Scape projects will bring double boost to Darlington economy

Thanks to public sector procurement, design and transformation specialists Scape, Darlington Borough Council is investing over £14m into the local economy and leading the way in innovative partnership working.

Construction work on the £6.2m Darlington Business Growth Hub on the Central Park Enterprise Zone site has been started by Scape national framework contractor, Willmott Dixon. The same contractor is on schedule to complete an £8m new office development for the Department for Education (DfE) in the Feethams area by the end of January next year.

In November 2012, the DfE announced that it would have to move out of its outdated offices at Mowden Hall.  Whilst the DfE was committed to remaining in the North East, this risked 375 jobs being lost to the Darlington economy.

Instead of being resigned to this possibility, Darlington Borough Council and local MPs took the proactive step of exploring how they could make a robust case to the DfE to remain in Darlington.  The solution was in effect ‘build it and they will come’ – or in this case, stay – with the council proposing the construction of a new building at the rear of the Town Hall, to be leased to the DfE.

This partnership is a genuine win/win.  The DfE avoid the cost and upheaval of relocation and will enjoy the benefit of a purpose made building.  The council retain a significant local employer and are looking to release the development potential of adjoining riverside sites as a spin off.  Both parties will potentially benefit from collaborating and sharing services and facilities when the building is occupied.

With the decision taken in April 2013 to remain in Darlington, the council needed a delivery vehicle that offered speed and certainty, to honour the commitment made to the DfE.

Brian Robson, head of capital projects at the council turned to the Scape Major Works framework agreement.

Brian said: “We needed a solution that could make things happen quickly and had a proven track record of delivering on time and budget.  Discussions with colleagues in the public sector locally lead us to Scape, to achieve both of these criteria.  With Willmott Dixon engaged in developing the project with us, we started on site late last year and are on programme to have the building ready for the DfE to take occupation in early 2015.”

Darlington is serious about investing for growth.  With funding from the European Regional Development Fund and the Homes and Communities Agency, the Business Growth Hub aims to attract at least 25 new businesses and 350 jobs within the first 15 years of operation.

It will bring new life to an area of the borough which has suffered during the economic downturn but will now be a focus for attracting new businesses to the area.

Mr Robson explained: “A key benefit of Scape frameworks is that they all have a single provider.  Having established a project team with Willmott Dixon for the DfE building, we have been able to maintain continuity of personnel and capture best practice.  Offering a pipeline of work has meant we have been able to secure genuine collaboration and competitive pricing from the local supply chain and maximise local spend.”

Scape group chief executive Mark Robinson said: “These projects show what can happen when public sector organisations work together to achieve their goals.  The innovation and entrepreneurial approach demonstrated by Darlington show how potential adversity can be turned to advantage.  Using the Scape framework has helped Darlington secure the 375 jobs in the area and all the associated benefits their spending will bring to others in the local economy.

“Once completed, these projects will provide high quality accommodation to help attract new businesses and will retain and create vital jobs to give a sustainable boost to the local economy.”

Brian Robson said working closely with Scape had helped to deliver the project. “It has been a very good and positive working relationship with a sense of team work and with good communication.”

The hub is intended to attract a range of business types but the development of the £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre for medical research next to the site is likely to be an influence. “It may be that there will be spin-offs and that the centre will help attract companies with links to that research sector,” Mr Robson said.

With steel works already in place, the hub is beginning to take shape and is targeted to be finished by the end of March next year. It will provide 3,200 sq metres of high quality Grade A office space for small and medium enterprises.