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The future for 'Innovation Cities': Report part 1

Future Cities Forum's first panel discussion on creating world class innovation clusters at Here East with from left: Professor Paola Lettieri of UCL East, Nuala Gallagher of Liverpool City Council, Eugene Sayers of Sheppard Robson, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Stephen Dance of the Infrastructure & Projects Authority, Michael Wiseman of British Land, Kat Hanna of Avison Young, and Kirsten Lees of Grimshaw (Background image - Euston Tower remodelling by 3XN for British Land)

Future Cities Forum was delighted to be hosted by Here East at Plexal on the Olympic Park in Stratford last week for its event, 'Innovation Cities'.

'Innovation Cities' sits within our ongoing stream of science cities discussions in London, Oxford and Cambridge - and across the wider UK, where innovation hubs are growing but trying to sit comfortably within their city's masterplans. Leading names such as AstraZeneca, Barts Life Sciences, Wellcome Genome Campus and Oxford University Hospitals Trust, have already spoken at our forums, with recorded content building into a formidable archive of thought leadership.

The forum's first panel at Here East looked at the issues around HS2 connectivity with northern innovation hubs in Manchester and Liverpool, how universities are producing new models of learning to create greater understanding of issues such as climate change, how cities are changing geographically with the spread of innovation districts and how Oxford and Cambridge are safeguarding their brands through the design of high-quality science hubs and place-making to attract international talent.

The Chief Operating Officer of Here East, Mike Magan, offered a warm welcome to the audience, consisting of investor/developers, government, city councils, university leaders, real estate advisors, architects and planners. He said:

'It's been a privilege to watch our community, made up of innovators and entrepreneurs, grow and thrive, contributing not only to the economy of east London but the wider UK. The themes for today include the place-making possibilities of virtual reality, growing opportunities of AI, and how the creative industries, tech and sport can set the UK up for success over the coming decade. Last year we marked 10 years since we won the bid to transform the site which used to be the press centre for the 2012 Olympic Games. While the infrastructure may have changed drastically, the ethos at Here East has stayed the same, while our commitment to innovation has been instrumental to expanding at Here East a hub of ideas, talent and technology.

'Earlier this year we joined South West South West in Austin Texas. discussing the metaverse, with thought leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. We had the opportunity to reveal our virtual twin, our very own campus in virtual form. However, it is East London and the people who live here who make this campus home and a thriving place. Training local people and bridging the digital divide will be a major discussion point and is of paramount importance for us. We will strive to help the UK continue to be a leader in innovation.'

Above: aerial view of Here East campus on the Queen Elizabeth Park, with Stratford beyond - left and Canary Wharf in distance (courtesy Jason Hawkes)

Stephen Dance, Head of the Commercial Adviser Team at the Infrastructure & Projects Authority, made the opening address:

'This regenerated part of London is my favourite UK story, favourite UK place and it is a great success. We have done something we set out to do, and we have done it really well, and better than the competition. When the bidding process for the 2012 Olympics was going on, we were talking about how we would do it if we won it. I did say at the time, quoted in Private Eye, that we would invest in an 8 week Olympic and Paralympic games and the legacy would have to last 100 years! We did win it, we did invest in the 8 week games, and then we made the legacy work. It's about leadership. Boris (Johnson - then Mayor of London) had this great idea, 'Olympicopolis' as a parody of Albertopolis in West London which had given birth in the 1850s to the Kensington museums district. He wanted the Olympics legacy to be something similar.

'The plan at the time was to take away the games infrastructure and cover the area in housing, as that would generate the most money to pay back the games investment. Boris thought that was boring, so he persuaded Sir Michael Arthur at UCL, the board at the V&A and others to merge the world of academia and the arts into a new thing, and bamboozled George Osborne to give him some money and he put in some as well. That's the reason we are here. Then the leadership which came in behind it, including the London Legacy Development Corporation, the university leadership with us today, the V&A, the London College of Fashion, Sadler's Wells and the BBC, is one of those stories that comes together which is so much better than just a spread of flats and houses without the heart that these organisations bring. Inspired leadership makes a massive difference.'

Above: Liverpool's waterfront (courtesy Liverpool City Council)

Stephen was asked by Future Cities Forum Co-founder, Heather Fearfield, whether he felt that the UK is too slow on infrastructure delivery and whether the scrolling back of HS2 would have a damaging effect on innovation districts in the North of England.

Former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has sent a letter to Rishi Sunak warning against the 'mutilation of HS2'. Business leaders and groups including Manchester Airports Group, Virgin Money and the Norther Powerhouse all signed a letter to the UK government urging renewed commitment to HS2, stating that the repeated mixed signals are damaging the UK's reputation and the wider supply chain. The government has previously stated that HS2 would have economic benefits too. The BBC understands that a decision on the future of HS2 could be made as early as this week. The UK government has so far refused to commit to the current plans. Current costs on HS2 added up to roughly £71 billion.

Stephen said:

'Yes, we are slow on infrastructure delivery in the UK but no slower than Europe. If you look at the success of the Elizabeth Line - although it has taken 25 years - it has been delivered. The planning system in France and Germany is a bit easier, but in a sense what other countries do is not really here nor there. Our planning system has ground to a halt and there are significant infrastructure projects mired up in dispute and that does need fixing. There are plans afoot to fix it and I think we do have good systems in place but there can be a lack of political direction which has impacted the investors' market and changes of direction have not helped.

'Not all innovation is dependent on HS2. We are investing massively in the high speed network and I have no idea what will happen but even if things were going according to plan, Manchester would not have HS2 until 2033, so are we going to say that we are not going to do anything (in innovation terms) over the next ten years? Manchester is leading the way on connected housing, infrastructure and business innovation and it depends on both local and national investment to bring it all together in the future. The investment will make a difference and generate more for the economy and jobs. So HS2 is not the be all or end all.

Stephen was also asked to comment on Rishi Sunak's proposed statement on the rolling back on the ban on petrol and diesel cars in cities:

'The government can use legislation to drive behaviours but when I look around the whole environment, this is being driven by international investment markets, which won't invest in programmes that do not deliver. We need buildings that are not stranded assets because they need to be environmental compliant. It is really us, the way we respond to investors that will make the difference. I wouldn't worry too much about the ups and downs of policy but look at the fundamentals. That's a personal view.'

Above: view from the Museum of Liverpool looking north to the 'Three Graces' (Courtesy Ant Clausen)

Speaking about investment in the North of England, connectivity and master-plans for the port city, Nuala Gallagher, Corporate Director at Liverpool City Council, who joined the panel with Stephen, said:

'Connectivity east west is very important - all the way across to Leeds. It's not just about the connections to London.'

'Last night we went to cabinet to get a approval for a master-plan for the waterfront. Surprisingly perhaps there has never been one before. Peel Developments are in there, while Bramley Moore dock is progressing well with the new Everton FC stadium so what does that mean? Liverpool has more listed buildings than other UK city except London, but there are many comments about how difficult it is to walk in Liverpool so we have work to do there.

'Beyond the waterfront it is also about connectivity to areas of deprivation so we are looking at Anfield and Goodison where we are working on connectivity back into the docks to help catalyse change in those areas. The Knowledge Quarter is next to an area of deprivation so we are aiming to connect that better in a social sense. We are working on our place-making offer there has been investment from government and from the private sector.'

Knowledge Quarter Liverpool (KQ Liverpool) is a 450 acre urban innovation district that occupies over 50% of Liverpool city centre. KQ Liverpool is a world-leading innovation district, and is home to some of the world’s most influential players in science, health, technology, education, music and the creative performing arts. It links up like-minded cultural and commercial organisations, academics, clinicians and scientists, to promote the world-class innovation that exists within the Liverpool City Region.

KQ Liverpool brings together the city’s key partners to collaborate in a creative environment – making the whole greater than the sum of its parts – with the capacity to respond quickly to opportunities. It has world-class specialisms in medical research including infection and disease, public health and clinical informatics, surface science and biofilms, materials chemistry, sports science, manufacturing technology, modern methods of construction, immersive technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics. These are brought to life through world-leading facilities including; Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool Science Park, Materials Innovation Factory, Digital Innovation Factory and Sensor City.

Above: view towards Marshgate - part of the new UCL East campus at Stratford (Courtesy Stanton Williams for UCL)

The east end of London has long been an area of deprivation in the capital, but now a large innovation campus has been built to provide opportunities in education, skills training and jobs for local communities.

UCL East's campus has opened in two phases. One Pool Street opened in autumn 2022 and features a range of uses, including student accommodation, academic, retail, community and public engagement uses.

The design of One Pool Street encourages innovative academic programming, as well as a range of events and activities. Performances, exhibitions, workshops and lectures will contribute to a lively and creative learning atmosphere. In addition to a centre for Robotics & Autonomous Systems, it houses the Urban Room, a major public and community space, but also School for Creative and Cultural Industries spaces - namely, a Slade studio and London Memory Workshop. Meanwhile, the People and Nature Lab uses the Park as a 'living lab', and the Global Disability Innovation Hub has relocated here from its previous base at Here East. The lower levels of the building also feature a cafe and shop to cater to both the public and UCL students and staff.

The second phase of UCL East campus - Marshgate - has just opened and features predominantly academic spaces, but also includes retail, community and engagement uses. At the heart of the building is a central atrium that is openly accessible to encourage inclusivity and community engagement, with the use of 'Fluid Zones' at ground and first floor level to draw people into the building. Floor space above these levels has been designed to encourage collaboration and engagement between academic uses through largely open plan and circulatory spaces.

Marshgate houses spaces for the Advanced Propulsion Lab, the Manufacturing Futures Lab, Engineering at UCL East, the Institute for Materials Discovery at UCL East and The Bartlett at UCL East, as well as the Institute of Finance and Technology and the Global Business School for Health, which will cater to leading professionals' needs. The Institute of Making, a multidisciplinary research club for those interested in the made world, will also occupy space on the ground and first floor levels. The School for Creative and Cultural Industries facilities comprise a media lab, an object-based learning laboratory, and a suite of conservation facilities.

Professor Paola Lettieri, Pro-Provost of UCL East said:

'We launched our campus at UCL East only a couple of days ago - the result of nine years planning with academia and academics at the heart of the project. We were posed the question 'What would you like UCL East to be?' We wanted it to be visionary and embedded in the local community - and we wanted to do it differently with collaboration as the core philosophy. The vision for the campus is about breaking down boundaries. By design of the buildings and through design of spaces, by the different programme of studies and by different ways of working we can succeed in breaking down boundaries.

'Eight faculties are present including research laboratories in AI and robotics, global health, advanced propulsion, and sustainable finance. This is a mix to address the global issues of technology transfer, health & well-being, culture & understanding, and justice & equity. It is about training the next generation of students - not what they are thinking but how they are thinking when addressing problems which need a global perspective. Research labs are shared across disciplines. It is all about multi-disciplinary efforts to tackle challenges such as disability innovation, plastic waste management, social behavioural changes and bringing them all together to look solutions for the circular economy.

Sheppard Robson partner and lead for science, Eugene Sayers - who has been working on projects for UCL, was asked about the development of east London and whether the design of the new innovation campus with their individual buildings would stand up to worldwide competition to attract top talent. He commented :

' It's worth saying that while we badge ourselves as science and technology architects we are designing for the knowledge economy and that includes the thriving UK university ecosystem. These people are well educated and demanding - there is a whole quality of life issue to be addressed about the spaces they work in. There is a growing awareness of sustainability among university graduates. They are very selective about the buildings they are prepared to occupy. This is also mirrored among private sector investors, and also the science and technology spin-out companies which all have sustainability policies. Historically science buildings have been very heavy energy users, and they use a lot of water so we have to very careful in our design processes to address sustainability without compromising health and safety.

Eugene also spoke about the importance of creating place:

'Landscape architects don't always get the recognition they deserve. You only have to walk through the Olympic Park to see what a beautiful landscape it is becoming. A wonderful landscape changes your perception of a building and you think about it differently. However the landscape architects we work with are having to make the landscape solve a number of problems - creating sustainable drainage systems, increasing biodiversity, and mitigating the harm of development.'

So how do we create places for innovation, making great places to work and collaborate? Michael Wiseman, Head of UK Office Leasing, Life Science and Innovation at British Land, explained:

'Our model at British Land is very much focused on campuses for our life science and innovation business. A building is one thing (with apologies to architects!) but it is also the public spaces, the retail, the restaurants and everything else which makes somewhere a great place to be. These businesses are trying to hire smart young people who want to work in vibrant places. It's about so much more than just sitting in a building. We don't roll out a single model, it's a campus approach and we try and make places that are contextual and that fit into the local area.

'One of the ways our business has changed over the past few years is that we see ourselves as custodians of pieces of city and we think about how they integrate into the areas around. At Regent's Place our campus is integrated into the Knowledge Quarter (of King's Cross St Pancras), at Canada Water where we have 53 acres we really focus on making a place not just for new entrants buying a flat there, but also the existing community. We have more people in our community team than we do in the commercial team buying an selling assets and that speaks a lot to how seriously we take this engagement. Canada Water was 10 years through the planning process, talking to local communities, and we have to feel that we are working for that area of London. it is the heart of what we do.'

Above: Paper Yard in Canada Water, London - an innovation hub consisting of modular lab space (courtesy British Land)

With large-scale investments in innovation districts, will we see the geography of cities changing dramatically? Kat Hanna of Avison Young addressed this:

'I wrote a report seven years ago on what are innovation districts and what do they mean for London, and the role of universities. Reflecting on what's changed since I wrote that report, our standards and expectations have changed. The idea that just having that one major occupier or anchor tenant is enough has changed - we have gone beyond that.

'Now it is very much what the development is doing for this area, for the local economy and for local people? I would say that is a good thing and also a bad thing. There is a lot more emphasis placed on social value, on impact as well as on sustainability, and that can be taxing for landlords. Covid-19 has changed the role of innovation districts. When we look at the type of activity in these innovation districts, much of it is more immune to remote working, as it is difficult to recreate a science lab at home and the value of proximity in collaborative and multi-disciplinary working is very important. This is much more effective in person. The idea now of having diversity and density of uses is really important.

'I think what we have seen when looking at the principles of innovation districts is the mix of's about 'earning the commute'. If you want to get people out of their homes and into a more conventional type of office, the amenities and the location have become more important. The 'stickiness' of a place as an interesting place to be, becomes paramount to a developer. Investors and developers are looking to a lot of innovation district principles for diversification. Universities taking space in city centres are seen as a safer bet for landlords, as are life sciences tenants. The relative appeal of these uses is more important than it was previously.

'We are seeing investors set the pace on ESG but actually they all are looking at what the government is doing. They don't operate in a vacuum, and it raises the question that if they are setting the pace and the government then starts to slow down on the (sustainability) agenda then that will have an impact on how investors, especially in the technology space, view Britain as a place to be.'

Above: the difficult main entrance to Waterloo Station - with absence of 'threshold' (May 2023)

Our panel discussion closed with reflections from Kirsten Lees, Partner at Grimshaw (and also Managing Partner of the Paris Studio), on the role of station infrastructure to lead and support the creation of innovation districts and adjacent cultural centres. It is well known that international talent coming to work and to settle in world-leading innovation hubs will not move unless there are supporting cultural attractions.

Kirsten said:

' I really want to pick up on the question of how successful innovation districts can be for connecting with local residents, how inclusive they are in terms of bringing on jobs and opportunities, and how that might be a measure of their success. I really want to congratulate the client at Waterloo on looking beyond the 'red line' of the station - which so often restricts big

infrastructure master-plans. It's come about as a partnership between Network Rail and Lambeth Council as well as the BIDs and the local developers. They got together to to look beyond the red's the stitching together of the interfaces of station, the infrastructure and the community.'

'There are so many fantastic ingredients around Waterloo. The major cultural quarter, the emerging MedTech area of St Thomas Hospital and Royal Street, and the really vibrant history and heritage around the local community. The full emphasis of the master-plan is about stitching all these pieces together and developing the public realm. Waterloo does not have any threshold. The challenge is providing more and safer public realm, and better inter-modal connections at what is the busiest station hub in London.'

Commissioned in 2022 by the London Borough of Lambeth and Network Rail, the plan will set the vision for the transformation of Waterloo station – the busiest transport hub in the UK – and its surrounding area. The master plan will develop a cohesive programme which will enhance the experience of the 100 million passengers that pass through the station each year, with the regeneration of the surrounding public realm benefiting the experience of residents, local businesses, stakeholders, and the wider local community.

The rich commercial and cultural history of the area, and renewed connections to London’s Southbank, The Cut, Waterloo Road, Lower Marsh, and Leake Street will be incorporated into the master plan. It will also support Lambeth’s commitment to a sustainable future for London and target of achieving Net Zero by 2030: providing new routes for walking and cycling alongside the enhancement of existing routes, offering an incentive for sustainable and active travel, enhancing road safety, and reducing reliance on private vehicle journeys.

Grimshaw states:

'The master plan comes at a critical moment in the future of London. Infrastructure not only needs to connect people and communities economically and socially but also has a greater responsibility to create a more equitable, mobile, and sustainable future.'

Below: CGI of potential remodelling of public realm around main entrance to Waterloo Station (Grimshaw)



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