Warrington – Bridging the Gap (4 of 6)

Warrington – Bridging the Gap. Blog 4 of 6 in this series about business in the Northwest of England

Since ancient times, Warrington has been significant as the lowest bridging point of the river Mersey, having the bridge on the river closest to the sea. There has been a large settlement on the site since Roman times, and in the Middle Ages the town’s market was large and important, drawing trade from the wide hinterland towards the Mersey estuary. Despite its proximity to Manchester, Liverpool and the Trafford Centre retail park, Warrington maintains a thriving retail sector and is one of the largest shopping centres in the Northwest. In 1993, two bombs planted by the IRA in the centre of town caused significant damage to the high street and retail economy, as well as killing two young children. This event was one of the turning points for public opinion in England, Wales and Scotland against the IRA.

Business In NW Warrington(resize)

Like many towns and cities in the Northwest, Warrington expanded rapidly during the industrial revolution when it was particularly important for the manufacture of steel wire. In addition to this, it developed a reputation for brewing, tanning and chemical production. There is still a large Unilever plant in the town today. Although much of the heavy industry on which it relied during the early part of the century declined through the 1970s and 80s, Warrington continued to thrive, in part due to its designation as a ‘New Town’ in 1968. This brought a swathe of new development and a population increase as people relocated from the larger (and declining) urban centres of Liverpool and Manchester.

Aside from its bridging position on the river, the town is well situated for trade within the North-West region. It sits at the intersection of the West-Coast mainline, which connects London to Glasgow and lines between Liverpool, Manchester and North Wales. It is bordered, too, by three motorways (M62, M6 and M56) and sits mid-way between Liverpool and Manchester international airports. The Manchester ship canal runs through the town to the south through a network of three swing bridges and, although there is little traffic through there at the moment, with the development of the Port Salford Project [link to Manchester blog], this could change in the near future.

As is the case with most urban centres in the West, Warrington’s service industry is strong, accounting for some 75% of its gross value added in 2010. The strongest sector is retail with two large shopping malls, an indoor market and retail districts around Buttermarket Street, Horsemarket Street, Sankey Street and Bridge Street, and a number of out-of-town sites too. Swedish furniture giant Ikea chose Warrington to site their first UK store, which continues to be one of only fifteen stores in the UK. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers driving all the way from Manchester on a ‘family day out’ to visit it.

Warrington’s status as a major economic centre in the Northwest looks set to continue well into this century. The £1bn Omega Business Park Development, due for phased completion over the next thirty years will provide a stimulus to retail, manufacturing, service and leisure sectors with the creation of some 24,000 jobs. A new junction (8) of the M62 has already been added, with companies like Brakes, Hermes and Travis Perkins already earmarking large plots within it.

An effective bridge between the dominant urban centres of Liverpool and Manchester, Warrington has ridden out the decline of heavy industry in the North better than most and survives now as a thriving shopping town with a solid services sector. Planned development will support growing leisure and distribution industries and may even serve to reinvigorate growth in manufacturing.

Pointers

  • Warrington has historically been significant as the lowest bridging point of the River Mersey
  • The town expanded rapidly during the industrial revolution when it was important for the manufacture of steel wire
  • It also developed a reputation for brewing, tanning and chemical production. There is still a large Unilever plant in the town today
  • Although much of the heavy industry on which it relied declined through the 1970s and 80s, Warrington continued to thrive, in part due to its designation as a ‘New Town’ in 1968
  • This brought new development and a population increase as people relocated from the larger (and declining) urban centres of Liverpool and Manchester
  • Despite its proximity to Manchester, Liverpool and the Trafford Centre retail park, Warrington maintains a thriving retail sector and is one of the largest shopping centres in the Northwest
  • It is home to two large shopping malls, an indoor market and retail districts and a number of out-of-town sites
  • The town boasts excellent transport links; it sits at the intersection of the West-Coast mainline, is bordered by three motorways and sits mid-way between Liverpool and Manchester international airports
  • Warrington’s service industry is strong, accounting for 75 per cent of its gross value added in 2010
  • The £1bn Omega Business Park Development at J8 of the M62 will boost the retail, manufacturing, service and leisure sectors in Warrington, and create 24,000 jobs

Apr 14, 2015