Innovation and investment in the science city of Manchester

Above: CGI from Arup of mechanical services provision for Manchester University's new engineering campus

How can Manchester solve some of its pressing health problems while building its brand as one of the most important science cities in Europe?

Future Cities Forum's second panel discussion at its levelling up event in Manchester included debate on UK government investment in science and innovation, the threats to this from ongoing issues related to Brexit, new science buildings that are helping to shape the brand of Manchester as a science city and attract talent, and a new understanding of social mobility for a city where young people have traditionally left to find employment elsewhere.

Above: Professor Ben Bridgewater, Chief Executive, Health Innovation Manchester

The debate panel members were Professor Ben Bridgewater, Chief Executive, Health Innovation Manchester, John Holden, Head of External Partnerships at The University of Manchester, Stephen Platt, Leader of the Mechanical Services Team at Arup, and Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director, Henri Murison.

Health Innovation Manchester is an academic health science system that brings together health, academia and industry. The mission is to accelerate innovation into practice at pace and scale, so to transform the lives of Greater Manchester’s 2.8 million citizens. It was formed in October 2017 by bringing together the former Greater Manchester academic health science network (GM AHSN) and Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC) under one single umbrella, which also represents Greater Manchester’s wider research and innovation system.

It works with innovators to discover, develop and deploy new solutions, harnessing the transformative power of health and care, industry and academia working together to address major challenges and tackle inequalities. Partnership is the core of its work and through strong relationships and collaborative working it brings together expertise from across the system to turn great ideas into healthcare solutions. From clinical trials to digital tools, academic research to healthcare analytics, our work is wide-ranging, exciting and makes a difference to people’s lives.

Professor Bridgewater is a leading expert on health informatics, national clinical audit, clinical governance, healthcare transparency, patient experience measurement and digital transformation in healthcare, publishing numerous high profile academic outputs and delivering innovative IT tools for disseminating clinical outcomes to professionals and the public.

He was asked during the panel discussion about his view on the UK government's commitment to science and innovation levelling up. Ben said:

'I have looked at the UK government's levelling up document and I am pleased that investment is taking place in research and development. The trouble is that through the sorts of conversations that I have in Manchester, it seems people have very different takes on what levelling up is. For some, it is about NHS waiting lists and for others it is about university research.

'We need a joined-up approach that encompasses all sorts of different areas such as the plan for the NHS and the local industrial strategy. At the moment too many people are thinking in silos.

'There is probably not enough investment going on and we have to use small pots of money to create benefit into our innovation accelerator. We have got to get it right.

'You can be living next to a very good hospital but sometimes not get the best outcomes in healthcare delivery. Obesity remains a big challenge and childhood obesity is bad to see and just not fair. It's not a fair world and post pandemic we need to tackle mental health. We are getting better at helping children deal with stress, using mindfulness at an early age and that is one thing, like other projects which are now building resilience.'

Above - CGI of new landscaped space at ID Manchester, the £1.5 billion innovation district (Manchester University)

The discussion turned to John Holden on the ramifications from Brexit around university research funding and in addition, the investment in state of the art science buildings, to attract talent to The University of Manchester..

John joined the University as Associate Vice-President for Major Special Projects in January 2020. He is responsible for supporting major external bids relating to regional and national government and to private, commercial and charitable organisations.

He also works with the government on locating key national and international activities in the Manchester city region. He works closely with leaders across the University, and collaborates on cross-institution initiatives and with a wide range of external stakeholders. John has extensive regional and national policy experience, with expertise in devolved regional. His previous roles include senior strategy and research at the New Economy think tank promoting regional growth and prosperity and most recently as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Assistant Director, Strategy/Research.

John warned:

'Brexit doesn't make levelling up easier. The UK government is definitely committed to science and innovation with £22 billion pounds being invested by 2027, which creates a good and strong platform. However, there is a shift away from European programmes, which affects student exchange - particularly students from abroad coming to study here.

'The scientific programme - Horizon - is something that potentially will not be done here now and we are having to fund domestically what was funded from abroad before. The question is - will the UK government give long term assurances on this? Programmes in some areas are now half what they were and that will affect our work with SME's, but largely I am optimistic here in Manchester.

'The shift to net zero is strongly supported by the UK government and it is committed to nuclear, energy grids and wind turbines as well as behaviour change with technology.

'However, I am concerned culturally about how universities are seen at the moment.'

The University's research expertise is in - among other disciplines - enhancing the efficiency and viability of sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal and bioenergy. It is supporting partners in the bridging of fuel sectors, such as oil and gas, to continue to meet demand. It is helping to ensure energy gets to the point of need efficiently, providing UK network partners with the knowledge to deliver reliable and sustainable power. Renewable sources of generation tend to be more intermittent – so it is working on systems that will help keep supply constant, and finding ways to persuade people to use energy at the best times.

The University works closely with the local region on projects such as the UK’s largest ever trial of heat pumps. It is finding out more about how today’s urban society uses energy, blending expertise from engineering and the social sciences to learn more about demand and how it can be met. Scientists at Manchester are supporting National Grid on a project funded through the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) from the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) to address the challenge of increasing demand for electricity, particularly in more densely populated urban environments. This Discovery Phase project will be led by NGET with support from partners to develop an understanding of the barriers, opportunities, and benefits of modernising existing electricity infrastructure by replacing conventional cables with the use of High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) cable technology to increase network capacity in the urban environment. Additionally, the University has been extending and enhancing its buildings to meet the need for advanced research. This includes the Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD.) It is one of the single, largest construction projects undertaken by any UK higher education institution. The development for the University of Manchester will provide over 75,000 square metres of modern facilities in a bespoke environment, to support world leading research and an outstanding teaching and learning experience for more than 8,000 students and staff.

John commented:

'We need good engineering buildings but we also need good people. The University has invested £10 million to supporting this combining the strengths of both older and newer universities in the city. It allows us to compete globally for research and attract students. We will have different engineering groups sitting next to each other in the new MECD site. The project also frees up 20 acres of land in city centre, where we will be creating a mixed use innovation district with homes and hotels. It will be important in driving a connection between the University and the real world.'

Engineering group Arup, has been working with the University of Manchester since 2014 to deliver the multidisciplinary building and specialist engineering services for the MECD site. The campus will help transform how education is delivered, bringing together the four engineering and material science departments into one coherent facility.

Above: the new MECD building - Manchester Engineering Campus (Courtesy Arup)

Situated at the heart of the University of Manchester’s campus, MECD represents a £420 million investment to support an integrated academic community, create opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, enhance the student experience and maximise space efficiency. Designed with this in mind, the buildings will house a variety of advanced technologies and equipment to help the University achieve its goal of becoming one of the top 25 research universities in the world.