top of page

Cambridge 'Science Cities' - Report Part One

Above: first panel at 'Science Cities' with from left - David Allatt of Cambridgeshire County Council, Katherine Rodgers of The Property Board - Cambridge University, Eimear Meredith Jones of Deloitte, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Paul Witcombe of Hertfordshire LEP, and Gary Clark of HOK

Future Cities Forum tackled the challenges of Cambridge's housing and transport problems at our 'Science Cities' event at Newnham College last week. The first panel discussion also looked at the expansion of science campuses and compared the city's life science and industrial growth to that of cities and towns such as Glasgow and Stevenage.

Cambridge County Council, The Property Board of Cambridge University Estates Division, Deloitte, HOK and Hertfordshire LEP took part in our first panel discussion.

In January this year, Cambridge City Council stated that leading councillors say plans for more homes and jobs under the new Local Plan for Greater Cambridge can only go forward if there is certainty on water supplies, and evidence they will not cause unacceptable environmental damage.

This follows the publication of an update about the development strategy of the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan. The report from the Joint Director of Planning for the city of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire says:

  • The environment and water supply must be protected alongside a need for new homes – including addressing the shortage of affordable homes.

  • Greater Cambridge is one of the most important research and innovation employment locations in the UK and is growing fast as new jobs are created.

  • National planning policy says significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth – but Councils say the environment must be protected at the same time.

The Councils’ latest evidence points to an expected need for more homes and jobs than previously envisaged due to the success of the economy and expected increase in job numbers. Both Councils’ existing Local Plans already provide for around 37,200 additional homes for Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire between now and 2041. However, the latest economic forecasts from planners point to a likely increase of around 66,000 jobs across Greater Cambridge area by 2041. These additional new jobs, some 8,200 more than previously expected, result in a need to also plan for additional homes, over and above the earlier plan proposals.

There are concerns that more jobs and housing will create even greater transport congestion and pollution.

David Allatt, Assistant Director, Transport Strategy at Cambridgeshire County Council told Future Cities Forum at Newnham College:

'We do have congestion problems and in a small medieval city there is constrained infrastructure. Cambridgeshire is a successful area that wants to grow and there are great opportunities here. But the infrastructure is struggling and people are too often depending on the private car. The big part of this is to provide alternatives in walking and cycling and make public transport more attractive and better connected. Buses must receive priority as they have been hit by the pandemic and there is always a quest for more money. We mustn't forget road safety too.

'The reality is that we have a long way to go but there are important transport schemes coming along around the Greater Cambridge Partnership investment programme. I am an advocate of infrastructure first in development terms but there are just so many more improvements to do. I am pleased to see the number of opportunities and schemes coming forward but looking ahead with inflation and difficulties with funding, it is not going to get easier.

'Good transport planning design can tackle inequality if you get it right and we deliver 15-minute neighbourhoods. They are deliverable with enhanced standards on walking and cycling and it is an opportunity now to create more quality.'

Eddington key worker housing, North West Cambridge (Mecanoo Architects for Cambridge University)

So how is the University of Cambridge developing housing for a range of workers and academics, encouraging walking and cycling with good place-making? Katherine Rodgers, Director of Property Development, Cambridge University Estates Division, said:

'Our housing vision at Eddington was developed many decades ago and it was envisaged as a mixed use place. University staff are housed there and there is also a private market for homes. We need to attract and retain staff across every job type and Eddington addresses that housing problem. We have key worker housing and market homes through our partners and have ensured social infrastructure came about in terms of a school and retail centre. We have finished the first phase and are now starting on the remaining phases with opportunities to intensify homes on the land while not impacting the social infrastructure.

Katherine was asked how this intensification would take place:

'Our university staff housing has a low take up of cars, so residents do not contribute to the impact on transport levels. Where we provide added accommodation for students, we have found that can relieve pressure on the wider housing market. We are making sure that we create wider social infrastructure and we have a generous amount of green space in the development.

'A lot has happened organically - key worker housing alongside market housing that is purchased. We have a large scale build to rent development. One of our residents from a key worker home has moved onto buying their own home, so the development works for different life stages.'

The University has described the vision for the development:

The vision for Eddington is to create a place that is sustainable, long-lasting and ambitious, offering a high quality of life to enhance both the City and University of Cambridge.

The University is one of the world’s leading universities, but it must continue to develop and grow, and needs to address the lack of affordable accommodation for its staff and post-graduate students. Eddington and the wider North West Cambridge Development seeks to secure the University’s long-term future and contribute to the City’s growth by providing homes for key workers, students and the public in a vibrant place to live.

This development will ultimately include:

  • 1,500 homes for University and College staff

  • 1,500 private houses for sale

  • Accommodation for 2,000 postgraduates

  • 100,000 square metres of academic and research and development space of which up to 40% may be private research with University connection or Research Institutes

  • Community facilities including the University of Cambridge Primary School, Storey’s Field Centre, health centre, Sainsbury’s supermarket and local shops

  • A hotel

  • A care village

  • Sustainable transport provision including cycle ways

  • Sports facilities and playing fields

  • Public open spaces

The discussion moved on to debate how the physical environment of work spaces could be a major factor in retaining talent.

Deloitte Partner (Consulting), Eimear Meredith Jones, posed the important question 'how do you make people the heroes of the organisation?'

Eimear explained:

'How do we make people and their lives valued by organisations, and make an environment to create value in the workplace? There are not enough graduates to meet the current roles in the life science sector. Only 5% of children this year took an ICT exam at school. So there is not the availability of talent and we face competition with this in the UK from abroad. Salary is important when attracting talent but the ability to progress is too and a feeling of inclusivity. How can your organisation demonstrate that in its rhetoric?

'Inclusivity is also about use of space for a diverse work force. Individuals will not thrive in certain places. At the moment, there is the traditional idea that employees get to their desk or lab space and just stay there. We know that there will be 24 different types of tasks on average to do throughout the day and people need quiet spaces to think or other designed spaces to be creative in, along with space to collaborate. So there is a need for around twelve different spaces to create for all this in work environments, so that employees can be more productive and complete their tasks. This allows for a variety of dynamics and emotions of those individuals over the course of the day and create an engaged workforce for higher productivity.

'In the Nordic countries, they don't even consider building a childcare facility unusual. At the recent World Economic Forum it was announced that we won't reach gender work equality for another 151 years. The UK is in that timeline. We simply cannot afford to be that slow. We need to work at the cultural formats of our organisations and the inclusivity. Fifty per cent of employees want to change their jobs but are not prepared to relocate, so what can we do to retain that talent?'

Above: The University of Glasgow's Advanced Research Centre (image from HOK)

HOK has been working with Cardiff and Glasgow Universities to build science labs for research but also as a means of attracting talent. Gary Clark, Regional Leader at HOK's Science and Technology Practice was asked whether he could see that design projects were allowing for these innovative spaces to be created to enable work tasks to be completed more efficiently?

'In Glasgow the University is driving that change of mindset and the city has created a new masterplan to make it a more attractive city. Cambridge has amazing potential and the quality of place is very much a success of the city. You could stay in Cambridge your entire life and wake up retired.

'Glasgow's new train station (Queen Street) is great but we are still struggling with Victorian infrastructure and the speed of the trains coming in now - they are electric - is even slower. Infrastructure nurtures shiny new objects like stations but getting there is still sometimes a struggle. With our buildings we are trying to create all the necessary attraction there. One female employee from Europe changed her mind about coming to work in the UK when she found out about our science buildings.

'The UK is blessed with amazing talent but we really do need to speed up on projects and work smart or our European neighbours will be rubbing there hands with glee knowing they can attract and retain talent away from the UK. We need more planning officers with the right skill set and the sector is currently underfunded. In Stevenage, we are working in an area on the sustainable retrofitting of labs at a fraction of the cost of new and where housing costs are affordable. We must focus in the UK on the mixed-use development and there is an exciting development through the Marshall family in East Cambridge that is being planned which will be the same size of the centre of Cambridge.'

HOK has described its work on Glasgow University's science campus and the vision to make a 'permeable streetscape' that connects to local communities:

The high-tech Advanced Research Centre (ARC) building houses 500 multidisciplinary researchers and serves as a centre-piece of the University’s new campus development in Glasgow, Scotland.

This is the first time the University has attempted to collocate such a diverse mix of interdisciplinary researchers in one building. Researchers come from all four of the University’s colleges: Social Sciences, Arts, Science and Engineering, and Medical/Veterinary and Life Sciences. The plan allows for maximum flexibility and transparency between these disciplines. HOK’s design expresses the research activities taking place inside the ARC while drawing inspiration from the University’s existing campus and masterplan and Glasgow’s historic buildings.

The ARC forms the west side of a new square within the expanded campus. A public route moves through the building at the entry level, connecting the new University square to the West End community. This permeable streetscape displays the internal activities of the ARC to the outside world, supporting the University’s intention to be transparent in its community. In addition to flexible wet and dry lab spaces, the design provides a mixture of event, social, structured and informal meeting areas that are flexible to change along with the University’s future needs.

A large, daylight-filled central atrium includes a café and multipurpose engagement space. It includes exhibition spaces to display research, a custom-built space for immersive technologies and seminar spaces. These shared facilities enhance opportunities for collaboration, interaction and communication intended to spark imagination and lead to new discoveries.

Above: GSK campus and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult buildings at Gunnels Wood, Stevenage

How can Stevenage in contrast to Cambridge develop its science campuses, while re-designing the 1950s historic new town centre that has become tired, in order to attract talent that demands good quality housing, place and cultural activities?

Hertfordshire LEP's Life Sciences Sector Lead, Paul Witcombe told the forum that they are looking to 'clustering':

'Our history and development of both life sciences and manufacturing is unique to Stevenage, but we are in danger of becoming a dormitory for London. Indeed, Stevenage doesn't feel like a Hertfordshire town and in reality we are on the same line as Birmingham, so we are not that far South. Stevenage did develop as a new town around attracting blue chip companies such as GSK and aerospace, but it began to lose its way. We lost the capacity for industrial manufacturing, with those industrial spaces being taken up with things like car showrooms. There is a huge skillset needed to work in the life sciences and manufacturing but we are reliant on the transport connections to bring that talent in.

'Airbus talks about the need to bring in cultural activities in the town but GSK less so. We have a big opportunity now with a billion pound regeneration programme for the town centre. There is redundant retail space that science labs are filling but a lot of the town centre was hollowed out with out of town retail parks. We have had lots of private equity flowing into Stevenage, the equivalent of what you might see in Cambridge. Biotech has now cooled a bit but there is still significant investment coming in. There is a mix of skills required by research and development as well life sciences but our question is how we retain our manufacturing in the area? Are there opportunities for clustering around GSK? Our challenge is how to develop the community for manufacturing rather than focus on housing all the time, which does not provide space for employment.'

Future Cities Forum very much enjoyed the insight gained on our first discussion panel of our 'Science Cities' forum at Cambridge and wants to thank those who made valuable contributions.

Above: aerial view of Eddington, North West Cambridge (from Cambridge University Estates Division)


Recent Posts
bottom of page