The Atlantic Gateway


three graces DGThe Three Graces – Liverpool Waterfront by Seaforth. Site of the new £300m deep water port serving the Atlantic Gateway – Photo Dave Green

The Atlantic Gateway

The Atlantic Gateway (sometimes referred to as Ocean Gateway) is a project driven by Peel Holdings which will be delivered over the next 25 years leading to £14 billion of investment in the North West over the short to medium term. Over the long term  (next 50 years) it is expected that a cool £50 billion will be invested. To put this in to perspective this is the size of the annual defence budget for the whole of the United Kingdom!

The area for investment is concentrated on the Liverpool Waterfront, Merseyside and the Warrington / St Helens corridor to Manchester.

It is the biggest investment in our local region since the Industrial Revolution and the project is expected to generate 250,000 jobs in the region.

So who are Peel Holdings?

They are one of the leading infrastructure, transport and real estate companies in the UK. They have a head office  in Manchester but have land all over the North West including large areas in Newton Le Willows. Certainly most of the land immediately south of the A580 is owned by Peel Holdings. They are perhaps best known for being the owners of the Trafford Centre and Media City in Manchester.

Why is this of relevance for those in the OLV region?

The first obvious factor is that an operation of this size and scope is likely to have an immense impact on the regional economic multiplier creating many new businesses from commercial opportunities through the concept and via the supply chain.

Secondly, the scale and nature of the enterprise will set a framework for large scale freight enterprises in this region of the North West.  Not all of these will be developed by Peel but they will need to be in alignment with both the Atlantic Gateway project and HS2 (High Speed Rail) should High Speed Rail be developed.

The Astral / Pro Logis development at Parkside was withdrawn for economic reasons although it was never elaborated what these were. It is likely the emergence of the Atlantic Gateway was a factor in that the developers, by withdrawing the proposal, has allowed them to reflect on the likely future framework. HS2 will also have an impact on Parkside in that it will free up paths on the West Coast main line for freight by increasing passenger capacity on the new HS2 line.  At this point we don’t know what the plans are for Parkside but it is highly likely that, if it is on the scale of the Astral proposal, it will almost certainly be in synergy with both the Atlantic Gateway and HS2.

Such is the scale of the project that anywhere in the Liverpool to Manchester corridor will be impacted, either by the direct projects within the Atlantic Gateway portfolio, or by the ripple effect of new businesses from the general economic multiplier and the supply chain.

Clearly in general terms this is a stellar economic development for our region and in time will have a direct effect on the area we live and our environment including reduction of our scarce green belt.

Our Local Voice (Per Se) is not against all developments and we welcome the huge growth opportunities it brings. However  there needs to be a balance between development and environment- in other words those words again “sustainable development”.  In some ways developments of this nature can (if planned properly) enhance the environment.  Natural England has recognised both the opportunity and the threats because, make no mistake, there will be huge threats to our environment with anything on this scale. Certainly there have already been huge protests by both MP’s and local communities in the Barton area over Peel’s plans to develop Port Salford on green belt.

The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission are acting in partnership to engage with the Atlantic Gateway for green infrastructure as an integral part of the gateway project. However we must bear in mind these are all pro development government departments or government quangos and we would be unwise to trust these bodies alone to preserve our green landscape and heritage. Nonetheless we are at the outset of this project and there is opportunity for communities and the developers to work together to bring alive the concept of “sustainable development”.

Some background to the Atlantic Gateway.

It is not a single development. It is a vision of a series of interconnecting infrastructure developments in the region that will act as an enabler for economic growth.  The vision is that this area will retain the second highest area of growth in the United Kingdom outside of London. It is sometimes called the Canary Wharf of the North!

The funding is a partnership of public and private finance and is included as a major element in the coalition government’s infrastructure growth plan and has been promoted many times by the Chancellor, George Osborne. The project is also backed by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The project is engaged with three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP). Manchester, Warrington and Cheshire and Merseyside. The project is also a significant feature of the new combined Merseyside Authority creating a separate legal entity where the current Liverpool, Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral authorities would devolve key powers into a single authority. In fact the Atlantic Gateway is the main driver in the need for the combined authority in all probability.

For more details on the Combined Authority see spotlight section of this website.

So what exactly will the Atlantic Gateway do?

The project is a large number of interconnecting activities but there are three main strands and if you understand these you have more or less got the concept  since all developments are centred on this infrastruture.

One - The expansion of the port facilities at the Port of Liverpool by dredging the Mersey and allowing development of a deep water port to rival Felixstowe and to take the huge New Panamax vessels  into the port. Panamax refers to a ship that can fit into the Panama Canal which has limited width. As from 2015 the Panama Canal will be widened in a major expansion project for Panama which was voted for by 78% of the electorate. This is very significant because this will allow a major expansion of freight from the west from 2015 reducing many trade routes from the east.

This will allow the super ships to flow from this trade route opening up fantastic opportunities for the Port of Liverpool. The Manchester Ship Canal is to be redeveloped and once again more shipping will flow on that canal. These new modern vessels can carry far more containers than rail or road.

Post pann vesselPost Panamax boat being unloaded.

This will be supplemented by two major new inland inter-modal ports, one at Acton Grange in Warrington and one at Salford. It is expected that in 2014 freight trains will run each night through Newton Le Willows from Port Salford and on to the West Coast main line.

Warrington and Salford are the most significant new inter-modal ports but others are planned for Ince and Wirral.  Onward rail and road freight are integral components of the distribution networks from these ports.

Alongside these two inland port developments is an immense inter-modal facility at Ditton in Halton named 3MG- the Mersey Multi- modal gateway.  This is currently expanding its existing port facilities on the Mersey but its main function is the supply of rail freight from the southern deep water ports. The Parkside developer ProLogis and the freight company Stobart are the two prime operators on this site.

These facilities are planned to be the prime enabler in rebalancing the regional economy by turning the Atlantic Gateway into one of the most competitive business locations with reduced transport costs, decreased congestion on UK routes and reduced carbon emissions through the use of a water based transport system. This is the optimum transport configuration for this region supported by rail and road distribution in the coalition governments infrastructure plan.

TwoThe Northern Hub aims to improve rail connectivity across the North of England and will make a significant impact on rebalancing the economy by increasing capacity, decreasing journey times and introducing the latest technology. It will deliver change to rail  passengers and businesses by enabling greater mobility of labour markets and improving business competitiveness. It will improve rail connectivity on the Trans-Pennine routes from Liverpool to Leeds.  In essence this is a complete redevelopment of our regional railways.

ThreeSci-Tech Daresbury  which is already a world leading science and research base. However further major expansion  and national science projects will create the critical mass and momentum to attract more high profile businesses to develop the technology for tomorrow’s products.  This is critical for our region -we do not wish to build a low skilled economy based around simply distributing innovative products made in other countries.  We want to attract high end innovative manufacturing industries to this region and export products ourselves in a highly competitive future global economy. This is sometimes referred to as the knowledge based economy and is in very short supply in our local region.

Cameron DSPPrime Minister David Cameron recently at Daresbury Science Park.

By attracting the high earning individuals and businesses of the future from the knowledge economy with the regions leading universities, this will generate wealth in the service sector, cafes, hotels, restuarants  exactly as it has done adjacent to the financial sector in Canary Wharf.

This is in essence is the core of the vision of the Atlantic Gateway. This is not some far away vision of the future. All of these projects have received government assent and most of them are completed or being completed as we speak.

Other significant  projects within the Atlantic Gateway are:

Mersey Gateway Bridge -a new bridge at Runcorn to increase capacity beyond the existing Runcorn Bridge. It is planned to be a new six lane toll bridge.

High Speed 2 -  HS2 may act in synergy with the Atlantic Gateway although this is a matter for debate as to its overall impact.

Airport City – a £800m landmark property development, creating  globally connected business destinations located at Manchester Airport.  A vibrant economic hub with connectivity at its heart, this will be the UK’s first airport city providing 5m sq ft of development, a mix of offices, hotels, advanced manufacturing, logistics and warehousing.

Expansion of John Lennon Airport – significant expansion of the cargo and passenger facilities.

Broadband – development of next generation broadband. The way that individuals and businesses access the internet has changed dramatically in recent years and technology continues to evolve providing faster and more reliable access to the internet through both fast and super-fast broadband referred to as next generation access. The provision of this high speed digital infrastructure has the potential to impact on productivity, enterprise and innovation.  This is particularly critical with the next generation of high technology businesses planned to be brought to this region. Britain is already behind many of our competitors in the Far East (such as Korea) in terms of broadband capacity. This is to be rectified.

Our Local Voice says –clearly a very exciting and innovative project. Even the most committed environmentalist cannot be hostile to 250,000 jobs and rebalancing our economy. We particularly welcome the prospect of high end technology and innovative manufacturing in this region. This region needs to have a diversity of employment in the future and be more than a warehousing hub.

However (as always) there is little point in developing economic growth if this means you live in an environment that has a poor quality of life and well- being.  We cannot and must not make the mistake of our ancestors from the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. The green infrastructure is therefore just as important as the commercial growth.

The two are not mutually exclusive. We can retain and in some cases enhance our green infrastructure while embracing development.    But we cannot trust the developers and government quango’s to achieve this alone. Communities must have their say.

Two plus two must equal five (synergy) otherwise our future generation will curse us for the state we left the North West of England in.