Interviews

  • Nigel Weatherill

Making a statement: LJMU vice-chancellor Nigel Weatherill

Making a statement

Having recently secured planning permission for its £100 million redevelopment of the former Royal Mail sorting office at Copperas Hill, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) is firmly positioning itself at the heart of the city’s increasingly vital Knowledge Quarter.

Professor Nigel Weatherill, LJMU’s vice-chancellor and chief executive, tells Move Commercial how the ambitious project will benefit both the university’s students and Liverpool.

Regular visitors to Liverpool who arrive by train will no doubt be familiar with the imposing sight of the former Royal Mail sorting office which has stood at the top of Copperas Hill since 1977.

Set over three and half acres, the facility has lain derelict since 2010 when Royal Mail decided to transfer operations and 600 employees to new depots in Brunswick Dock and Warrington.

LJMU purchased the site in 2011 for around £2.6 million before revealing transformational plans for the five-storey building which will see it stripped back to its frame and form the centrepiece of a ‘connected university campus village’. The university hopes the development will act as a ‘gateway to the Knowledge Quarter’.

The new student-focused hub will also bring together the university’s Mount Pleasant and Byrom Street campuses which form part of LJMU’s already sizeable presence in the Knowledge Quarter.

The Knowledge Quarter – an unofficial title used to describe the area of Liverpool city centre which focuses heavily on the knowledge, research and education sectors – is recognised by the city’s major educational institutions for its importance in driving investment.

In fact, the area is becoming increasingly vital to the city’s economy, now generating around 15% of Liverpool’s annual GVA despite accounting for a mere 1% of its land area.

“The development of Copperas Hill puts a significant building right at the heart of the university campus which is a connected university village,” explains Weatherill.

“When visitors come to the city by train and enter the Knowledge Quarter, the first building they will see is an iconic building which is about education, it’s about knowledge, it’s about working in partnership with students, with the city and with local businesses.

“From that point of view it will be a gateway to the Knowledge Quarter and we hope it will be welcoming to both to the local community and to visitors.”

A sign of how important LJMU regards the Knowledge Quarter is reflected by the fact it currently has the highest number of buildings and campuses located within the area’s boundaries than any other university.

“At this present time we’ve got 37 buildings located within the city of Liverpool, with many in the Knowledge Quarter zone,” says Weatherill.

“We are very proud to find ourselves in a very fortunate position of being located in the Knowledge Quarter.”

It’s not just being central to an emerging area in the city which enthuses Weatherill, he is also keen to stress the wider regional aspects of the new project.

“I think it’s a statement of what we are as a modern civic university. We are part of the city of Liverpool, but we’re also part of the Liverpool City Region, and of the North West of England.”

LJMU is working together in the Knowledge Quarter in partnership with the University of Liverpool to create the city’s first University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) which will house the new £15m ‘Sensor City’ development.

Backed by the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the project aims to create 1,000 jobs and house 300 new businesses over a 10-year period and will support companies as they develop and implement novel sensor systems, integrating sensors, firmware and advanced algorithms.

“This building is about investing in the city of Liverpool and the people of Liverpool.”

Collaboration with other education providers and partners across the region is a key tactic for the university according to Weatherill.

“The strategy of the university has four key pillars and one of those pillars is collaboration and partnership working,” he explains.

“We want to work in partnership with the University of Liverpool and other educational institutions within the city as well as the council.

“The UEZ was an opportunity that came along and as we work closely with the University of Liverpool in other areas we thought we would be able to put in a strong bid together around a key technological area in sensors and we were successful.

“It’s a great example of how when you work in partnership you can do something and really be transformational.

“When you look at the way sensors are going to be used, either in personalised health or for the likes of environment or transport , it’s a real growth area and by working in partnership we have got the opportunity to literally be Sensor City for the UK and be recognised internationally.”

Alongside his work at LJMU, Weatherill chaired the Mayor of Liverpool’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability which last year published its report into what is required to support Liverpool as a sustainable city in the future.

The subject of sustainability and the environment is never too far from Weatherill’s thoughts in his role as vice-chancellor, particularly with a major development such as Copperas Hill on the horizon.

“We’re a large institution and we have to discharge our responsibility in many different ways,” he says. “As a university we’ve got to demonstrate that we take our environment very seriously.

“With a development like Copperas Hill, high on our list of priorities is that it has got to be environmentally friendly and it has to be environmentally sustainable.

“We have our own targets in that area – we do it not because we are forced to do it but because it is part of the values of being a large institution in the city of Liverpool.”

With all the talk of the Knowledge Quarter, the UEZ and Sensor City, Weatherill is determined that the main purpose of the Copperas Hill development is not forgotten.

“We can look at this and say why are we doing this development but at its core it is essential that we give opportunities to future generations.

“We provide an environment where individuals can develop their own skills and once they leave university they will go on their different paths but many will stay in Liverpool and within the city region with the skills continuing to ensure that the city thrives, attracting other companies, other businesses and improving the quality of life.

“This building is about investing in the city of Liverpool and the people of Liverpool. It’s a statement about the importance of education here in the 21st Century in the city region.”