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Wirral’s £25m Maritime Knowledge Hub gets the green light from Wirral Council planners

Plans to build a world class maritime centre of excellence, focused on innovation, engineering, R&D, entrepreneurship and training at the heart of Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters, have been approved by Wirral Council.

The announcement was made today (14th March) at MIPIM, the international property event in Cannes, France, by Richard Mawdsley, Peel L&P’s director of development for Wirral Waters.

The Maritime Knowledge Hub will be a high-level industrial and maritime facility, supporting the region’s £5bn maritime ecosystem where research and innovation will focus on making the most of the incredible opportunities that decarbonisation of the global $3trillion maritime sector brings.

The Hub will also include business accelerator space and conference facilities for both the marine sector and the local business community.

Designed by acclaimed architects Ellis Williams Architects, the Maritime Knowledge Hub will be an architectural landmark and is set to be one of the most important parts of the entire Wirral Waters regeneration project, which will drive economic growth and job creation to the Liverpool City Region and beyond.

Set within the existing 19th century Hydraulic Tower building and Engine House, originally designed by Jesse Hartley’s son, John Bernard Hartley, as a copy of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the Maritime Knowledge Hub project will breathe new life into the building.

The architects and design team worked to maximise the sustainability of the project whilst retaining as much of the building’s original character as possible, complementing the iconic tower with the creation of a new 4 storey extension to accommodate some of the country’s most famous and innovative maritime organisations. The facility will be industry led and will drive research and innovation by bringing education, businesses and Government together within the maritime sector.

Support for the sector is critical to the economy – with a direct turnover of £55billion, and an overall economic impact of £116bn to the UK, the UK’s maritime sector contributes more than rail and aviation combined.

The world leading research and innovation within the Maritime Knowledge Hub will have a particular focus on the decarbonisation of the maritime industry as well as technology transfer from other industries. It will also bring education, employers and businesses together to drive innovation and research within the marine and maritime sectors.

Wirral Council granted planning permission yesterday after the application was submitted in May 2022. Project partners include Peel L&P, Mersey Maritime, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Wirral Council, alongside a number of industry partners.

It is hoped that the project will be on site in 2023.

Maritime Minister, Baroness Vere, said: “Decarbonisation is challenging, but it also presents huge opportunities for UK maritime. That’s why we’ve allocated over £206 million for research and projects across the country, targeting everything from the earliest phases of research right through to the commercial level.

“The Maritime Knowledge Hub will be a crucial centre for collaboration, providing a huge boost for the Liverpool City Region, creating a new architectural landmark in Wirral, and supporting jobs and education. The hub demonstrates the huge potential of our maritime regions as engines of growth, and the ability of these clusters to galvanise action.”

Speaking from MIPIM in France, Richard Mawdsley, director of development for Wirral Waters at Peel L&P, said: “The Maritime Knowledge Hub is a really special project for so many reasons. It will continue the Wirral’s proud maritime heritage; create new jobs and economic growth for the Liverpool City Region; and it will also, through research and innovation, help the Wirral to be at the forefront of the creation of a decarbonised global maritime industry that is fit for a more sustainable and green future. Securing planning permission is a major step forward towards the delivery of the project and will galvanise progress with occupiers and our funding partners.”

Chris Shirling-Rooke, Chief Executive of Mersey Maritime, said: “Right from its inception, Mersey Maritime has been a passionate and determined supporter of the new Maritime Knowledge Hub project. We are delighted that a significant milestone in its evolution, confirmation of planning approval, has now been secured as this will be a decisive step on the journey to turn this concept into tangible bricks and mortar reality. The team at Wirral Waters and the wider partners involved in this project understand the potentially transformative impact it will have as a major component of the wider regeneration schemes at the Birkenhead docks.

“We are incredibly excited to be part of this vision, not least because we know only too well the deeply significant role that maritime plays in the region’s economy. Worth some £5billion to the Liverpool City Region already, we want to unlock further the potential to drive jobs, skills and growth which sits at the core of the ambition of the Maritime Knowledge Hub. Innovation, digitisation and helping transition the maritime industry towards a cleaner, greener future will be key to the work that flows from the project. We are one step closer to that reality today.”

LCR Freeport Director, John Lucy, said: “The news that the Maritime Knowledge Hub has received planning consent is a fantastic shot in the arm for the regional maritime sector.

“Located in very close proximity to the Wirral Waters tax site, the development of the Maritime Knowledge Hub strengthens the reputation that the region has as a leader in the maritime sector. Through the combination of the Freeport and MKH, and working in close cooperation with public and private sector partners, we hope to use this development to continue to foster innovation, facilitate trade and create high-skilled jobs.

“This innovative project of national significance promises to unlock the potential of our region’s maritime industry by providing a world-class learning and research environment. With this important milestone achieved, I look forward to seeing the hub flourish and contribute to the growth and prosperity of our region.”

Cllr Tony Jones, chair of Wirral Council’s Economy, Regeneration and Housing Committee, said: “I’m really pleased to see this project moving forward. The maritime sector is vitally important to this region and the Maritime Knowledge Hub will play a crucial role in helping us supply the maritime specialists of the future, while also cementing our place at the forefront of this industry. Wirral Council has backed this project all the way and I’m pleased the planning committee have also seen the value of the Maritime Knowledge Hub and this unique chance to breathe new life into the fantastic landmark Hydraulic Tower building.”

Nigel Quinn, Chief Executive of Bibby Marine, said: “Bibby Marine is delighted that this important step on the journey to realise the Maritime Knowledge Hub vision has been reached. Our own priorities, including accelerating the 2050 goal of developing decarbonised vessels, harnessing UK based skills and supporting wider priorities such as ‘levelling up’, are the sort of themes and projects that will be a focus for those involved with the MKH.

“Collaboration sits at the heart of this project which will focus on research and innovation and will play a significant part in delivering new jobs and skills to the region as we strive for a cleaner and greener industry. We are excited to be part of this work in this place which has moved a step further with this development.”