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UAE investors keen to fund $226m net zero village in UK

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Artist's impression of Heath Park, a 57-acre net-zero mixed-use development
  • Heath Park in Runcorn is billed as ‘green innovation project
  • It is inspired by a Victorian model village built for soap factory workers
  • The development near Liverpool aims to test future living trends

UAE investors are in talks to help finance a 21st-century net zero development inspired by a Victorian English village.

A planning application has been submitted for the Heath Park project in Runcorn, northwest England, which aims to test future living trends in areas such as employment, housing, leisure, community, transport and energy consumption.

Heath Park has been adopted as a beacon project by the Liverpool city region.

It is also one of 35 ethical projects listed in the Department for International Trade’s 2022 Global Investment Atlas, which aims to attract investors from around the world.

SOG Group, the site’s owner and an operator of business and science parks, said the project had “already triggered interest from some of the world’s biggest investment organisations”.

This includes enquiries from the UAE, as well as Japan, China, the United States, France, Germany and the UK.

“We feel our vision has particular appeal to Middle East investors as Heath Park is a green innovation project and an excellent opportunity for ethical investment in a revolutionary development for future living trends,” SOG owner John Lewis told AGBI.

“Overall, it is a scheme with sound commercial returns on investment at an already successful and thriving business and science park.”

He revealed that SOG is looking for an investment in the region of £200 million ($226 million).

Heath Park’s ethos is modelled on Port Sunlight, a village built in Merseyside in the later 1800s to house the Sunlight Soap factory workers of William Hesketh Lever, who later became Lord Leverhulme.

The village is now a visitor attraction and has been used as a filming location for the BBC drama Peaky Blinders.

“We now have an extraordinary and visionary scheme to meet the challenges of climate change,” Lewis said.

“Our masterplan has taken more than three years of meticulous research to produce an exceptional application to put before the planners.”

The Heath Park planning submission is for a 57-acre mixed-use development on the already established business and science park. It revolves around a residential, business, science, leisure, community and commercial venture, built in a net zero carbon environment. 

Focal to the scheme is the Field of the Future vertical farm, powered by hydrogen, which will produce food for the local community.

The project comes as a report by the World Green Economy Organisation and UAE-based sustainability consultancy Zest Associates suggested the UK and UAE could create up to 100,000 new jobs each in the hydrogen sector by maximising opportunities for collaboration.

“Attracting investors from the UAE into UK projects like this demonstrates the opportunity for cross-border collaboration, especially in areas of mutual interest like net zero vertical farming using hydrogen,” the report’s author Jeffrey Beyer, managing director of Zest Associates, said.

Lewis added that the project’s “vertical farm element alone produces a recurring environmental, social and governance value of more than £13 million, while the rest of the scheme has a value in excess of £50 million”. 

The masterplan also has 545 net zero homes, including 59 senior-living and extra-care apartments, ancillary commercial use such as hotel and leisure facilities and 20,000 sq ft of retail space.

“Heath Park is a scheme that meets the challenges of the future through the creation of a sustainable environment where families can live, work and play,” Lewis said.

“The aim is for the site to be powered by 100 percent hydrogen and other renewable energies.

“We’re particularly excited by the vertical farming element of our plans. This is a genuinely pioneering model which evolved from a world-first pilot study undertaken by leading academics and industry experts.

“It promises to revolutionise existing vertical farming technology with a model that can be replicated globally.”

The vertical farm aims to produce a recurring environmental social and governance value of more than £13 million

According to Beyer, both the UK and the UAE’s net zero commitments depend on clean hydrogen to deliver emission reductions, especially in hard-to-abate sectors.

“Hydrogen offers pathways for greater energy independence in the UK, economic diversification in the UAE, and job creation in both countries,” he said.

“These opportunities are driving multi-billion-dollar investments, individually and jointly through bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding at government and corporate levels.

“These could be enlarged to match the scale of hydrogen investment required to achieve net zero.”

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