult to recruit the skills they need, especially in engineering and technology. This centre will provide new and niche activities that can bring together business and academia to bridge that gap, providing local firms and wider industry with the skilled staff they need to grow and compete. It’s absolutely vital for our economy, locally and nationally, that we provide this, to ensure the UK is able to call on the talents of the next generation of engineers and other talented innovators.”

Outline planning permission is already in place for the development. Funding has been agreed in principal for the project but is subject to final discussions.

Michael Kingston, Partner, Marine Trade & Energy Group at DWF, who hosted the event said: ‘It is a massive honour to welcome all of you here to DWF's London office this evening, a full house, names too many to single out, to support, with the City of Liverpool region led by Mersey Maritime, London Shipping Week, and to hear about the enormous contribution that you as a region make to this country and the shipping industry on a worldwide basis. The development of the Hydraulic Tower Knowledge Hub in addition to the Deepwater Container Terminal and all that is going on in the region is well placed at the forefront of London shipping week and befitting of a region with such an enormous maritime history’.