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'Science Cities' at St John's College, Oxford - Report Part Two

Aerial view of ARC Oxford business park at Cowley, with BMW Mini factory lower right, central Oxford in distance (courtesy of ARC Group)

In the second part of Future Cities Forum's report on 'Science Cities' in Oxford, we feature the contributions of ARC Group, Oxford University's Medical Sciences Division, Buro Happold, Mills & Reeve, BioMed Realty, Oxford University Hospitals, Scott Brownrigg, Paddington Life Sciences, Pilbrow & Partners, JLL and Grimshaw to our discussions.

There was debate on how science hubs in Oxford and London can attract greater investment, while developing sustainably as walkable campuses. There was discussion around social purpose and community, place-making and biodiversity. Improving connectivity, both locally and nationally to other science cities, was also a strong theme at the event.

ARC Group's Head of Asset Management, Dan Williams, spoke of ARC Oxford's developing masterplan at Cowley and the difference that the proposed re-opening of the railway branch line to public use will make:

'I have worked at Harwell since 2007 and I have seen how ARC Group is addressing all issues around growing the science campus holistically. We have a new masterplan for our business campus at East Oxford and the Cowley branch line (which currently only serves the BMW Mini plant) is significant in this. We are working on the planning side at the moment on how to include the rail line but it really will be a catalyst not just for ARC Oxford but for the wider community.

'Our masterplan is landscape led - public realm for us is very important - but we are also looking at energy, transport and architecture. Of course there are commercial pressures, equity fund raising is under pressure, but it has transitioned over the last year and getting stronger. But we are very much part of the ecosystem here and working well together with the communities outside the park.'

Oxford City Council's Executive Director of Development, Tom Bridgman agreed:

'ARC Oxford is an example of an out of town park that is adapting well and within its masterplan it is integrating the Cowley branch line which will benefit the wider community. We are developing smaller lab spaces in the centre of Oxford which when they grow (tenants) will move out to the bigger science parks, but what tenants want is a sense of place and high-quality facilities. Place-making and community is very important and if you get that right, you have created a proper destination, a 24/7 place.'

ARC Group is also the co-owner of Harwell Campus, located two miles from Didcot and 15 miles south west of Oxford. Harwell is a unique interdisciplinary science and innovation campus with over 6,000 employees working across over 200 organisations in the private and public sectors. Originally founded in 1946 to tackle the energy crisis and advance nuclear technology, today, it is home to a federation of leading science and technology organisations and facilities.

The campus is a unique collaboration between government, academia and industry working to accelerate progress on the key issues of our time – from pandemic preparedness to clean energy. The community includes publicly funded scientific infrastructure like the National Quantum Computing Centre and the Central Laser Facility, anchor organisations like the European Space Agency, innovative private sector organisations like Oxford Nanopore and Astroscale alongside teams from 30 UK universities.

Above: map showing relationship between the Old Road science research campus in Headington and Cowley and the city centre (Courtesy Oxford University Medical Sciences Division)

The development of brownfield land in Oxford is being discussed currently both by Oxford University Hospitals and also the Oxford University Medical Sciences Division. At our 'Science Cities' event last year in Oxford, Future Cities Forum debated how under-developed land in the city, could be turned into science R&D workspace or accommodation for scientists, technicians and hospital workers. Oxford has unused land owned by the Oxford University Hospitals which has largely been used for car-parking around the Churchill hospital and Old Road sites in Headington. Now the Trust wants to develop it to provide space for spinouts and accommodation for hospital workers, who are struggling to afford to live in the city.

The Chief Financial Officer, Jason Dorsett, explained at the forum:

'We own three hospitals in Headington and have a surplus of ten hectares of space which is really urban waste land. What is there at the moment, doesn't add to the quality of the built environment and we don't feel we have the capabilities to develop the land in the way that the region needs. We are however committed to developing in the city. We are the fifth biggest hospital in the UK in one of the smallest cities. We have a lot of patients and staff which creates challenges but we do not have billions of pounds to spare, nevertheless we have to make it work.

'It comes back to people. A nurse entering the profession earns about £27,000 a year and of course we also have consultants earning quite a lot of money. What we need is affordable housing and we think perhaps creating bedsits with shared space might be the answer. We think we could rent this out for £600 a month, but even that could be too much for a nurse to pay. We have big areas of car-parking, and we would like to put accommodation there. Most people want a house with a garden for a low price and that's just not realistic, but we aim to offer them cheaper accommodation where they can walk to work.

'We are not in it to make money. We are the biggest (hospital trust) recipient of R&D funding in the UK, and we now want to test to see if we can make some of this land attractive for companies at the spin-out stage. Can we make buildings viable and close to where they live? Most companies if you asked them at the moment would want to locate on a science park in Oxford but it is very important to be close to the cutting edge of where the action is taking place and that is happening at NHS Trust labs and the universities and that makes it attractive to build here at the hospital.'

At our event last week, Brid Cronin, Head of Strategic Projects & Planning at Oxford University's Medical Sciences Division, described the plans for the Churchill site development:

'We want more permeable and accessible space. We are working in partnership with with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust....the Old Road site has been built out over 20 years and it is now one of the largest medical research sites in Europe. We are now working on the Churchill site, and we need all those elements to be included including sufficient power from the grid for the 'machine'.

'With the Cowley branch line opening this might take some pressure off the Headington traffic (into the Churchill site) but the dotted line which is only a footpath needs development. You have to cross a golf course.'

Susan Dougall, Head of Property and Space at Oxford University Hospitals Trust has been working closely with Brid Cronin on the plans for the Churchill site. She added:

'Staff accommodation is a hot topic at the Trust...we are making 200 new units at the JRH site for key workers. A2Dominion are our ears and eyes are on what is required from people who will live there. It's a mix of 2 to 3 bed flats and cluster units.'

Housing provider A2Dominion has signed a contract with award-winning housebuilder, The Hill Group, to deliver a scheme of 125 units to house a minimum of 340 key workers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Due for completion in October 2025, the residential scheme replaces the existing Ivy Lane accommodation and includes seven new apartment buildings, ranging from three to five storeys high.

Designed to meet the needs of the Trust’s staff, the site is made up of 68 apartments and 57 cluster units, each shared unit comprises of either four or five bedrooms and a communal kitchen. This contemporary scheme also includes facilities such as management offices, a meeting area, bike and car parking, and landscaped communal green open space for residents to enjoy. A2Dominion is also redeveloping the existing key worker accommodation at Churchill Drive at the Churchill Hospital, also in Oxford. The scheme is made up of 19 cluster flats and will provide 91 ensuite rooms for OUH staff.

The forum discussion flowed into talking about the future for other science parks such as Begbroke. Neil Billett, Global Design Director, Buro Happold, said:

'If you look at Begbroke for example, you have to ask how does it address wider challenges, how to provide housing and transport without making the place worse, how to compete on the world stage and what lessons from other places. We need to be constantly looking outside.

'It is interesting looking at the work we are doing in the Middle East. It is a different starting point and a clean sheet of paper without the power and transport issues we see in the UK.

'Overall, I think we need to be learning from the new technologies coming in and leverage from that.

Above: interior at Base, owned by Bruntwood SciTech on Manchester Science Park (Courtesy Buro Happold)

Buro Happold has extensive experience in the engineering of science parks around the UK and abroad. One of them is at Manchester Science Park - a technology-focused community of more than 150 businesses in the heart of the city’s Oxford Road Corridor innovation district.

The latest building on the site, Base, is a 91,000 square feet purpose-built six storey structure, envisioned to provide workspace specifically designed for companies working in high growth sectors of Industry 4.0 – from low carbon and energy technologies through to robotics, animation and light manufacturing. Manchester Science Park’s new Base building is aimed at attracting fast-growth technology and innovation businesses.

Base includes a range of sustainability-focused measures and has been designed to operate at net zero carbon across communal areas. Measures include an A-rated EPC​, ​704m2 of PV solar power, ​a hybrid heating and cooling system ​with a significant reduction in refrigerant gases, and even 360m2 of recycled carpet which has been converted into alternative flooring finishes. Buro Happold advised the client, and worked closely with the wider design team, to explore and manage the integration of low carbon technologies to ensure the new building achieved EPC A rating, as well as its target of BREEAM Excellent.

Buro Happold has also worked as part of the team to bring to fruition the new science campus in Cambridge for AstraZeneca. Services provided included feasibility studies using benchmarking space metrics to demonstrate to the researchers that the project’s space reductions targets could be achieved, particularly in the equipment-heavy labs.

Concepts and layouts were developed by Abell Nepp and integrated into the overall building design. Schedules of accommodation and space metrics were also developed and updated. Special studies were undertaken to maximise efficiency and flexibility including modular benching design, rationalisation of containment devices, minimising enclosed laboratories and addressing containment/fumigation strategies. Extensive discussions were held with the end users of the facilities to drive down energy consumption, water usage and waste, to ensure the complex meets the global sustainability targets set by AstraZeneca.

The construction, led by contractors Skanska and then Mace, commenced in 2016 with phase occupancy beginning in 2022.

CGI of lab benches in the AstraZeneca Discovery building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (Courtesy Herzog & De Meuron / AstraZeneca)

Attracting investment to Oxford for the growth of science parks, was a key part of the discussion and Peter McLintock, Mills & Reeve partner and head of the Oxford office, spoke about developing the brand of the city:

'Investment is the key to the success of this super power of innovation that we have in Oxford, and for the success in terms of university spin outs. There is a platform for fledgling businesses with a much higher success rate of succeeding. The challenge is to attract more investors. UK venture capitalists are not clued up on the types of science that is being pioneered compared to their US counterparts.

'There is also the perception that Oxford is a closed shop, so I see my role as educating investors about the opportunities here but there is more to do to try to match investors to businesses here. There is lots of finance available but Cambridge is better advanced with people investing at the right stages. Boston is the most successful centre because it attracts the most investment and therefore the best people. In Oxford we don't have an Apple or an AstraZeneca and we need that. Of course getting the right infrastructure in place is all part of that.'

Peter's colleague, Laura Ludlow, partner in the Oxford office and a specialist in science park landlord and tenant leases and collaboration on net zero agreements , compared the issues for development that Oxford faces with that of Cambridge:

'The biomedical campus in Cambridge is a big success, but it still has its' infrastructure and housing challenges, and it is looking to expand. There are issues about development on green land and this really been a challenge. It is about long-term thinking, but I believe a lot of success seen in Cambridge can be replicated across the Arc.'

Above: Cambridge still attracts high quality investors interested in cutting edge technology and life sciences research

Working collaboratively to tackle the issues of biodiversity was an important part of the debate brought forward by Orestis Tzortzoglou, Vice President Development at BioMed Realty which owns three science parks around the city of Cambridge.

'There are huge challenges and we need to look long term as they will take time to resolve. It is not just science but tech growth to consider as well these power issues talked about and how this will be enabled over time. We need to look at efficiencies.

'The question is how we enable and accelerate these developments? It is a lengthy process and one that requires working with all stakeholders. This is the case with biodiversity, which has been helped by working with the county council, setting those targets to come together.'

At Future Cities Forum last January in Cambridge, Orestis was asked how he felt about the rate of progress of transport infrastructure in the city:

'It is a missed opportunity if you don't capitalise on the potential of this city in terms of improve transport infrastructure. The business rates revenue goes into the central government purse and is being used for levelling up around the country but it is also important to re-invest some of it in thriving places such as Cambridge. How easy is it to deliver improved transport in a certain timescale? You cannot do it generally within one administration - it takes a long time to manifest. Here in Cambridge we have a proven ecosystem that can enable the investment in transport, but I ask myself why can't we be more ambitious here and then move that benefit elsewhere. If you don't grow the golden triangle in a sustainable way, Europe and the United States will catch up.

'Why when other European cities such as Basel have a well run tram system, cannot we have one here that uses the existing roads, that is sustainable, quiet and green? The financials are much more viable than the suggested metro system and we must think about how we connect services in the city centre and the tech world on the satellite parks. Our tenants have to commute to the North of Cambridge and future tenants will have to do the same in Cambridge South as it is developed. So how do we join the dots? We need to make the commute only about 20 minutes to make it viable. At the moment there is only one bus an hour to Granta Park, so what happens if you miss that?

Above: New communal space at Oxford Science Park (courtesy of Scott Brownrigg)

Being aware of the need to introduce biodiversity into science innovation campuses was furthered in the discussion by Ed Hayden, Scott Brownrigg:

'This debate has been interesting in talking about how to solve sustainability problems. We have been working with industry on this. It is all about collaboration, you cannot do it working as a lone architect. We need to hit a 40% increase in Oxford on new lab space and look at the issue of embodied carbon in the construction phase. We also need innovative way to get biodiversity into these schemes.

'It is important that we build science communities that don't require cars. We need walkable science campuses with buildings that can flex over time. The old science parks had a lot of car parks but the new ones should be about inter-connected buildings, that you can walk between, giving the science community that extra bit of interaction. The spaces can be used in between and the inter-connectivity makes that happen. Green space becomes accessible and it gets populated.

'Thinking about Boston and competitiveness, what we haven't got yet is sizable buildings and clients that are growing will ask where can we go and often the answer is 'over to the States'. So it is important to develop that here and make sure that science happens in the UK.'

Scott Brownrigg was commissioned to design three new buildings at the Oxford Science Park, on the eastern edge of Oxford,

each providing headquarters – office and laboratory facilities – for leading science and technology companies. This additional capacity will support the growth of existing occupiers, providing flexibility with their space requirements, and enabling new companies to join the Park’s unique community. Wellbeing, biodiversity and sustainability was to be at the heart of the design process.

Walkable pedestrian areas are key to the design. The four-storey buildings have active frontages with cafés and co-working space at ground level and external working and amenity spaces that create a variety of destinations between the buildings. The design promotes the use of stairs rather than lifts to encourage not only physical wellbeing but serendipitous interactions, critical in research and collaboration. ‘Views out’ from permanent workspaces are encouraged, with designs and internal layouts that support this feature for occupant wellbeing.

Chris Walters, Head of Life Sciences at JLL, commented that while space is available for science companies to grow in Oxford, the competition to attract talent away from the city to the US is very real:

'I think it is important to articulate the strengths of Oxford for those trying to get space to grow their companies. But these are firms who want an ecosystem, to get in touch with VC funds and who want support from central government. Some of government commitment in this area has followed through and that has helped growth and sustainability. However, there is still this flight to the US. I think the recent announcement about pension reforms has been helpful in trying to retain the brightest companies to our shores and grow and attract the best talent.

'There are strong levels of demand for science space but we must deliver the infrastructure, so companies can show how to get their talent there and keep them in the buildings. The issue around power is a serious one because availability is the first question that investors ask in making these buildings operational. The question is timing, it takes years to work up designs, go through planning and then building, but investors need that certainty from day one.

'Should we be flexible on rental prices to help business? There is an acute lack of stock and space is taken quickly, it is a landlord friendly market. Rents are going up in big jumps and that is purely market dynamics. When a company raises money, they usually only spend 10 per cent on real estate and much more on IP. Yes, the fairness of high rents is challenging but essentially it's reality.'

Paddington Life Sciences benefits from strong rail connectivity and is attracting investors because of its accessible position.

The connectivity between Oxford, Reading and London was brought to the attention of the contributors by Dr Suki Balendra, Head of Strategy at Paddington Life Sciences (part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust) who said there is strong evidence that there is an appetite for companies from Reading wanting to move onto the Paddington campus:

'At Paddington of course we are connected to Oxford with the transport lines in and out of the two cities. We are working in the context of the north west London population which numbers some two and a half million people and where there are diverse communities and a huge level of deprivation. From one end of the area to another for instance, a boy's life expectancy changes by 18 years. The hospital, St Mary's is crumbling and at the mercy of national government and as you may know this project for Imperial has been kicked down the track now beyond 2030.

'However we do have approval to build upwards and that will give us a surplus of land to give over to life sciences and mixed use. We realised that we already had a story to tell in Paddington, that we were sitting in a life sciences ecosystem with companies like Vertex, Takeda and IQVIA and also a lot of data companies like Oracle and Microsoft. We wanted to convene those companies now and we launched Paddington Life Sciences in June this year. Of course we also have the White City campus with a focus on tech. All this has been convened through the NHS and we are interested in health equity. We want to draw more of our residents into research and they are a huge asset in terms of health data, in fact we have one of the largest data sets in Europe. We want to focus on our strengths and grow what we are doing, but like everyone else we have a challenge around lab space and are completing with The Crick and SC1, Canada Water and Canary Wharf. One strength is our connectivity to the west with the Heathrow Express, the Elizabeth Line and Old Oak Common.

'I have worked here for 15 years and really seen big changes in the area. British Land owns land around Paddington and coming out of the station and the way there is an exit straight onto the canal, along with the renovation of Sheldon Square, the days of seeing Paddington as grotty is over. The perceptions have really changed and there is strong interest for instance from companies moving from Reading to Paddington.'

'Historically Imperial has been very academic but we are interested now in moving into commercial partnerships and really interested in social purpose. The interest in the latter can be seen in Boston where staff are getting involved in community projects. There is interest in diversity in communities and trials, so the US is now visiting us to see how we are doing community engagement. So our project started as a development but has widened out into social purpose and research.'

Above: The Francis Crick Institute at dusk, adjacent to St Pancras International station and the British Library

Fred Pilbrow, Founding Partner of Pilbrow & Partners, has been closely involved in the developing plans for Imperial College Healthcare campuses and understands the need for good place-making:

'I have worked with Matt Tully (Head of Regeneration at Imperial College Healthcare) on the questions around the development at St Mary's and those science collaborations and I hope that the regeneration funds excellent new clinical facilities. I do think the environment around Paddington is pretty chaotic at the moment and I hope there will be funding to deliver upgraded public realm. I have worked on the Francis Crick and seen how the development is spreading out across King's Cross. That has helped ' the down-at-heel' station, transforming it into something more positive.

'I am also working at White City and in North Acton and there is that same question of place that needs addressing. I would like to see spaces around buildings get the same level of care and we must get the cars out. The challenge at White City is that we need to deliver greater density whilst preserving humane spaces.'

Fred led a team at PLP/Architecture to design two buildings at the college’s new White City Campus – 88 Wood Lane, a 35-storey residential tall building and the iHub – a 20,000 square metres life sciences incubator.

The building is organised around a principal lab-enabled 19.5 metre deep wing on the A40. The space is served by cores to the east and west freeing up a generous and flexible volume. A lower wing of dry lab and office space frames an entrance atrium with views towards the landscaped square at the heart of Imperial West.

In February 2018, Pilbrow & Partners were appointed following an invited competition to enhance the working environment for the operations team at the Francis Crick Institute. The operations department provides administrative support for the 1500 scientists and researchers working collaboratively across multiple disciplines. Its' design, recently completed, seeks to facilitate and improve these working relationships through open dialogue, cooperation and wellbeing within the office environment.

The new design improves the working environment for the 250-staff operations team by: introducing the latest trends in working environment (agile working, co-working), improve team satisfaction, productivity and wellbeing, improve working relationship and knowledge sharing between the operation team and the research groups, creating additional formal and informal meeting spaces, creating a sense of place and identity. The design proposals were grounded in detailed and extensive research into the functional interrelationships across departments within operations. Face to face interviews, workshops and online questionnaires sought detail on how teams operated and the level of satisfaction with their current working environment.

The firm developed specialist AI algorithms to test and appraise potential design scenarios. and brought in specialists in pedestrian movement, environmental design and lighting design to inform the design approach. It worked extensively with scale models to aid communication of the developing design and seek stakeholder engagement in these proposals.

Above: The Bioscience Catalyst and the GSK campus at Stevenage in Hertfordshire - the town is being seen as a future centre for science manufacturing on a large scale (Image courtesy of Stevenage Borough Council)

Harriet Jenkins from Grimshaw asked about the role of retrofit and adaptive re-use of buildings for science R&D, mentioning the re-use of the 'industrial campus' that may have fallen into non-use and the decline in the London office market. There was a general discussion about looking at empty retail and whether this is suitable for science space. Ed Hayden from Scott Brownrigg said that this might pull science more into the middle of cities and help to democratise science. The Clarendon Centre, a former shopping mall in Cornmarket, Oxford, is being developed into new lab spaces, now the redevelopment of the Westgate has taken the flow of shoppers away.

Some attendees wanted to discuss the focus - or lack of - in the UK of the smooth transition from science IP creation to manufacturing, which can happen more fluidly in the Middle East and Europe. Cllr Susan Brown stated that this was not something that the UK had done very well. She said at the moment, the UK lacks the big manufacturing spaces that are required nor does it have the workforce to manage large scale manufacturing. She insisted however that help is needed for companies to grow and move on, making those connections with other parts of the country where there is space and a workforce to enable manufacturing.

Future Cities Forum is grateful to all the contributors who joined our 'Science Cities' discussions in Oxford, in the beautiful setting of St John's College.

Below: Science transit shuttle to Harwell Campus outside the Sheldonian Theatre and the Oxford Science Museum on Broad Street


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