Designs on growth

While other towns and cities have seen their economies shrink, Warrington continues to grow. Andy Farrall looks at the factors behind its success

An artist’s impression of Omega, a business park development on the edge of Warrington which is expected to create an intial 1,000 jobs if it finally gets off the ground

For many years macro planning policy in the northwest sought to limit the growth of areas which were attractive to investors, in the hope that investment would flow to areas of decline and need instead. The result of this approach was that investment didn’t move in the desired direction; declining areas continued to fail and attractive areas didn’t flourish either.

Warrington, however, has been one of the few exceptions. A former new town that grew rapidly in the 1970s and 80s it has continued to grow and prosper despite housing and development limitations imposed by regional and central governments.

The success of Warrington’s growth is supported by strong statistical evidence in three key areas.

EMPLOYMENT: Warrington has the sixth highest earnings and the sixth lowest loss of public sector jobs in the UK. It also has a high performing labour market with high employment rates, high economic activity rates and low duration of unemployment.

ECONOMY: it has the 13th highest business stock per capita, is the eighth most popular office location and has the highest proportion of growth businesses (gazelles) in the UK. The town is also third in the northwest for greatest potential for retail growth and has a gross value added that surpasses the national average. On top of this, footfall in Warrington’s town centre increased last year by 5.5% compared to a downward trend nationally in the same period of a fall of 3.5%.

HOUSING: Warrington is the fourth most successful place in England for delivering affordable homes and met its housing targets last year by building some 400 new homes. The town also has a growing population of around 200,000 people, making it one of the largest regional urban centres outside Manchester and Liverpool.

Furthermore, the research undertaken in Warrington’s Annual Property Review shows businesses in the town are starting to invest – particularly in the industrial and distribution sectors. It also suggests the town centre is becoming the most attractive place to invest and the retail sector is particularly active.

Artist’s impression of Omega business park in Warrington

Omega, the huge business park development on the edge of the borough which stalled due to the recession, is now receiving major investor interest and is poised to create 1,000 new jobs in its first phase.

Much of this success is down to the tried and tested key ingredients of location, lifestyle and clustering coupled with a council administration that positively welcomes change and development.

Warrington’s location plays no small part in this success too. The town sits midway between Manchester and Liverpool, straddling the major motorway crossroads in the northwest, the river Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal.

It is located midway between two international airports and is less than two hours away on the train to London on the west coast main line. Strategically the town is on the cusp of Greater Manchester, the Liverpool city-region, the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership and Marketing Cheshire and was part of the successful mid-Mersey Housing Growth Point. It is also central to the Atlantic Gateway – one of the largest growth corridors in Europe today.

As the recent local economic assessment confirms, Warrington has a particularly strong economy and businesses are naturally attracted here. For example, it has one of the UK’s largest clusters of nuclear technology businesses and has a high proportion of employment in energy, infrastructure, engineering, telecoms and business services.

It also has the UK HQs of many of the firms in these sectors. The number of company HQs in the borough is growing and growth in VAT registered businesses is double the national average.

Warrington’s prosperity has meant that historically it hasn’t attracted large amounts of public sector money and as a result isn’t hugely dependant on the public sector for its economy or employment.


So, Warrington has been very successful despite a culture of strategic indifference. This leads to the question – how successful could the town be in a context of positive strategic promotion and freedom?

The recent changes in the regional and national government landscape have led to a new feeling of freedom for Warrington. A freedom that Warrington Council, its regeneration partner Warrington & Co and the newly established Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership want to grasp – to release the true potential of the place and its people.

There are a number of key factors involved in how this is being been achieved. Rather than wait for the overly long local development framework process to provide the development context, the council produced its development prospectus some three years ago (the Warrington Regeneration Framework) and has been using this to develop its priority proposals based upon the notion of ‘smart growth’. In addition, key strategic development areas have been actively progressed through masterplanning and land acquisitions.

The council has also turned its vision of the town upside down and focused on creating the ‘city centre’ the town deserves. The council is rediscovering Warrington’s waterfront, a major development area in the heart of the town, which had been largely ignored for decades.

Another important step forward has been acquiring the land to progress the Bridge Street Quarter scheme – one of the largest town centre mixed use development opportunities in the UK today. The council aims to choose a development partner for this project this summer, with a start on site expected in 2013.

The council and partners have produced a range of major development schemes which will transform the town centre to enrich, add colour and scale to the town centre. These sites are being progressed in readiness for investment.

We have been working with partners and neighbouring authorities to progress the three regionally important large scale development areas within Warrington’s hinterland – Parkside (to the north east), Omega (to the north west) and Daresbury (to the south west). Collectively these large sites have the potential to create huge numbers of jobs for local people.

We are also focused on creating a sense of place rather than just a series of developments by ensuring a framework of infrastructure and public realm improvements. This will provide the environmental glue to bond and unify individual development sites.

Warrington is well placed to continue to be successful and is preparing itself for the up-turn. Indeed, as I’ve already detailed, recent evidence suggests this is already happening here. The council and its key partners are determined the borough will benefit from this potential.


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