Spotlight on St Helens: The projects transforming the LCR borough
With a bold vision for St Helens town centre and major logistics schemes in the pipeline, Move Commercial takes stock of the projects designed to transform this Liverpool City Region borough.
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Historically a hub for coal mining and the glass trade, traditional industry throughout the St Helens borough has been in decline for a number of decades leading to a marked reduction in jobs and business opportunities.
However since the turn of the millennium, concerted efforts have been made to stimulate the area’s infrastructure and economy.
The borough’s position between Liverpool and Manchester, as well as its proximity to the M6 and M62, means it’s well placed for large scale logistics developments.
And in recent years, a surge in investment has helped foster an optimistic air as crucial employment projects begin to take shape.
“There is such a scale of activity. It’s going to create many thousands of jobs… and the infrastructure support is really helpful too.”
“There is such a scale of activity [in the borough],” says Kath Boullen, chief executive of St Helens Chamber.
“It’s going to create many thousands of jobs which is massively welcome for St Helens.
“There are some big logistics developments which are creating jobs and the infrastructure support is really helpful too.
“There is a good combination of activity going on which is really pleasing to see.”
Boullen highlights infrastructure projects such as the Newton-le-Willows Interchange scheme and the completion of improvements to Windle Island, which she says, “used to cause great hold ups but now flows through beautifully”.
Parkside Regeneration would see a former coal mine transformed with over 1m sq ft of employment space
Opened in January 2019, the £18.95 million Newton-le-Willows Interchange combines significant upgrades to Newton-le-Willows railway station with a new 400-space car park and bus interchange.
Also completed earlier this year, it’s hoped the £7m programme of enhancements to Windle Island – the oldest purpose designed intercity highway in the UK – will result in better access in and out of St Helens town centre.
Admittedly that town centre, like many up and down the country, isn’t in the rudest health.
The first half of 2019 alone saw both Marks & Spencer and Argos disappear from Church Street, with Topshop announcing it’s to shut its branch in Church Square Shopping Centre.
St Helens Council’s £26.6m acquisition of said shopping mall in October 2017 was described as a “key part” of its vision to transform the town centre and turn its fortunes around.
Outlined in its ‘St Helens: Transforming our Town’ vision, the local authority’s ambitious plans include a refreshed retail offering mixing independents with well-known high street brands, as well as an increased number of family friendly restaurants and cafés.
Proposals to redevelop Sankey Canal into a “modern waterfront area” complete with bars, restaurants and apartments were also presented.
However aside from the council’s purchase of Church Square, almost two years on from the document’s release, tangible progression with the project has been ostensibly absent.
Proposed Glass Futures facility in St Helens
“Plans of that scale take time but I know there is a lot of work going on in the background to try and work out what is the best approach to take,” explains Boullen.
“I think that will bear fruit but it inevitably will take some time to get that right.
“It’s not an easy task and it’s important to take the time to do the best possible job.”
For Councillor David Baines, who replaced Cllr Derek Long as leader of the council in May, regenerating the borough’s towns and district centres is of chief importance.
“While massive change can’t happen overnight, I’d like to see clear progress over the next 12 months to instil confidence in residents that we’re committed to seeing out these projects,” says Cllr Baines.
“If we do the right things and make the right choices, then we can make sure our town and district centres are a source of pride again.”
Away from the high street, plans for the borough to become home to a new centre of excellence for glass innovation appear to be moving forward at a distinctly swifter rate of knots.
The disused United Glass site close to the Totally Wicked Stadium has been earmarked for one of two national Glass Futures facilities.
The £70m development would focus on the ‘hot’ side of glass production, with a large experimental glass furnace capable of producing 30 tonnes per day for windows, bottles or fibre glass.
Computer generated images of the proposed centre were released in March following a positive meeting of representatives from the UK and international glass industry at the World of Glass Museum in St Helens.
Amazon is set to occupy a warehouse at Bericote’s M6 Major scheme
“It seems the right place to put a development of that nature and it absolutely should be in St Helens,” declares Boullen.
“The people who are working behind that are doing a great job at keeping it to the fore and getting everything approved as it goes along – we’re very optimistic for that.”
Looking across the wider borough, two high-profile commercial developments are expected to make strides over the next 12 months.
Firstly, Amazon is set to occupy a 360,000 sq ft warehouse at Bericote’s M6 Major scheme just off the East Lancashire Road in Haydock.
With the site scheduled to complete in July, the online retail giant has agreed a series of access dates to commence internal works ahead of an operational date later in 2019.
“It seems the right place to put a development of that nature and it absolutely should be in St Helens.”
Meanwhile in January, St Helens Council learnt it had been successful in its bid for government funding towards the construction of the A49 to M6 Junction 22 link road.
The new highway is part of wider plans to regenerate the redundant Parkside colliery on the southern edge of Newton-le-Willows.
Parkside Regeneration, a joint venture between Langtree and St Helens Council, submitted an outline planning application in January 2018 for phase one of the development which would see the former coal mine site transformed with over 1m sq ft of employment space
Whilst there is yet no date for the application to be considered by St Helens Council, Langtree told Move Commercial it’s expecting work to begin on site in early 2020.