top of page

'Science Cities' - health, innovation and wellbeing

Cambridge - home to the largest cluster of life sciences and biomedical companies in the UK

Our April Science Cities forum will welcome speakers from Warwick University, Biomed Realty, Exeter, Begbroke (University of Oxford) and Oxford science parks, and Westminster City Council.

The UK government has been championing science and innovation for economic growth, but how our over-heating science cities of London, Oxford and Cambridge in particular are developing for 'balanced city living', has been a key topic of discussion for Future Cities Forum.

Director of Real Estate, at Warwick University, James Breckon, will be speaking about the recent completion of the £30 million IBRB biomedical research building which includes the Wolfson Tissue Mechanobiology and Human Disease Laboratory. This has been developed with a £750,000 grant and comprises a 400-seat lecture theatre and five-storeys of laboratories, as well as social and collaboration spaces. The research work to take place in the building will increase understanding of a wide range of diseases from cancer to brittle bones and heart conditions, increasing the ability to fight human diseases.

James described how the building has been delivered during exceptional times and is testament to the tenacity and commitment shown by all those involved in designing and building it from the construction industry:

'The strategy taken in using modern methods of construction and a strong focus on sustainability and safety has paid off. The building is an excellent addition to the campus at Gibbet Hill with the architecture and public realm massively enhancing the environment for our students and staff. I look forward with excitement to hear about the purposeful research and development that will be carried out within this building.'

Meanwhile, an innovative £6.6 million building has opened at Exeter Science Park to meet growing demand for office and laboratory space from South West STEMM businesses. The 20,000 square foot Ada Lovelace Building, just off junction 29 of the M5 will be net-zero carbon for operational efficiency as a result of design features including 44kw solar voltaic roof panels. Employees of tenant businesses are expected to reach 3,500 by 2035 and the internal workspaces can be reconfigured to suit the needs of tenants.

Dr Sally Basker, CEO of Exeter Science Park (which is co-owned by Exeter City Council, East Devon District Council, Devon County Council and the University of Exeter) who will be speaking at our April forum stated:

'Our mission is to help innovative STEMM companies deliver extraordinary growth and the Ada Lovelace Building offers a prime space for knowledge-based companies to achieve great success thanks to the location, the environment and the collaboration opportunities.'

As important science parks expand in the UK, how will joined up infrastructure and housing develop to support workers and their need for homes?

Orestis Tzortzoglou, Development Director at BioMed Realty (which runs the science parks at Granta Park and at Babraham Research Campus near Cambridge), will join us at the forum. He spoke to us about the importance of strong infrastructure including broadband to sustain UK competitiveness in science and technology. He also commented that companies coming into cities, often have a housing issue:

'Relocations can be difficult and early stage company staff who are often younger people end up having to commute much further away or have to share accommodation which is difficult in Covid-19 times. They often are not able to work from home. Apple and Amazon are going to build homes. Someone has to take a longer term view and there is no easy solution. The answer could be to team up with partners. We are operating in London, Oxford and Cambridge where there is more housing demand. The life sciences field has experienced a lot of growth with companies coming out of incubation so the right office stock needs to be available. There needs to be flexibility because young companies cannot provide funds to convert office space but we can plug that financial gap.'

Bursar at Magdalen College Oxford University which the owns the Oxford Science Park, Rory Maw, will describe during our discussion the need to invest in sustainable infrastructure and affordable housing as well as state-of-art office and flexible lab space for companies of different sizes. Rory commented to Future Cities Forum:

'I can drive from Magdalen College in the city of Oxford to the science park in 12 minutes but we are looking at re-opening the Cowley branch line - shut to passengers since the 1960s - with a new station to serve the businesses on the park. Network Rail has only recently completed its first study but it is frustrating that Chiltern Railways looked the pros and cons in 2014, finding that the required investment was surprisingly cheap.'

'We have now over 50 life sciences companies on the Science Park but we don't have the equivalent of an AstraZeneca in Oxford yet. The ecosystem for life sciences and technology companies is hugely improved though since the 1980s though a major challenge is space and the commute to work times are increasing as house prices climb.'

A proposal has been put forward to develop science park facilities (to the North West of Oxford) as part of the Cherwell District Council Local Plan to create more jobs and housing which will benefit from the development of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. The University of Oxford has submitted an outline planning application to re-establish the principle of further development of academic research activity on the Begbroke Science Park and to enable more space for current users and to facilitate new spin-out companies.

The University's strategic vision in addition to the development of the Science Park, is to provide housing for University staff, postgraduate researchers and members of the wider community. This proposed wider development would allow the University to develop the Begbroke site into a new cohesive community that responds to both Oxford's housing needs and the economic attraction of the Science Park as a place to live, work, and foster innovation and enterprise.

Begbroke's Director, Alistair Cory, will be talking in more detail during our debate about how the evolving plans for the Arc will help further investment in both R&D facilities and affordable housing.

London's drive to compete with other cities in the area of innovation and talent attraction remains fierce but so does the need to provide homes for key workers who have been relied on during the pandemic.

Deirdra Armsby, Westminster City Council's Director of Place Shaping will join the discussion to discuss creating new homes for workers in London which has often seen those on lower incomes priced out. Deirdra provides strategic leadership on the form and function of a City for All and is responsible for integrating Place Shaping principles throughout the planning decisions process.

Previously Deirdra was Director of Regeneration and Planning at Newham, and worked at Hackney & RBKC, gaining experience in strategic and local mixed use development, conservation, neighbourhood advocacy, transport, public health and strategy.

Westminster City Council gave planning permission last November for new affordable housing to be built at 300 Harrow Road next to London's famous Regent's Canal. Built in 1812, the canal was designed as part of a master plan for the Prince Regent by architect John Nash to redevelop a large area of central North London. One hundred new homes with a community space and canal-side greenery are to be built with 50% of the homes being affordable, for either social or intermediate rent. The development gives a range of people the chance to live in the heart of London and priority will be given to those who live and work locally.


Recent Posts
bottom of page