Bruntwood SciTech's vision for workspace 2022
Kate Lawlor, Chief Executive - Bruntwood SciTech (image courtesy Bruntwood)
It is the start of a new year with businesses opening up after the Christmas break, but the UK government has asked people to continue to work from home if they can, as the number of infections from Omicron rises. If this advice prevails over future waves of Covid or new variants that emerge, how will the appetite for new workspace develop over the coming year?
Future Cities Forum will be discussing investment in workspace at our March forum 'Science Cities' in Cambridge.
The Chief Executive of Bruntwood SciTech, Kate Lawlor, spoke recently to Future Cities Forum about its vision for this sector. The company, which was formed from a 50:50 joint venture between Bruntwood and investor Legal & General in 2018, is dedicated to developing and managing workspace for the life sciences and technology industries. It owns and manages innovation districts and science campuses in leading regional cities including Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and also in Cambridgeshire.
Among other assets Bruntwood SciTech owns Alderley Park in Cheshire where one of the first Lighthouse Lab Covid-19 testing centres was opened in 2021. The UK government reported that the laboratories have been purposefully created to process COVID-19 samples with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment in all 7 Lighthouse Lab sites. They have been processing PCR tests from home testing and local testing sites in their region, as well as the rest of the country when needed. NHS Test and Trace’s investment in these laboratories has also supported the creation of local jobs with each very-high throughput laboratory having a multi-skilled workforce, as well as roles available in the manufacturing and supply chain.
Kate Lawlor commented on Bruntwood SciTech's progress:
'If I think back to our financial year September 2019 to September 2020, we had performed relatively well with good rent collection and we had stayed close to our customer base. As we were focused on life sciences we had stayed opened during the pandemic, so we went into 2021 with cautious optimism. We have the science side of the business - with labs and 24/7 experiments taking place - and then the tech workspace side with more of our dedicated business support offer wrapped around it. As 2021 progressed the science side continued to take off.
'Historically this has been the more challenging side of the business, as the mix of office and lab provision and the customers are more complicated and often didn't know what they wanted. The tech side was quite slow in early 2021, but Manchester and Leeds have come back with a bang in late in 2021, especially at Circle Square with 400,000 square feet let in March in the university heartland in Manchester - which is now all fully let at end of the year with new customers from abroad and outside the city wanting to tap into the talent pool. Given the wider turmoil we have had a really successful year.
'Universities keep investing and Manchester University has created a new engineering building which has meant we were selected as the property development partner for their old site, which will become ID Manchester. This is a £1.5 billion JV between the university and Bruntwood which will progress as a 4 million square feet mixed use development with two or three buildings we would like to keep and the remainder to demolish, with residential, offices, labs and amenities as a 15 year project.
Investing in science R&D beyond the Golden Triangle
'Some businesses have come to realise that you don't have to locate in Oxford, Cambridge and London to find as good a talent pool for science and technology. The space constraints in Oxford and Cambridge are huge and it's expensive to live in those places. Liverpool and Manchester have rich history in life sciences, so are attractive for those individuals coming out of university with science degrees to be able to stay in a low cost environment, with as much opportunity around them.
'There is a momentum now with businesses wanting to join those established clusters in Alderley Park in Cheshire as well as in central Manchester but the bit that remains a challenge is investment. There is a perception issue about investing in the North, while investors are still focused on ploughing money into the golden triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford.
'However, we should not be talking about city versus city in the life sciences sector as it would be better if the UK could be viewed holistically. With HS2 coming up we are talking almost about an 'innovation corridor' with the new railway connecting the Crick and the knowledge quarter around King's Cross with Birmingham and then beyond to Manchester. Putting that concept forward could be quite compelling.
'One of the biggest challenges for businesses is talent attraction.. Our campus buildings and locations are about turning them into a place with F&B, landscaping and amenities. Manchester Science Park is a good example of the change, where people used to stay in their buildings but now they come out as we put in cafes and well-being spaces where people can meet and it's much more lively.
'We are looking at all sorts of opportunities in other UK regional cities - such as Cardiff and Newcastle and also closer to Cambridge and London in Stevenage. When we are going into a new city a key part of our business model is working in partnership with other stakeholders in the area including universities and city councils and even other corporates. If we see that the fundamentals are present - of forward thinking organisations looking to collaborate - then there is not much that is 'off the table'. Having seen the power of partnership working in places like Manchester and Liverpool, we do our research carefully into what are the unique strengths that particular cities can offer.'