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Interview: Development leader on the major projects shaping Knowsley

Interview: Development leader on the major projects shaping Knowsley

With a multi-million pound Shakespearean theatre in Prescot to Liverpool Football Club’s new £50 million Kirkby training base, Knowsley is one area of the Liverpool City Region very much on the up. Move Commercial sat down with head of major development at Knowsley Council, Tony Clark to get the latest on the major projects which could have a transformational effect on the borough.

Words by Lawrence Saunders 

“Quite exceptional”. The words used by the head of Knowsley Council’s major development team to describe the scale of opportunity in the Merseyside borough.

The significant steps forward projects such as the hugely ambitious Shakespeare North theatre have taken in the months following Clark’s appointment in September 2017 have only served to bolster his confidence further.

In January this year, Knowsley Council cabinet members agreed to appoint Kier Construction to the £26 million Prescot town centre scheme, with pre-construction work scheduled to start in April.

Clark assures Move Commercial everything is still on track for Kier to meet a construction timetable which will see the arts, education and exhibition development delivered by April 2020 – coinciding with William Shakespeare’s birthday.

“My view as someone who has come back to the borough relatively recently is that Shakespeare North is a real generational game changer – no doubt about it,” says Clark, who joined Knowsley Council after eight and half years at Cheshire West and Chester Council.

“I think it puts a huge marker on the map – regionally, nationally and internationally.

“Wherever possible we want to make sure that local businesses and local residents are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities.”

“The ability for visitors to come into Knowsley and into Prescot will be phenomenal when Shakespeare North opens.”

As part of its contract with the local authority, Kier has pledged to work with Knowsley-based supply chain companies to maximise the benefits of the theatre’s construction to the local economy.

This additional benefit to communities is something Clark is encouraging across the borough’s key projects.

“Wherever possible we want to make sure that local businesses and local residents are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities within the borough,” adds Clark.

“You hear this phrase about the ‘Sticky Pound’ and it goes all the way through from creating training and apprenticeship opportunities to looking at supply chains.”

Clark recently spoke at the launch of a new construction forum set up by Knowsley Chamber to turn local businesses onto these supply chain opportunities as part of the area’s revitalisation.

Interview: Knowsley Council's Tony Clark on the major projects shaping the borough

Meanwhile, the progress being made on Shakespeare North has inspired a renewed sense of vibrancy in the town – a feeling that has been picked up on by potential occupiers of nearby units.

“We are already seeing quite a bit of interest in those properties from restaurant and bar operators which we are very pleased to see,” says Clark.

Distinguished restaurateur Gary Usher has recently revealed plans to open his fifth North West eatery, ‘Pinion’, on Eccleston Street in the town centre, whilst proposals for a luxury boutique hotel on the site of the former Imperial Hotel are also in the works.

The hotel will reportedly have a Shakespearean theme – an attempt to tap into Prescot’s projected position as the point of England’s ‘Shakespeare Triangle’ alongside Stratford and London – much like ‘The Bard’ micropub which recently opened on High Street.

Elsewhere in the town, a contractor for a new development at Prescot Market Place was recently revealed, with a start on site planned for April.

For almost 700 years, Prescot’s historic Market Place was the centre of economic and social life in the town.

Last May, RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), with backing from the Prescot Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI), launched a competition seeking proposals for a scheme which could once again make use of this prominent space in the town centre.

Interview: Knowsley Council's Tony Clark on the major projects shaping the borough

The winning Mark Wray Architects-designed project will improve connections between Market Place, Shakespeare North and St Mary’s Church.

It includes proposals to light the area in the evening whilst providing places for people to sit and relax.

Husband and wife team Francesco and Gaynor La Rocca have been named as the tenant for the café/multi-use building at the heart of the scheme which will be transformed by Armitage Construction.

Again in Prescot, Clark also reveals that the local authority is currently in advanced discussions with regards to a leisure and retail scheme on a site at Cables Way.

“We are certainly seeing a lot of activity in Prescot and a lot of that is in part related to the fact that Shakespeare North is coming,” says Clark.

“The council and the scheme’s promoters have put a lot of effort into raising awareness of the development locally, even as far as the hoardings which explain the story of Shakespeare and his connection to Prescot.

Interview: Knowsley Council's Tony Clark on the major projects shaping the borough

“I think there is an understanding in Knowsley that Shakespeare North is on the way but certainly over the next 12 to 18 months we will be doing a lot more work to promote awareness of the scheme.”

Travel 10 minutes up the M57 to Kirkby and you’ll find another part of Knowsley enjoying some welcome investment.

In November 2017 St. Modwen was awarded planning permission for its 120,000 sq ft retail-led town centre regeneration, which includes a 40,000 sq ft Morrisons supermarket.

“St. Modwen is making excellent progress in securing tenants for the remaining 80,000 sq ft and is nearing the completion of the demolition to make way for construction on that site,” says Clark.

“As part of the council’s involvement with the scheme, we’re also about to commence demolition of the former library which will make way for a cinema.”

The cinema has been pre-let to Reel Cinemas with the opportunity for operators for three support restaurants which are being developed around the multiplex.

Moving out of the town centre to Liverpool FC’s new £50m state-of-the-art training base and, in February, Knowsley Council agreed the sale of land at Simonswood Lane to the Premier League giants.

“Having both Liverpool and Everton effectively headquartered here is something that we should certainly be shouting about.

The land will allow the club to fulfil manager Jurgen Klopp’s long held ambition to extend its existing academy training facility and bring together the first team and youth sides at one complex.

Liverpool FC’s upcoming relocation to Knowsley from its current West Derby base will mean both of Merseyside’s top flight clubs will be situated in the borough after Everton Football Club’s move to USM Finch Farm in Halewood over a decade ago.

“Liverpool moving its first team training operation here is another great asset for the borough and another mark on the map for Knowsley,” says Clark.

“Having both Liverpool and Everton effectively headquartered here is something that we should certainly be shouting about.

“It shows the collaboration that the council can have with its private partners, whether they be occupiers, leisure developers or house builders.”

Clark is also willing to offer an update on another of the borough’s high-profile projects.

Halsnead Garden Village near Whiston has the potential to become the largest combined housing and employment site in the Liverpool City Region and is one of just 14 sites in England awarded Garden Village Status by the government in 2017.

According to Clark; Halsnead, which has the ability to accommodate over 1,500 homes and 22.5 hectares of commercial space, is moving forward quicker than any of the other 13 garden villages, with residential applications for the site expected within weeks.

With the scale of development in the borough reaching hitherto unseen levels, Clark is confident we will see Knowsley go from strength to strength.

“Without doubt it’s an exceptional time for Knowsley with a great range of residential, commercial and leisure developments in the pipeline,” he says.

“When you talk about brand names like Jaguar Land Rover, Matalan and Liverpool FC it’s a case of success breeds success.

“At MIPIM UK 2018, news and investment stories such as the these are something we really need to promote.”