Posted: 28 May, 2019

Focus Consultants and Maber Architects have been appointed by Chesterfield Borough Council to explore the feasibility of establishing a Rail Innovation Centre at Barrow Hill, Chesterfield. The proposals for the Centre will enhance an already thriving centre of railway maintenance and engineering at Barrow Hill Engine Shed.

In November 2018, Spanish Train Builder, Talgo announced that it planned to develop an Innovation Centre at Chesterfield as a focus from which the company’s ‘All Britain’ strategy will be developed. Now Focus Consultants and Maber have been appointed by Chesterfield Borough Council to investigate the feasibility and opportunities offered through the development of an Innovation Centre at Barrow Hill in a project known as DRIIVe – the Derbyshire Rail Industry Innovation Vehicle.

The companies have been working with Chesterfield Borough Council, Chesterfield College, University of Derby, NewRail at Newcastle University, Barrow Hill Engine Shed Society and representatives from across the sector to explore the creation of a Research and Development and Training Centre to help the region boost its already important rail industry and address a well-recognised skills gap. Previous work in the sector has projected that by 2033 the rail industry will have potentially lost approximately 50,000 members of staff due to retirement; over 3,000 new rail engineering level 3 graduates will be required just to maintain current skills; at least 7,000 more level 4 advanced technicians will be required across the sector and HS2 alone is forecast to require 600 advanced rail technicians each year from 2019 onwards.

The undertaking of this study has been timely, coinciding with the publication of the Government’s Industrial Strategy Rail Sector Deal which identifies how the rail industry and the Government will collaborate to ensure that the sector can exploit the opportunities of new technologies, improve the efficient use of the railways and enhance the experience of passengers in the future.  The aim of DRIIVe is to help the sector in and around Chesterfield to maximise these opportunities and ensure local people are in a strong position to secure the new employment opportunities that are emerging.

The Economic Development team at Focus, has been appointed by the Borough Council to investigate the need and demand for the Innovation Centre and the benefits it could bring to the region’s economy. Led by Focus partner, Heather Frecklington, the role includes working with businesses, stakeholders and training providers from across the sector to understand the role that DRIIVe could have, what the need and demand is for the project, what are the sources of income that would make it sustainable in the long term, how much it might cost to deliver and how it could be funded.

Heather Frecklington, the partner responsible for Focus’ Economic Development Team, said: “We were delighted to have been appointed to undertake this exciting study. The rail sector is going through a period of unprecedented change with huge investment currently underway and planned for the future. It is exciting to be involved in a project which looks at ensuring some of these benefits are captured for our region. Our findings, so far, have highlighted a significant need and demand for training and recruitment in the sector with particular skills gaps around signalling, electrification, telecoms, rolling stock and digital. Our study is also highlighting why Barrow Hill is a fantastic location for a rail Innovation and Training Centre.”

Being delivered locally out of the Maber Derby office on Pride Park, the multi-disciplinary design team has been appointed to deliver a RIBA Stage II Concept Design to enable the team at Focus to assess demand, cost and to test the market viability of the project. Using their in-house architects, landscape architects and interior designers, the Maber team has been investigating and exploring how the new centre can be integrated sympathetically as part of the existing Grade II listed Barrow Hill Roundhouse site to work with the existing users on site and also create an innovation hub which has a line link to the UK National Rail network.

Lee Smith, Associate Director at Maber Architects, said: “We are enjoying the challenge of creating an exciting state-of-the-art collaboration space which will bring together education, commercial and research partners within the rail sector. Working with the multiple stakeholders involved, we are looking to create a centre that offers innovative workshop spaces where new apprentices, through to industry experts, can work on exciting new rail technology under one roof. The facility will comprise a large workshop capable of housing a small train set, specialist workshops, digital laboratories, training rooms and commercial office space.”

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