Life sciences booming for Cheshire and Warrington

THE sub-region is already seeing strong growth in the booming life sciences sector, including the development of Alderley Park as a hub attracting new companies, investments and jobs.

Pharma giant AstraZeneca’s 2013 decision to close its research and development facility on the site and move south has been turned from a potential economic disaster into a strong positive for the whole of the North West.

Now part of a new science-based enterprise zone stretching across Cheshire and Warrington, it has been estimated that the new life sciences park could create 7,000 jobs and contribute £245m to the local economy.

Clusters are seen as a big positive for both the sub-region and the emerging Northern Powerhouse.

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However, Richard Anderson, chief executive of Crawford Healthcare, sounds one note of caution.

He says: “We should focus on certain key segments where we have got a strong advantage. Trying to do too much, too many clusters will fail.

“The life sciences history and legacy here is phenomenal. There is a huge opportunity here and if we don’t take that opportunity to make a song and dance about it we are missing an open goal.”

He cites advance materials and graphene as other clusters prime for growth in the North West, repeating his warning: “We need to be rigorous about which sectors we focus on.”

And he adds: “Hubs work. You can share ideas, have discussions with like-minded companies, you can share people, it is massive.”

Malcolm Jackson is group financial director at property investor and developer, Langtree Group – the private sector joint venture partner at Sci-Tech in Daresbury, which is home to a growing number of companies.

The Innovation Centre at the heart of the development is home to a range of businesses, with strong representation from the biomedical, digital/ICT and engineering sectors.

Jackson says that surveys carried out there have revealed that 80% of businesses on the site “collaborate either between themselves or the government facility over the road.”

He adds: “That’s quite a significant number, 80% trading with each other, bouncing ideas of each other.”

Tim Frankland, joint managing director of Claremont Group, an interior design and build business based in Warrington, says historically clusters work.

He says: “If you think about Sheffield steel, it has worked in the past. Shoreditch in London is the place if you want to be digital and attract bright graduates.”

Frankland adds that a cluster of tech start-ups is now being developed in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

“They want to sit and talk to each other, under-25s starting businesses. In five years’ time they’ll probably be employing us all.

“It does work, it is about not trying to do too many, two or three specialisms in the North West.”

Anderson strongly believes that while Manchester will lead the way in many sectors Cheshire and Warrington should take the lead in life sciences.

He says: “Most of the health care companies are outside Manchester. Science is being generated by the university but it is being commercialised outside Manchester.

“A whole bunch of companies are going to break through and it is Cheshire that is leading the way. We should not be embarrassed about celebrating that success.”

He says one of the priorities should be to attract a pharma business to relocate its headquarters to Alderley Park. “That should be one of Cheshire’s absolute priorities,” he says. “Life science is where we have a definite advantage. The building blocks are already there.”

The LEP’s Philip Cox “agrees with that” and points to the enterprise zone status that Alderley Park has, plus the funding that now exists in the region to support businesses in the sector – including start-ups.

John Roche, of Chemicals Northwest, believes one of the strengths of clusters is that they offer the opportunity for sectors to shout about what they do. His organisation is heavily involved in networking.

He adds: “In terms of any company, whether they are manufacturers or suppliers, I believe this face-to-face networking is an important part of everybody’s marketing toolbox.”

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