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Turnaround of ailing industrial facilities has created "real jobs and real community health", says ex-minister

The team behind the regeneration of two major industrial facilities in East London and Cheshire have been praised for their bravery and belief in creating "real jobs, real wages and real community health" for thousands of people.

Speaking at the official handover of Londoneast-uk Business and Technical Park in Dagenham to an arm of the local council, Steven Norris, a former Government minister and Conservative Party grandee, praised SOG Group, the regeneration specialists who took over the facility five years ago.

SOG Group, through its unique Fusion regeneration process, coordinated the regeneration of the Sanofi site to ensure a positive legacy was left behind when the pharma company moved out in 2014. As part of the innovative programme Sanofi's research, development and manufacturing buildings were retained and purchased by SOG Group who transformed them into a multi-occupancy science and business park.

The remainder of the site was sold in a strategic regeneration process to bring new businesses and new jobs to the location. Londoneast-uk now sits at the heart of a site where a major new film studio will be situated along with one of Europe's largest data centres, which is already under construction, plus a number of other large projects. Overall the site has attracted around £2 billion of inward investment and will generate up to 5,000 new jobs.

Originally SOG established a 10-year plan to rejuvenate the location. However, through a partnership between the private and public sectors, and without any Government subsidies, the planned rejuvenation has been achieved in just five years.

Situated on 17 acres of land and buildings, Londoneast-uk is currently home to 42 small enterprises employing around 500 people. SOG has now sold the rapidly expanding Park to Barking and Dagenham Trading Partnership (BDTP), a subsidiary company owned by Barking and Dagenham Council.

Meanwhile, SOG continues to own and operate a separate multi-occupancy site, the former ICI headquarters in Runcorn, which it has transformed into The Heath Business and Technical Park where over 120 businesses employ around 2,000 people.

Guests of honour at a formal ceremony today to hand over Londoneast-uk to BDTP were journalist, broadcaster and author Alastair Campbell, who served as Communications Director for Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, and highly respected businessman Steven Norris, a former Minister of Transport and one-time Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Both men were visitors to, and keen supporters of, Londoneast-uk when the venture was first launched five years ago. They have remained enthusiastic advocates of the regeneration process since that time.

Steven Norris praised the commitment and courage of the SOG team and, in particular, of Managing Director John Lewis, in turning around both the Runcorn and Dagenham facilities. Norris told the audience: "I've been lucky enough to know in a life of politics and a life of business some incredibly entrepreneurial people, really successful business people. But there aren't many of them that have been brave enough to take John's gamble."

He added: "That's where the experience came, to develop something that allowed John to say when we saw pharma companies essentially getting out of their big production and research facilities, I can do this again."

Norris suggested hope for similar pharma sites and other large facilities in need of regeneration or rejuvenation. "Wherever there will be something like this site here at Londoneast or somewhere like The Heath, there'll be a John Lewis — and I hope it's this John Lewis — who will be there to turn from what would otherwise be waste into something that becomes a massive, massive generator of real jobs, and real wages and real community health," he said.

Alastair Campbell highlighted the results achieved at both The Heath in Runcorn and Londoneast-uk at Dagenham. He said it was amazing what a small group of men can achieve provided nobody cares who gets the credit to fundamentally make something good happen... be that public, private, north, south, Labour, Tory.

Campbell highlighted that one of his life lessons was to "get good out of bad. Runcorn, The Heath, is getting good out of bad. This today is getting good out of bad."

John Lewis said: "If all companies exiting corporate facilities replicated what Sanofi did in this socially responsible manner, following SOG's Fusion process, then superb facilities need not be lost, skills would be retained and once again these centres become major employment environments contributing to the local and regional economy. They don't have to be lost altogether because there is another way."

He added: "It has been a pleasure to work with such charismatic, intelligent leaders and this project truly demonstrates just how the public sector and the private sector can work in partnership to deliver a shared vision. Barking and Dagenham's Trading Partnership are the new owners of Londoneast and it is most fitting that they will now be able to take the baton and take this project to the next level."

The significance of the Londoneast-uk location was outlined by Cllr Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council. Speaking of the site, he said: "It has always been a home to people of this borough and it's been a major part of their pride in this borough, because this borough was built on industry and innovation."

1st April 2019