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Challenges for the Arc and the UK's top science cities

Emma Cariaga, Chair of the OxCam Arc Expert Advisory Panel, making the introductory address at Future Cities Forum in Cambridge

At our 'Science Cities and the Arc' forum last week, there were warnings about inequality that prevails in successful science cities such as Oxford and Cambridge, and the need to consult fully with communities and local businesses on the development of the Arc.

The increasing scientific and commercial competition from around the globe combined with sustainability pressures, is demanding that our leading science cities adapt and evolve quickly, and this was also discussed at the forum.

Emma Cariaga, Head of Residential at British Land, opened the forum by talking about the role of the government's OxCam Arc Expert Advisory Panel, which she chairs. She noted that Covid-19 has had an impact on the approach to counselling around planning for development across the Arc:

'Things have changed and it's vital that our listening to communities, businesses and local leadership, takes account of this change - how people may now expect to live and work. As we know, prosperity across the Arc is not felt by all, and even here in Cambridge there are significant areas of inequality. As growth happens we need to ensure that there is levelling-up.'

'Local leadership is vital in leading the initial ambition for the Arc. It is your Arc, it is your community and I would encourage you all to engage with it. The first public digital consultation of three planned by the government - closed yesterday.

'The spatial framework is a long term strategic plan to 2050. It is led by government but informed by engagement with local communities and local stakeholders.. It will have sustainability at its core and guide planning and investment decisions, resting on four policy pillars - the environment, the economy , connectivity and infrastructure, and place-making. It needs personality, it needs to create excitement and it needs to be something that you can all own and share.'

The Chair of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Laurel Powers-Freeling, explained why the success of the Cambridge cluster has had some unforeseen negative effects which need to be addressed holistically:

'Having powerful science companies (all on one campus) like Astra Zeneca, AbCam, and GlaxoSmithKline alongside Addenbrookes and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, and the University, creates a fly-wheel effect (for discovery and growth). There may be only two or three other places on the planet, such as Kendall Square in Boston where the fly-wheel is bigger and faster - and that is probably the most productive square mile in the world, alongside Mission Bay in California and Shanghai. The scientific impact is phenomenal but the impact on our neighbours hasn't always been great. That may be a broader challenge for the Arc. We are a different place and we find ourselves coping with organic growth in Cambridge. This success comes with collateral damage, such as impact on traffic flows, and high housing prices.

'We are aware of bringing in these wonderful assets as each layer has added to the science.. Simply having edifices on a piece of real estate does not get what you need. Often these buildings are fortresses and you can't get the collaboration you require - the challenge is to break down the fortress and get people interacting. Getting people to live on and near the campus is important. We need things to work in a much more holistic fashion. to be sustainable, not just for Cambridge, not just for the Arc but for the world.'

Dr Martin Dougherty, COO of the Wellcome Genome Campus and Wellcome Sanger Institute (located at Hinxton), who is overseeing a major expansion, described the current role of 'out of town' science parks as destinations in their own right:

'The work we have been doing about creating a campus which is a destination is deliberate as it is about being competitive on the global stage. It's about developing living space for workers on the campus, integrating public realm into people's lives, and recognising that the discovery science that we do is quite contemplative and you need that space to foster it. It's not the same as the more entrepreneurial, frenetic activity you get when when you are translating and commercialising that science. We have been thinking about how we weave those strands and threads together and it does not matter whether it's in the middle of a city or outside.'

Cllr Bridget Smith, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said of the newly published Greater Cambridge Local Plan which will be open for community consultation and comment from the start of November:

'I think its a good plan as it is predicated on environment and affordability. If we get the place-making right we are dealing with both of these, where people can access their education and healthcare, live and work in one place, and this will start making the car redundant . Waterbeach, for instance, would be better if it was car free, but with good public transport we can reduce the reliance on cars. On housing I am not talking just about people on low incomes but also those on higher incomes who can't afford to live here. Good place making helps with cost of living, while building types of houses with the highest energy efficient standards also helps to reduce cost of living. I am advocating strongly for all housing across the Arc to be built to those exacting standards.'

(Below) Housing and mixed-use district panel at Newnham College, Cambridge: (from left) Chris Williams of CBRE, Jo Cowen of Jo Cowen Architects, Cllr Bridget Smith, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum and Dr Jason Matthews (Matthews & Sadler Estates advising Oxford North / Thomas White Oxford)


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