The future for science innovation in Leeds


The Sir Henry William Bragg Building at Leeds University - Gracing the exterior of the building is a sculpture by Sara Barker. The artwork is titled ‘The Worlds of If’ – a reference to the possibilities that open up when scientists and engineers work together and share ideas (Image courtesy Leeds University / ADP)



How can regional cities like Leeds compete both in the UK and globally for investment? How can city leaders ensure that the appropriate mix of science labs, offices and housing is planned and developed for sustainability and to attract a diverse range of talent, businesses and start-ups? The University of Leeds, Arup, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Perkins & Will and Bruntwood joined our levelling up panel discussion in Leeds, to tackle these topics.


Professor Nick Plant, The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research & Innovation at The University of Leeds said he had great confidence in the city to attract the investment that it needs:


'We look at how we can partner for the right investment. Leeds is strong in healthcare through Nexus and the University is geographically next to the teaching hospital which all helps. The city is known for its record on sustainability, in fact it was the first place to have a climate commission, and with the research taking place at the university, we can really drive UK sustainability. We have strong finance capability and expertise within the city with great connectivity between the university and companies, so our collaboration works really well and that is why we can be called 'the kind city.


'Compared to other cities I don't think Leeds has an overheating problem yet. Nexus has been open for 2 years now and is providing a strong community for entrepreneurs and high growth companies. We are not quite full but getting there. How we get the next group of companies to come in we are working with the council to solve. Our innovation partnership is critical and we have the space to build and create an environment where people want to stay. The connectivity that we provide is very good and we have companies coming out of the south east of England wanting to relocate. We have some great places to live - such as Ilkley - and it is quick to commute into the city.


'To attract investment we go out and create our own. We have just closed a £2 million package of investment that has a clear steady line. We make ourselves attractive and I was on the phone to a US company only the other day which wants to come to us first rather than going to London.'


The University has recently opened the Sir William Henry Bragg Building, which has been sensitively repurposed from the 1930s School of Mining, extended with a new storey and connected to a new seven-storey complex for learning and research. The £96 million facility provides an impressive range of environments to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.


Named after a former professor at the University who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915, the building brings together the School of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Computing. It houses some of the most advanced electron microscope technology in the UK, including the Royce Institute and Wolfson Imaging Facility. Arup was appointed as technical consultant to carry out complex vibration analysis, as it was vital that passing traffic did not interfere with ultra-sensitive laboratory instruments.


Arup's acousticians advised on measures to mitigate sound impacts on the environment and building users, recommending plant with noise reduction capabilities and mechanisms to control reverberation in teaching spaces. Through modelling of demolition and construction noise impacts, cost-effective and temporary mitigation options were developed to avoid disruption of learning and research. Space planning for equipment that causes electromagnetic interference contributed to cost savings of £1 million. Designing-in modern methods of construction validated the use of a largely precast concrete superstructure, rather than an in-site concrete frame, significantly speeding up construction time and cutting costs and construction waste.


Tim Fry, Head of Science, at Arup, stated at the forum, that there are massive changes in the way life science real estate is being delivered:


'Some companies like GSK are carrying out very specific research and want certain types of buildings but it is important to offer flexible space and also re-use space where you can.


'A large pharma company from the US told us that they wanted to be in the King's Cross science hub in London and in The Crick - a project Arup has worked on. It is part of being in a community. Gone are the days where the science lab is buried away out of sight.


'Today you should be able to walk up to the front door and into the centre and the community should feel welcome. We need these places to be open to schools and STEM students to encourage them in their careers and welcome them in.'



The commercial property specialist Bruntwood (which manages a network of innovation districts across the UK via a 50:50 joint venture with Legal & General called Bruntwood SciTech) added to the discussion by saying that building a community within city centres for companies is essential. Head of Strategy, Jessica Bowles said:


'It's not just about providing real estate but about building communities across northern cities as well as the hubs we have in Oxford and Cambridge. These communities need to be highly connected and we support businesses with what they need and workspace in city centres. We are supportive of city growth and city economies and have a really attractive offer. There are specialisms around health tech, combined with digital strengths that build a powerful offer. We don't choose between cities but combine all together for strength.'


View to Platform, above Leeds central railway station, home to co-working space, serviced and leased offices for over 80 young tech and digital start-up and scale-up companies, run by Bruntwood SciTech



The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust sees health and wealth as connected. Head of Strategy James Goodyear, explained that the social value of what they are trying to achieve through their building projects and apprenticeship programme will in the long term improve health outcomes:


'At the Trust, we see ourselves as contributing to the health of the Leeds economy. We are a major employer attracting staff from all over region in a 100 different roles and professions. There is a clustering of key national health assets in Leeds and we need to focus on how we can create opportunity from deprived areas. This is through concentrating on giving the support to people that they might need in our diverse communities, so that might be language courses and trying to fill our workforce gaps. We need a virtuous cycle of opportunity and over time this will improve peoples' economic prosperity and their health.


Above - CGI of the Sky garden at Leeds Hospitals of the Future project (Perkins&Will for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust)


'We are still working with the challenges in the NHS post pandemic but we are collaborating with the university on innovation and are expanding the hospital site with an 80,000 square meter children's hospital that attaches to the general infirmary. We have some fantastic heritage buildings which we want to draw together to form our innovation village, creating a destination and a place with digital and cultural assets, in an engaging way.


'Our leadership language at the Trust guides for all decisions and we have lots to be proud of in the way we can engage with our communities, build on our assets and move forward positively rather than just look at the deficits. The language we use informs all our conversations between all parts of our work.'


Mark Rowe from architecture practice, Perkins & Will, who is leading the team on the new hospital expansion programme commented on what the 'hospital of the future' should look like:


'It should - and this is what we are trying to do in Leeds - throw its arms open to the city. We are creating a space in front of the hospital, a square that brings people into the heart of the building. For too long, hospital buildings have kept people at a distance, kept people out, and we also wanted to create something of permanence. Other NHS buildings in other places can often look like they won't last, so we need these ones in Leeds to be solid and evocative of heritage. Buildings should speak with confidence and be an anchor for the wider innovation district.'


Perkins&Will, led by Penoyre & Prasad with Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, signed the contract with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to design two new state-of-the-art hospitals on the site of Leeds General Infirmary (LGI). The appointment follows a competition held by the Trust in 2021 to find an architect to design its “Hospitals of the Future” project—one of 40 new hospitals that the U.K. government has committed to build by 2030 as part of its New Hospital Programme (NHP).


The Trust’s vision for the LGI site calls for a single, state-of-the-art building that houses two unique hospitals—one for adults and one for children— including a centralised maternity and neonatal unit. Significantly, these designs bring together for the first time clinical services for children and young people under one roof.


Patient care and well-being is at the centre of the design with all wards orientating toward the outdoors, maximizing exposure to daylight and good views. Communal spaces also feature throughout, including a rooftop plaza at the heart of the children’s hospital. A garden terrace on the fifth floor of one of the hospitals, complete with plants mirroring the local landscape, as well as green space in the site’s car park, draws inspiration from the surrounding verdant environment.

Taking cues from the ways people interact with technology in a pandemic era, the design team incorporated digital features throughout the project, too. For example, a cutting-edge twin technology will be used to track the building’s energy performance and other technology will reduce bureaucratic processes helping to increase the amount of time physicians and care staff can spend with patients.


The design team is now undertaking staff and patient engagement sessions to gather input and support the next stage of design development. The adults, children, young people, parents, carers and clinicians from across the region will be instrumental in helping to shape how the facility might look and feel in these early designs.



Below: CGI of competition illustration for Leeds Hospitals of the Future project (Perkins&Will)