The Heath’s expansion defies the credit crunch

With building firms around the country shelving projects in the face of the credit crunch, one of the UK’s most successful business parks is bucking the trend by starting a multi-million-pound development scheme just days after receiving detailed planning permission.

Earlier this year, SOG Ltd – owner and operator of The Heath in Runcorn, Cheshire – unveiled exciting plans to add 180,000 square feet of offices and laboratories to the existing site which will increase the workforce at the award-winning business and science complex from 2,000 to over 3,000 workers in the next five years.

Work will commence immediately following Halton Borough Council planners granting detailed permission for phase one of the project – involving construction of two identical office blocks each measuring 9,500 square feet. Work on the first of the two-storey, state-of-the-art buildings officially began on Friday when Halton Borough Council Leader Tony McDermott was invited to turn over the first sod of soil on the site.

Fittingly, the company moving in to the first of the new buildings will be Progressive Solutions, a tenant at The Heath since 2000. The company, which develops business management software for merchants and wholesalers in the construction sector, has continued to expand since its inception when it occupied two rooms at The Heath. Now employing 33 local people and with plans to recruit more new staff next month, the company is literally bursting out of the 4,000 square feet of space it occupies in the existing building.

SOG Managing Director Dr Peter Cook said: “Since we showcased our expansion plans back in April this year the economic downturn has sent shockwaves through the business world. However, I’m delighted to report that we have been able to buck the credit-crunch trend by moving ahead with our new development proposals to maintain the momentum of The Heath’s incredible success story.”

Tony McDermott said: “This exciting development at The Heath is another example of how Halton Borough Council encourages and works with organisations to deliver results. If there are problems that might need to be addressed, we will help to find suitable solutions. We don’t want to pose problems for the business community – we want to work with them to make things happen. I feel this is one of the key reasons why companies are prepared to invest in the borough.”

Liverpool-based RJ Lewis Projects, an expert on large-scale construction and refurbishment schemes, is responsible for the design and build management.

Director Simon Lewis said: “By being responsible for both design concept and construction management, we are able to deliver a state-of-the-art, purpose-built office block that will be ready for use in just six months. The timescale for a development of this size would normally take nine months to a year to complete. I would like to thank Halton Council’s Planning Department for their advice and guidance which ensured the scheme met our deadlines within the regulations.”

The office block is due to be completed in May 2009. It will consist of a sealed steel frame building with cladding, double glazing and full air-conditioning. Simon Lewis added: “It’s a fully flexible office space constructed in modular sections that guarantees a fast build process.”

Arthur Duffy, Progressive Solutions’ Director of Operations in the UK, said: “I’m pleased to say that our company has mirrored the success of The Heath and, because of our sustained growth, we are more than ready to move into our new home next May – from where we can continue to expand more comfortably! The new development certainly sends out a very positive message for the business community in the North West during these rather gloomy economic times and we’re delighted to be part of that success story.”

Former Government Minister Steve Norris, a long-time supporter of The Heath, says the new development, which will ultimately increase capacity of the business park by 40 per cent, is a credit to the foresight of SOG’s directors.

“What SOG has achieved here is a fantastic story,” said Mr Norris. “They have tremendous facilities but it is far more than that, they have a real understanding of what the tenants require from a business park. SOG provides a wide range of important services that businesses can tap into, including the kind of specialist scientific support facilities you can’t find anywhere else in the North West.”

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