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'UK Innovation Cities' at Paddington Life Sciences - report Part Two

Above: Mike Standing contributing at Future Cities Forum's discussions on 'Innovation Cities; at Paddington Life Sciences

In part two of our 'UK Innovation Cities' forum, hosted by Paddington Life Sciences at the Digital Collaboration Hub, further questions were asked around the importance of health data and how this can drive investment into life sciences districts, setting appropriate scale for lab space and science park place-making, and how to create a fairer economy with opportunities for training and jobs in science for local communities.

Those contributors taking part were life sciences expert and former Deloitte partner, Mike Standing, architect Fred Pilbrow, Founding Partner, Pilbrow & Partners, Liam Nicholls, CEO, Creative Places, Stephanie De Mel, Urban Lab lead at Westminster City Council and Ellie Evans, Managing Partner of economics consultancy Volterra. They responded to the outlining of a vision for the joining up of the west London tech clusters and hospital and teaching campuses of Imperial College Healthcare and Imperial College London. This was described by Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and by Dr Suki Balendra, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Paddington Life Sciences,

Mike Standing stated that creating development in the sector is about the power of data and not just physical infrastructure:

Mike said:

'Life science clusters are hugely competitive now and the chances of your bringing a new pharma company to your cluster is low. The biotechnology sector has currently really poor performance and is seen as a high risk environment. There are questions of value to address in that. Nearly everyone talks about physical infrastructure and buildings, but it is the data that should be discussed and how communities of businesses as well as ordinary people and science institutions interact. You have to be able to access the people that provide you with data and we need a much clearer definition of that and how you market that.

'Sixty per cent of patients in the UK have co-morbid conditions and we need to focus on how to give them some quality of life. We need a level of investment to deal with the current failure of treating chronic conditions and we need the opportunity to talk about how the data from those patients is used. We need to be much more competitive in this area and then we can track investors and funding from the UK government, because return on this type of investment is very attractive and has an impact on our economies.'

Above: land adjacent to the Royal London Hospital, ear-marked for new life sciences buildings

Mike stated at our previous 'UK Innovation Cities' forum hosted by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in Whitechapel last November:

'It's a very exciting time for London and life sciences. About 10 years ago there was talk of just two clusters. Now we have eight. That's a great example of progress. London has moved away from talking about assets to talking about how you use them. Specialising is central to this. The reality is that life sciences are very complex and you have to be world class at particular things.

'There are three new trends to think about. One is the move to talk about healthcare delivery clusters, not life sciences clusters. It's now much more about innovation in healthcare integrated with innovation in life sciences, transforming how patients lives are lived. It's about helping those who have lived for 50 years with debilitating conditions, and the economic consequences of that. The focus is now on delivery clusters that bring together the healthcare system, communities and life sciences companies.

'Looking outwards is very powerful, but it is not just about seeing the scientists at work, it is about people thinking that it is their institution. A break through is when people start going to hospital when they are not ill, because they feel part of the institution and they want to contribute.

'Trend two is how we accelerate the delivery of the clusters. We take way too long in planning and we are slow and that changes the economics of investments and delays the impact of innovation and transforming quality of care.

'The third trend is about the meaning of these buildings. Traditionally hospitals have been very technical and very enclosed. They are the last examples of industrial buildings inside cities. They use enormous amounts of resources, and their carbon footprint is poor. They are really factories and they need to be much more human. The Rehab facility by Herzog & de Meuron in Basel is very interesting because it transforms the way people - with catastrophic injuries - recover. You might think it might be a place of real tragedy but the restaurant when I saw it was full of laughter. Emotional quality is under-invested in the UK.

Above: CGI of the new bespoke work space for Bicycle Therapeutics at Granta Park, Cambridge (Courtesy Pilbrow & Partners)

Fred Pilbrow, Partner at Pilbrow and Partners, has wide experience of designing for life sciences and the mixed-use development that surrounds it. He spoke at the forum about developing appropriateness of space both inside the lab and outside.

Fred stated:

'For clusters to succeed you need critical mass and we need bravery in political leadership. We also need to be proud of what we have in the UK and we do need a physical setting. At Bicycle Therapeutics in Granta, Cambridge, I think they realised there was physical restraint, but spaces should and can change. White City will be part of London's mental mapping. It is clear that Paddington starts from a low base with poor quality space and some listed and some not so good buildings. I hope Westminster City Council will be brave and create something sustainable.

Bicycle Therapeutics is a rapidly growing life sciences start-up. It currently holds 135 global patents for drug delivery proteins (‘bicycles’). Pilbrow & Partners has designed and delivered a brand new workspace which includes four CL2 wet labs together with associated write-up, administration and collaboration spaces.

The Portway Building on the Granta Science Park in Cambridge was constructed in the 1990s. Functionally, the laboratory spaces were able to be modernised with limited change to their basic configuration. The break-out spaces, however, required greater intervention.

Pilbrow & Partners proposals removed a dense grid of compartment walls to open connections across the space and between the floors.

Bicycle believes the social dimension of work and the workspace’s ability to foster collaboration are both essential to their innovation and their future success.

Fred continued:

'We are working on a bold plan in scale and use at North Acton and I think that John Anderson of Imperial College London, is pleased with the mix of uses. There is a Dutch landscape firm working on the greater public realm who thought they wanted a Capability Brown approach in North Acton and I think some people were quite surprised by that (!). But I think that is why it will succeed. We think intensity is great and I love the whole idea of putting raised allotments such as those at Elephant and Castle into our scheme if John agrees.

'Sometimes you have conversations with planners and they think big is good, but I was recently judging a competition at Alexander Platz in Berlin and I think there is too much space there. Cambridge Science Park is about to quadruple in size and I think when we are planning space you want 'well-defined' not 'baggy'.'

Imperial College London commissioned Pilbrow & Partners to prepare regeneration proposals for One Portal Way, North Acton. The site is strategic. It is the largest and most central development site in an area that has been subject to significant investment and yet lacks a well-defined town centre.

Pilbrow & Partners' proposals establish this centre through the creation of a major new public park. Three tall buildings at the apexes of the triangular site mark points of new public permeability.

The proposals deliver a balance of residential and work space, leveraging Imperial College London's knowledge and contacts to draw innovative technology and life science businesses to North Acton.

One Portal Way, courtesy of Pilbrow & Partners

Creative Places joined the conversation with CEO Liam Nicholls discussing the importance of connectivity between stakeholders and key institutions to drive science park sustainability.

The firm describes itself as property experts that use specialist, expert knowledge to help clients plan, create, manage and invest in collaborative places for people involved with research, R&D, education, the creative industries and innovation. It combines understanding of academic, research and R&D occupier needs with commercial property, place making and investment know-how to make places both inclusive and thriving - be they innovation districts, research and R&D campuses, research intensive hospital environments, innovation centres or incubators.

Creative Places has been working on 1000 Discovery Drive, which is part of Cambridge Biomedical Campus’ phase 2 expansion. Adopting a landscape-first approach, this phase will thread a series of laboratory and office buildings between green spaces for formal and informal meetings. Anchored by biotechnology company, Abcam, phase 2 comprises approximately 807,000 sq ft gross of which commercial R&D facilities total approx. 636,000 sq ft gross and new clinical space total approx. 171,000 sq ft gross.

Abingdon Science Park, Oxfordshire. is another of the firm's projects. Kadans Science Partner wanted to continue their successful building of a UK Life Sciences portfolio and expand their holdings into the important Oxford market, while Citylabs Manchester was about converting a former hospital for new uses. When the former Royal Eye Hospital in Manchester became vacant, due to the relocation of the Eye Hospital to new accommodation, the building’s owners Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust needed to find a viable solution for its continued use which would support the Trust’s aims as an Academic Health Science Centre.

Liam said:

'I think you need both hard and soft infrastructure but high quality soft infrastructure makes it work. It is how your stakeholders can move their services quickly and that will determine for example where research companies will go. Some locations such as Cambridge are not good to look at for best practice - its a bit of a slam dunk. They have all the key ingredients such as a high quality research institution next to a leading hospital etc. But if you go to other countries and places within say, The Netherlands, where they don't necessarily have these things but still manage to make it a success, you begin to see how it can be done. Its all about making sure stakeholders are engaged.

'I think you can see at Paddington that vibrancy breeds vibrancy. You do need to see a pipeline of how to engage companies. At Euston, really all the activity in is Google, so you do need to ask what is the hook to attract companies. That connection for Paddington with Imperial is vital and it would be good to see that academic activity from Imperial drawn back to Paddington.'

Above : Sheldon Square, Paddington Central in March 2024

Future Cities Forum invited Stephanie de Mel, Head of the Urban Lab at Westminster City Council, to join our 'UK Innovation Cities' forum discussion.

Stephanie is a Senior Economist and her main research interests include labour markets and skills, local industrial regeneration, and the economics of cities. She also specialises in programme evaluation.

Its vision is to be a leading hub for innovative and robust policy research among local authorities, and a laboratory of ideas for testing “what works” in enabling our borough to thrive, in close collaboration with our research partners.

Urban Lab is passionate about understanding the key issues that face local communities and identifying the best approaches to support a fair and flourishing Westminster. It works across a broad range of council services to improve outcomes for our residents through enabling evidence-led policy and iterative improvements.

An important part of its work is to connect council officers and policy-makers with external subject-matter experts. This can support council work through collaborative research, cutting-edge experimental trials, and robust evidence-building.

Stephanie De Mel said:

'Our Paddington Programme is all about holistic activity where we support high streets, businesses etc but also improve the health of the population and the spaces that will achieve that.

'At the Urban Lab, we are aiming to create a collaborative research centre, where we partner with students and academics in London, Oxford and Warwick, drawing on their expertise to inform policy. We run a seminar series to exchange ideas and have a graduate student placement programme.

'We are also concentrating on a fairer economy for ordinary people, looking at issues of inequality and where we can build up parts of the borough. We definitely want a democratic research community around health.'

Westminster City Council has stated that its budget this year has set the path for a third year of building a Fairer Westminster, outlined in the Delivery Plan for 2024/25.

It stated:

'Last year the council’s Fairer Westminster projects saw the opening of three new Housing Service Centres, a £20m investment to launch an electric waste vehicle fleet to reduce air pollution, ongoing revival of local high streets in Paddington, Edgware Road, Harrow Road and Queensway and extra funding to the council’s £21million cost of living fund.

'This year the council will look to deliver new initiatives which deliver more affordable homes, look after the health of our residents, build a strong and sustainable economy, and protect the environment. This year’s Fairer Westminster is about listening to our residents and working better with our partners. Our Westminster After Dark programme will revitalise how we manage the night-time economy and our we are working more closely than ever with the voluntary sector to understand how inequalities should be addressed across the city.'

Outside Whitechapel tube station, opposite Tower Hamlets Town Hall, the Royal London Hospital and an emerging life sciences district - now served by the Elizabeth Line

Volterra Managing Partner, Ellie Evans, took the economic discussion further by talking about the problems of rail infrastructure dividing communities and business support for start-ups to keep the life science sector dynamic.

Volterra is an economics consultancy based in London and its team has unrivalled knowledge in assessing the economic and social impact of infrastructure and development, as well as the economic importance and potential of geographical areas. The firm has experience in undertaking economic assessments of large and complex schemes across the UK. Major projects it has worked on include: Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, HS2, Heathrow expansion, London Resort, Crossrail.

Its experts are well versed in the planning application requirements for the property development market. As well as using statistical analysis, our techniques allow for input from market experts working on the ground to present a combined qualitative and quantitative approach to the economics of property development. It regularly works for developers in producing the socio-economic chapter of Environmental Statements, Economic Impact Assessments, Employment and Skills Strategies, Health Impact Assessments, Equality Impact Assessments and Regeneration Statements, supporting them at public inquiry when needed.

Ellie said:

'Porosity of sites really help people to get in to see the opportunities for work in life sciences. Major stations often have lines dividing rich and poor. Our work at Whitechapel has shown us that life science districts really do engage with local people because they are treating patients in those communities, so it is a a joined up place with relationships.

'We are not so good in the UK at looking at celebrating alternative pathways into work. There are so many jobs that are not well understood by kids and that starts at primary school. Some of it is physical with a lack of affordable housing, only 20 per cent in most places, but that's not just the barrier. It is PhD students who do not know how to grow a business. When we carry out a project we always think about a local context - is there a heritage building and anchor institution and what do you design around that? One should not just focus on the economics but also the social.

'We are not over-doing the building of lab space in the UK, there is demand. We have great skills and place-making, but sometimes we risk building the wrong thing or councils do not always understand what is needed. Can we build successful life sciences hubs everywhere? Different places have different needs.'

Future Cities Forum would like to thank all our contributors to this important discussion forum, offering new insight into the development of successful life sciences districts in the UK - and we are especially grateful to our hosts Dr Suki Balendra of Paddington Life Sciences and Matthew Tulley, Redevelopment Director of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.


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