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BioMed Realty on 'Science Cities' investment in the UK

Above: CGI of new campus landscaping and lab/office buildings at the Cambridge International Technology Park (Scott Brownrigg for BioMed Realty)

Future Cities Forum has been interviewing Orestis Tzortzoglou, Vice President (UK) Development, BioMed Realty, ahead of our 'Science Cities' forum next week at Newnham College Cambridge.

BioMed is a Blackstone portfolio company - one of the biggest investors worldwide of real estate - and is currently developing new office and laboratory buildings at Fulbourn Road in Cambridge, where Scott Brownrigg is the architect. The development complements BioMed's other Cambridge investments at Granta Park and at Babraham Research Campus.

Scott Brownrigg describes the Fulbourn Road project:

'The 15- acre site at Fulbourn Road Cambridge will provide 550,000-net-square-feet of laboratory and office space, aimed at life sciences, biotechnology and more traditional office occupiers. To be known as Cambridge International Technology Park, the buildings will be capable of being occupied by a variety of users for multi or single occupation. With a highly sustainable and environment focused approach, the Park will provide flexible space suitable for a range of end user needs, particularly important given the diverse range of target occupiers in the Cambridge market.

'The Campus is centred around a new approach to outdoor collaborative workspace; a series of landscaped terraces, platforms and gardens designed to be fully accessible to all. Anticipating the benefits of 5G and mobile technology this new outdoor workspace incudes protective covered areas to encourage people to work wherever they like, bringing the indoors out. Combined with highly sustainable, energy efficient buildings with a flexible office and laboratory use, the Cambridge International Technology Park will be an exemplar Science Hub in Southern Cambridge. Reinforcing the region’s status as a world leading centre for R&D. The project represents a major investment by BioMed Realty in the Cambridge office market where demand, especially for life sciences, biotechnology and other more traditional office users remains high.'

Orestis joined our recent Oxford 'Science Cities' forum talking about the company's interest in investing in other UK cities:

'We are very interested in Oxford and have seen the city become much more successful in the last few years, and shares common themes with Cambridge - housing needs and congestion in the city centre, for instance. There are certainly lessons to be learned from other international markets, and also from the development of Cambridge which really took off with Trinity College's Cambridge Science Park in the 1970s. We are looking at the inner city - out of city dynamic and where these different approaches to R&D spaces might become complementary. There are advantages to working with beautiful park-like settings with the lower rise, flexible spaces that are possible outside the city. However, I think the city centre becomes more challenging with the mix of student use, residential and retail - so it is interesting how this co-existence with science R&D can be developed.

Ahead of our February 'Science Cities' forum, Orestis was asked about what he felt needed to change in campus design when first investing in Cambridge around 2012:

'When we came to Cambridge around 2012, the 'out of town park' had gone into decline and with the financial crisis there was a flight into town centres. Facilities were in decline and not much growth was prevalent. We saw an opportunity to improve facilities on the 'science campus' to make them more than just a collection of buildings with a fence around them. So we invested funds in developing schemes such as The Apiary (at Granta Park, Great Abington) with leisure facilities, restaurant and a nursery as well as a team that could provide events programming around sports, nature, meditation, to bring people together and connect for business.

'Now we are working on a 15-acre site closer to the city centre, with a short cycle route to the station and offering an ideal base for companies to grow and therefore entirely flexible. We are looking at how we bring in more amenities to the site and travel options for cycling.

'We have ongoing conversations with the County Council about providing sustainable transport environments because we want to attract the best talent. So we ask questions about how our tenants can travel to our sites. We want them to reduce their reliance on the single car mode and this requires a change in mindset. The common mechanism here was to use punitive measures such as reducing the number of car parking spaces, but this didn't work because staff would just park in a nearby street. So we came up with an alternative to offer users freedom of choice. Could we provide a safe off-road cycle route from their village and offer shower, towels and toiletries at the park to empower them to leave their car at home? The other idea is to make sure we offer dedicated commuter buses that are clean and reliable and that tenants find cost effective. Of course there are always exceptions, where families want to travel together in the car for the school drop-off, but it is important to communicate the impact if tenants change to more climate aware travel, that is the reduction in numbers of cars translates into so many trees for example, then people are motivated to consider these even it means a number of times per week.'

Orestis was asked how the housing crisis in Cambridge is affecting BioMed's business:

'There is no doubt that there is a housing crisis in Cambridge which also has an impact on our tenants. The cost of housing in Cambridge is often unaffordable. So the question is does the city have the transport modes to get people in from satellite areas and do that reliably? If you have graduates, for example, who have to travel and hour and twenty minutes each way to work, they are just not going to find that easy. We are struggling to find day-care staff for our site nursery. There needs to be government support to improve infrastructure. There is much attention for the east to west rail link but I would say there should be attention on local transport provision. Why can't we consider a tram or light railway for Cambridge for example? Other European cities such as Basel have reliable transport that works on time to the exact second.'

Above: trams in Basel, Switzerland - home to Novartis and Roche

Orestis continued:

'If you have a place that is successful and with an international appeal and reputation like Cambridge, you should capitalise on it further. Granta Park generates circa £10 million in business rates every year but the money goes back to the Treasury rather than being spent locally, and it could be spent on better trains and trams. I think there was a plan for a metro which I can see is challenging in a medieval city but similar European cities offer sustainable transport modes like the tram which is less intrusive. The other problem is a shortage of power supply and I know the Greater Cambridge Partnership has been exploring bolstering the network, and has been bringing forward plans to do so, but these kinds of problems which are strategic in nature take 10 to 15 years to solve. Another issue for the current times is water infrastructure and we need to find more sustainable options with water courses. All these issues must be solved to preserve our international status.

Future Cities Forum asked Orestis whether he had felt the impact of Brexit on his business or indeed the levelling up agenda?

'The misconception is that if someone cannot find space in Cambridge because the supply chain is constrained, they will move to Manchester. That is not always the case. The reality is that they will move to Boston, Berlin or Singapore. When we go and pitch for major investments, the people we are pitching to have a laser-like focus on certain places. They come to cities for the intellectual property creation and talent found in Cambridge - which has been 800 years in the making. World leading universities such as Cambridge, Oxford or Harvard have a certain appeal that is hard to replicate elsewhere. Companies are drawn to places where there is talent, IP creation and the want to be next to departments with Nobel prize winners, places where they can stroll down the road and meet someone who really understands science.

Above: Oxford University's new Department of Chemistry building on Parks Road in October 2022

'There have been regulatory issues with Brexit and some companies in Cambridge are now opening up branches in Europe. Oxford which has experienced great growth in recent years, is still a step behind Cambridge which has demonstrated more ability to commercialise. There is nevertheless great potential in Oxford and the two cities should be viewed as complementary, The question for both is how do you retain talent? You must create an environment that will stand the test of time, create a place where tenants and staff want to be. Some science parks are clearly more successful in attracting tenants back rather than wanting to work remotely and that is because the character of the park and its facilities make it a really positive place to be and they enjoy the strength of the community. The question is can we keep those success stories of small start-ups coming out of Cambridge and grow them locally, because the benefits for the community are immeasurable.'

Orestis expanded on these ideas at our 'Science Cities' forum in February 2023 at Newnham College Cambridge.


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