Wirral Tides Turning
As the emergence of the Liverpool2 deep-water shipping dock breathes new life into the region’s industry and bolsters its maritime revival, what impact is this dockside renaissance having across the water on the Wirral Peninsula? Move Commercial explores how recent growth in the sector that once defined Merseyside is creating opportunities for businesses on both sides of the river.
Before its decline in the late 20th Century, Liverpool’s Albert Dock was a hive of industrious activity, alive with the sound of workers loading cargo onto great vessels bound for America and emigrants departing the city in search of a better life in the New World.
The golden age of the famous docks may be consigned to the history books but the opening of Liverpool2, with its towering Megamax Cranes, allows the port to cater for a new variety of gargantuan container ship and marks a fresh start for the city’s maritime ambitions.
As many as 5,000 jobs are expected to be created as a result of the Peel Ports project, but it isn’t just Liverpool which stands to gain from the deep-water dock. Across the River Mersey, the waves of opportunity are crashing on the banks of Wirral.
Like its Liverpool counterpart, the Wirral docks once thrived. Some of the biggest ships in the world were built there, entrepreneurial spirit burned bright and global companies were born on its quaysides, fuelled by booming international trade.
Although there has been inevitable decline since, numerous industries including automotive and aerospace have endured, and recent growth across the water in Liverpool has served as a catalyst for renewed interest in Wirral as a supply chain hub.
“Wirral is attracting firms because it has everything. We sell the region itself and the standard of living it provides as much as its maritime heritage.”
Mersey Maritime, the representative body for the maritime sector in the Liverpool City Region, works with businesses of all sizes and in all locations to develop strong, market-responsive supply chains, and the organisation has noted increased buzz around the peninsula since Liverpool’s port and maritime growth gathered pace.
“It’s a big sell for businesses to relocate, but Wirral is attracting firms because it has everything – good schools, good hospitals, restaurants,” Mersey Maritime CEO Chris Shirling-Rooke tells Move Commercial.
“You’re never more than 15 or 20 minutes away from Liverpool or Chester and if you need to commute to London, it’s little more than two and a half hours away. We sell the region itself and the standard of living it provides as much as its maritime heritage and how important it is to be part of its supply chain.”
One of the Wirral-based projects Mersey Maritime is involved in is the Maritime Knowledge Hub, a joint venture with Liverpool John Moores University that aims to meet the training, enterprise and manufacturing needs of the sector and generate knowledge-led growth and innovation in the UK.
“One of the challenges universities have is engagement within industry,” Shirling-Rooke adds. “You have all these brainboxes who have great ideas but need help commercialising them or figuring out how businesses are going to use them. Then you have businesses who have real demand for certain skills, products and tooling but they don’t quite know how to get hold of these resources.
“This is why we need a knowledge hub to act as a conduit. Mersey Maritime’s part is bringing industry and business from the public and private sectors to support the economy and the community.”
The knowledge hub is just one of the projects making Wirral a more attractive proposition than ever for businesses. Similarly, more than 500 acres of disused Birkenhead dockland could be transformed into an alluring and sustainable waterfront hotspot where business, industrial and residential developments thrive as part of Peel Group’s proposed Wirral Waters scheme.
According to Shirling-Rooke, projects like Wirral Waters and the knowledge hub would not be possible without the backing of Wirral Council, with the potential support the authority offers serving as further enticement for businesses looking to set up shop on the peninsular.
“For me, there’s nothing quite like Wirral Waters in the Liverpool City Region,” he says, highlighting some of the potential draws of the regeneration site.
“It’s 500-plus acres backed by a very supportive council and a very supportive developer.”
One of the companies watching the Wirral developments with keen interest is the Well Travelled Clinic, a division of the renowned Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The organisation works closely with the maritime sector, providing essential health services to those in the industry.
The Well Travelled Clinic’s managing director, Philippa Tubb has revealed the group aims to strengthen its long-standing ties with the North West’s maritime businesses in light of the latest developments in Wirral, highlighting how this growth has repercussions for a range of different industries.
“With this resurgence in shipping and offshore industry and big plans for redevelopment over in Wirral, we are hoping that our relationship with maritime health will continue to strengthen,” she says.
“We have a long-standing tradition of working with shipping in Liverpool and that is becoming more important now with the development of Liverpool2 and proposed regeneration for Wirral. We’re working closely with Mersey Maritime to ensure that those links stay strong because there will be a growth where health needs are concerned as well.”
Shirling-Rooke claims the recent boom in Liverpool’s port and maritime, coupled with the growth it has helped stimulate across the River Mersey, is about to see the region benefit from “big investment from large international businesses”.
With Liverpool’s docklands shipshape and fresh opportunities presenting themselves in Wirral, the future is bright for the North West’s maritime sector and businesses with ambitions to expand into the region now have a difficult choice to make between each side of the Mersey.