Why Business Leaders are Increasingly Investing in Colchester

Jun 21, 2017 | Enterprise

Long known for being Britain’s first city and oldest recorded town, Colchester today is undergoing a £3bn transformation befitting one of the fastest growing districts in the country.  Recognised as a strategic location for business within the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Colchester is increasingly being recognised as a high growth innovation hotspot with immense growth potential.

Key areas around the Borough are currently undergoing regeneration bringing new housing, creating jobs, new culture and leisure experiences; and bringing forward new opportunities for further investment.          

Colchester’s Digital Difference: Ultrafast Broadband

Colchester is best known as the UK’s ‘oldest recorded town’, but with Colchester’s focus on ultrafast connectivity the town centre is firmly set on a digital future.       

Colchester town centre is one of a very few places in the UK to have ultra-fast connectivity, delivering speeds of up to a gigabit per second, up to 50 times faster than speeds commonly available to businesses in other town centres, a unique selling point in competition for investment in the East of England. 

The Council is developing a Digital Strategy 2017-22, which aims to make Colchester the best connected place in the East of England.      

The plan aims to make Colchester a testbed for the next generation of mobile technology, 5G, as well as a “smart city” where the Internet of Things could deliver real improvements to the way we live and work in the future.       

Accessible: Improving transport infrastructure

Colchester is also becoming more accessible.  A raft of recent announcements will see the Borough benefit from £8m invested by Abellio Greater Anglia on train services, £130m new arrivals terminal at Stansted, a new widening scheme for both the A120 and the A12 south of Colchester and most recently the decision around the agreed location for the new Thames crossing.      

Resilient: Key sectors for growth

Colchester Borough Council’s Economic Growth Strategy 2015-21 identifies eight key sectors which will deliver growth in the future.  Colchester features on the national map for Creativity with NESTA/Creative England ranks Colchester 8th nationally for its creativity.  Unsurprising then that the new Ultrafast Broadband capability is helping growth of the creative and digital sector.     

Five new hotels have brought an additional 67,500 new bed-nights to the town centre and are attracting ‘staycation’ business to Colchester’s successful day trip tourism base.

Advanced manufacturing and engineering is also strong in Colchester contributing around 10% of the local economy and employing around 1200 people. 

With more new housing completions over the past five years than any of the other Local Authorities in Essex, construction is also a key sector.   This growth is projected to continue with a projected further 9454 additional dwellings projected between 2015/6 to 2028/29.     

Health and Care, retail, financial and professional services and logistics are also key sectors identified for growth going forward.     

Future Focussed: Key Growth Locations 

Colchester Borough Council has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a high profile destination at Northern Gateway to drive forward economic development, creating new around 3500 new jobs for its growing population, enhancing the borough’s social and community infrastructure provision, and confirming Colchester’s leading role in the eastern region for sport, leisure and business.

Located to the north of the town centre around the A12 trunk road at the new Junction 28, the development of this 100+ hectare site is already underway with the Community Stadium now hosting major international events such as gigs by Sir Elton John and Lionel Ritchie as well as football, David Lloyd Leisure opened in December 2016 and a planning application has been submitted for a new cinema, restaurants and hotel.  Further sites coming forward include a new sports hub with a national status road cycle track, new homes and new offices which benefit from the proximity to the A12.   

The University of Essex has been working over a number of years on a £250m expansion plan which includes a 50% increase in the number of students, investment in accommodation and the creating of a 17.4ha (43 acre) science and business destination at its Knowledge Gateway site.      

Located to the west of Colchester is the Stanway Economic Growth Area with good access to the strategic road network at Junction 26 of the A12.  It contains a mix of commercial uses including retail and B-use employment floorspace.  A significant amount of new commercial development has been constructed over the last decade, in part enabled by the completion of a new bypass.  The vision for the area is to create a sustainable and balanced place to provide a stimulating, attractive and economically vibrant hub for the growing population, building on its success as a retail and commercial destination.     

Working in partnership with our neighbours and local communities, two new exemplary Garden Communities to the East (near the University of Essex) and West (near Marks Tey) of Colchester will provide innovatively designed, sustainable places with a strong sense of local identity, social inclusion, and involvement.  The vision is to provide well-co-ordinated delivery of high quality infrastructure and facilities; good links to the Borough’s primary hub at Colchester Town Centre; a range of market and affordable housing, and an array of job opportunities, together with opportunities for sport; renewable energy; leisure and recreation; walking and cycling, and growing produce.      

Innovative:  new heat network for North Colchester

When developed, Colchester’s Northern Gateway will provide a leisure, commercial and housing offer around extensive public realm spaces. Currently in development there is an opportunity to take an innovative ‘infrastructure first’ approach to delivering low carbon heat network, lowering energy costs for businesses and homes in the area.

Funding for the Heat Network Infrastructure Project (HNIP) has been awarded from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) As the Council currently owns the land at Northern Gateway and will be bringing forward development in due course, it is a unique opportunity to consider whether it is possible to deliver a  new highly sustainable infrastructure package which can be installed in advance of the main build development. This proposal meets with the wider Northern Gateway Masterplan vision which includes an taking an exemplar approach to sustainability. 

The heat network will use a water source heat pump (WSHP) which will serve a core area. This ground source option utilises innovative technology that has a significantly lower carbon footprint that other forms of heat and makes use of the naturally occurring groundwater.  Estimates show that 14% of UK heat demand could be met by heat networks by 2030, compared to 2% currently, making them a cost effective contributor to the UK’s decarbonisation targets. 

In addition it is planned that the Energy Centre which will house the heat network boiler is also be used as a visitor centre.  This will offer educational opportunities to schools and colleges as well as providing a learning model for heat networks and low carbon practices, allowing excellent dissemination.   As the scheme is one of only a handful of schemes awarded funding as part of the HNIP pilot, it  has already attracted a lot of interest for Colchester from within the Energy sector. 

Investible: £3bn being invested in Colchester

Clearly this degree of growth takes time to develop and Colchester has been focussed on delivering major projects for around a decade.  Such projects have included the £250m investment underway at the University of Essex; the £35m transformation of the former Williams & Griffin Department Store and £2.6m regeneration of the former Police Station in Queen Street into ’37 Queen Street’, a new base for around 40 creative and digital businesses run by SPACE Studios.  This is in addition to some £35m having been spent on bringing 5 new hotels to the town and a £4m refurbishment of the Castle Museum as well as £28m for the Firstsite gallery. More projects are also in the pipeline.

Space for Growth

Councils are fast changing organisations these days and Colchester Borough is no exception.  With a challenging target to fill the gap from withdrawal of Government grant Colchester Borough has become a developer and investor.  June saw the completion of Amphora House phase I, a high-end office space for regional law firm tenants Birkett Long.  The Council is currently seeking tenants for a further phase of 12,000sq ft of office space next to this Sheepen Road site.  Office space has also been allocated at Colchester’s Northern Gateway project. Both sites will benefit from the new Ultrafast connectivity.    

Colchester: a great place for business

The picture is clear: Colchester is an investment hotspot and Colchester Borough Council is rising to the challenge. Colchester is a great choice as a thriving business location as well as being a vibrant and welcoming place to live and bring up families.

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Colchester – Ultra Ready

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