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UK Innovation Cities report - part one

Future Cities Forum 'UK innovation Cities' took place in the Mayor of Bristol's committee room (The Hannover Room') at City Hall

Future Cities Forum was hosted by the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, in the town hall for its 'Innovation Cities' event that looked at the economy and innovation of the South West region and asked the following questions:

How will the South West continue to build its brand for first class innovation and research?

Will the UK government's funding for Plymouth's Launchpad be investment well spent?

How can the housing crisis be mitigated with carefully designed homes?

Would an underground mass transit system in Bristol help solve the city's traffic congestion and pollution problems?

How can the cultural sector in the South West boost the UK's economy over the next decade?

Contributors to the discussion forum featured in the first part of our report were the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, Professor Kevin Jones, Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University, Victoria Pomery, CEO, The Box, Plymouth, OBE, Selina Papa, Head of Engagement, National Heritage Lottery Fund, Lynn Barlow, Assistant Vice Chancellor (Creative Industries), The University of the West of England, Andrew Billingham, CEO, YTL Arena, Russell Jones, Co-founder, Nine Trees Studios and Mike Dodd, Director, Socius.

Marvin Rees was first elected mayor in May 2016. On that day, Bristol became the first major European city to have elected a black mayor. He describes becoming mayor as another expression of a deeper commitment to building a fairer, more inclusive world. Marvin has declared Bristol a City of Hope, built on ambition, inclusion and social justice. After serving an extended five-year first term due to the coronavirus pandemic, Marvin was re-elected as Mayor in May 2021.

He has overseen the building of over 12,500 new homes, announced the development of a mass transit system, and, through Bristol WORKS, provided almost 29,000 quality experiences of work activities for young people. Marvin has worked with partners to secure £95 million to unlock 10,000 new homes and 22,000 new jobs in Temple Quarter, one of Europe's largest regeneration schemes.

Marvin told the forum:

'When naming Bristol the City of Hope, I did this as I prefer the word hope to optimism. The word hope grapples with suffering. My early years growing up in the city were not easy and I think we have to be honest about the challenges that Bristol faces.

'It is a city of contrast. When I was a local radio journalist we talked about balloons, bridges and Brunel - but this positive message doesn't apply to everyone, it's not wonderful for everyone. It is a city of 42 square miles and very prosperous . However there are 21,000 on the waiting list for housing. It is one of the most expensive cities outside London - but where are the homes? I constantly hear when talking about where homes are going to go - 'no not here'!' There are entrenched inequalities in Bristol, for instance in the area of Hartcliffe, only 11 per cent go onto university. There is social immobility.'

Marvin secured the landmark Bristol City Leap partnership in 2022, which plans £630 million investment in clean energy by 2028 – creating 1,000 jobs and cutting 150,000 tonnes of emissions. As a founding member of 3Ci and the Mayors Migration Council, Marvin has advocated for cities to be at the heart of tackling climate change, including in a TED Talk viewed by more than 1.6 million people and as the UK's representative to the Commonwealth Local Government Forum. He said:

'Our City Leap partnership has the ambition of transforming our energy system and we also built social value into that and jobs. The energy heat system will be embedded into the new Bedminster housing scheme. We spent £23,000 on bidding for Channel 4 and we won it because we were authentic about inclusion. The committee system that will be introduced in May this year, I firmly believe is not a good idea because it will suck leadership outside the city.

'The mass transit system that I advocate is hanging by a thread. We need connectivity but our transport is an ongoing challenge. It is expensive and infrequent. Some of our exclusion in the city is really about transport problems like at Hartcliffe. Bristol is made up of many different villages and they can be isolated with narrow roads. A new mass transit system has to hit the most dense areas and therefore you have to go underground. We are too romantic about trams. When you build them you have to close the roads and then the retailers will go. With a segregated system, no one goes down it. I am challenged on the mass transit system as 'pie in the sky' but there is too much concentration on our historical failures of the past to make new ideas happen.'

Above: The Marine Building, Plymouth University, courtesy e-Architect

The forum discussion widened out to include an important contribution from Professor Kevin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University, who spoke of the UK government's interest in marine research for green energy and the role of private business in ensuring innovation progresses in the South West. Cyber security for international shipping is also a vital area of research for the University:

'One of the things we are learning is that it is better when there isn't a divide between government and business. We are looking for areas of international importance in our research and the future of shipping is one of them. This will benefit the world and creates the next generational technology. We have created an environment in the South West where you can develop this and involve lots of small enterprises with a modular system and with the commercial sector. It has set the University on a path and as an enabler for the technology to be evolved to tackle the vulnerability of international shipping. No one was researching the issue of shipping and cyber attacks and if these kind of attacks happen, it can cost the world billions of dollars a day. It is important that labs are working on this problem before they become real. Our economy here works around specialisms and we publish good research which can feed into industry and spread nationally.'

The University of Plymouth describes its work further in this area:

'Cyber-SHIP Lab brings together an endlessly configurable host of connected maritime systems found on ships’ bridges – equipment commonly deployed across international fleets, configured and re-configured in vessel or vessel-type-specific layouts. It can effectively become a physical twin of any ship’s bridge and associated OT. Cyber-SHIP Lab provides insights that cannot be gained in the virtual world through simulation alone. The Lab’s unique hardware-based testbed complements the University’s fleet of nine ship simulators and our cyber ranges. Research outputs – including real-world attacks on non-virtual machines – are used to make researchers’ and crews’ simulator experiences much more realistic and useful for training as well as securing devices. Uniquely, this means we can use the Cyber-SHIP platform to determine physical systems' key vulnerabilities under a range of cyber attacks. It enables development and demonstration of safeguards at technical, system and operational levels. This is a world-first capability that empowers our researchers and industry partners to improve global shipping security.'

The University of Plymouth has played a leading role in securing significant Government investment that will drive the South West’s future marine and maritime innovation. The Great South West, the pan-regional partnership working to build the region’s economy and prosperity, has been chosen as the country’s Marine and Maritime Launchpad, recognising its leadership in the sector. As part of the programme, the region is receiving up to £7.5 million of investment to drive innovation and business growth.

The Marine and Maritime Launchpad has been developed by the Heart of the South West LEP and Innovate UK in partnership with Maritime UK South West, the universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Bournemouth, the Dorset and Cornwall LEPs, and the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport. The Launchpad builds on work undertaken by the Ocean Futures Partnership to establish the Great South West as a global centre of excellence and supercluster in the testing, development and manufacture of autonomy, digital and clean ocean technologies. The Great South West partnership has developed its Clean Energy Powerhouse Prospectus, revealing that the region had the potential to become one of the leading providers of low carbon energy in the UK.

Professor Jones was asked whether the funding for this area of research was sufficient and did he feel the South West was under pressure to come up with solutions for green energy in a relatively short time. He commented:

'Generally funding is never enough but it has given a regional focus on our capabilities in research here. We are the only marine launchpad i the UK. There is a regional coherence and the funding is encouraging smaller firms to get in to this area, which is clean energy based around maritime. It is a boost to get critical mass. The Celtic sea is a major growth area for off short wind. We have appropriate horizons for research and universities rarely produce results next week, but long term the research findings will build the future, based on the capability that is already in place. Some results will be achieved quite quickly.'

The Box, Plymouth courtesy of SNC Lavalin-Atkins

Another economic area of growth for the UK is the cultural sector and no less so than in the South West. The Box in Plymouth is the UK’s most significant cultural development of recent years and the largest multi-disciplinary arts and heritage space in the region. Its innovative design has transformed three historic city centre buildings to create a cutting-edge, interactive cultural centre with 13 new galleries and exhibition spaces and a striking ‘archive in the sky’.

With major investment from Plymouth City Council, Arts Council England and National Heritage Lottery Fund, The Box is an important hub for education and learning and a major new cultural attraction for the city, as well as home to six nationally important collections.

Victoria Pomery who joined Future Cities Forum's discussion, stepped down as Director of Turner Contemporary after 19 years in post and the gallery’s first 10 years of operation. Pomery oversaw the capital project which delivered the recognisable David Chipperfield building on Margate seafront. She was awarded an OBE for her services to the arts in 2012 and an Honorary Doctorate from University of Kent in 2020. She has led an internationally renowned programme of exhibitions and commissions which have gained high profile press coverage, establishing a creative and exciting reputation for Turner Contemporary.

She said:

'Living in the South West is completely different to other parts of the country but it is often last on the policy makers' list. The Box opened in 2020 and is both a museum and archive supported by heritage lottery funding and the council who have both invested in culture. So far we have had 700,000 visits and I think looking forward, we will be re-imagining the future through the past. Our heritage and the past informs our today. We should reflect also on the role that the creative individual can play. The relationship with higher education and the cultural sector is very important, as our collections are strongly suited for educational purposes and for diverse audiences.

'We have issues around Empire, Francis Drake etc, and we should start thinking about the topics of expansion and exploitation. Plymouth has not really looked extensively at the issue around the slave trade. Contemporary Plymouth is very diverse and there are huge challenges. There is also massive hope. We have one of the best waterfronts in the world. We can now reflect on history and draw out issues while thinking how to be more inclusive to people. Cultural sectors need to work on this.'

Above: the statue of Henrietta Lacks in Bristol (courtesy BBC)

National Heritage Lottery Fund's Head of Engagement, Selina Papa, spoke during the discussion about paying tribute to people from diverse communities and encouraging their voices for the present and future:

'We launched our current strategy last year which demonstrates our belief in the power of heritage and is based on what we learned over the last 30 years. Investments that we make are for people who do not usually engage with heritage and can range from nature through to landscape and built heritage as well as intangible heritage. the UK has just ratified the UNESCO acknowledgement of intangible heritage that covers all sorts of creativity from music to mime, our living traditions. Our strategy covers complexity as well as hidden and overlooked histories. One of those is the contribution to science by Henrietta Lacks and we are keen to correct gaps in historical records. There is now a statue to her in Bristol. We don't fund monuments themselves but support communities to learn skills such as research and we always consult lottery members on where they want the funding to go to.'

The National Heritage Lottery Fund explains the importance of supporting the telling of the story around Henrietta Lacks:

'HeLa cells, first collected 72 years ago, have made possible medical breakthroughs that have changed modern life. However, the black woman these cells were taken from, Henrietta Lacks, has often been forgotten. We supported the University of Bristol to share her story though an education programme that introduced students of all ages to the problematic and positive aspects of Henrietta's life and legacy. In 2021, the University of Bristol unveiled a statue of Henrietta by local artist Helen Wilson-Roe. It is the first statue of a black woman made by a black woman for a public space in the UK.

Henrietta Lacks was a young, family-orientated African American woman from the US state of Virginia. In1951, aged 31, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Without her knowledge or consent, a small piece of her tissue was harvested during treatment. Henrietta died on 4 October 1951, just eight months after her cervical cancer diagnosis.

'Unbeknown to Henrietta or her family, her cells led to a vital scientific breakthrough – the discovery of the first immortalised cell line. These cells can be reproduced and kept alive outside the body long enough to carry out important medical experiments. Named HeLa after Henrietta Lacks, the cells have been used by scientists all over the world in their biomedical research. The cells were responsible for discoveries including a polio vaccine, treatments for leukaemia, the flu, coronavirus (COVID-19) and many types of chemotherapy. The cells were also used to create a vaccine to reduce HPV infections, which can lead to cervical cancer.

'Despite the great good Henrietta’s cells have done, how they were collected raises disturbing questions about consent and racial equality. When the sample of her cells was taken, Henrietta never gave consent for them to be used for research. A number of injustices sit at the heart of Henrietta’s story, highlighting the disparities in healthcare for black communities. Her story resonates today among ethnically diverse communities because racial discrimination still persists in healthcare. The scientists who used Henrietta’s cells in their research won awards and recognition, but rarely knew who she was. The continued use of the cells remains controversial, both inside and outside of the biomedical research community.'

Arnolfini building - courtesy Hannah Atkinson

Creating a diverse range of voices within the cultural sector is something that the University of the West of England is committed to. Lynn Barlow, Assistant Vice-Chancellor Creative and Cultural Industries Engagement, was asked whether those diverse communities had adequate numbers of appropriate role models to help them in their creative careers?

She answered:

'This is something that takes a long time I think but we have a reasonable reputation of diverse leadership now particularly in gender balance, but we can do more. Diversity is particularly strong among our broadcast voices, but the arts and culture is in a precarious space at the moment.'

The University of the West of England has been involved in new initiatives to find diverse voices in the area of television drama writers. The scheme has been devised by Channel 4's Bristol hub in collaboration with Bristol UNESCO City of Film and its partners BFI NETWORK (delivered regionally in the south west by Watershed), UWE Bristol and The Bottle Yard Studios. It has invited applications from new and emerging writers based in west and south-west of England, with a particular focus on diverse perspectives across the region and was open to unrepresented writers looking for their first writing credit and writers who are working on developing their own original series.

Lynn commented at the time how important it was to find new stories and develop the skills of new writers while Marvin Rees talked of the importance of Channel Four coming to Bristol and the way that the scheme has shown the value of forging new partnerships in the creative sector for the region. Lynn also commented during Future Cities Forum's event on the importance of commercial funding for the arts in cities, and not just relying on government money:

'When Marvin set up the culture board, we were really keen that it wouldn't be seen as public sector and there is a lot more to do in matching commercial culture. The Hippodrome is a good example of that. How do you make a choice for an arts venue in terms of funding when there are many needy people in the city which the money could go to to support their creativity?

'We have amazing buildings in Bristol and some of these are heritage buildings. We bought the Arnolfini and formed a charity to maintain artistic autonomy. We have the YTL Arena coming along too. The question is how do we fund culture that makes our cities what they are?'

CGI interior of YTL Arena, courtesy Grimshaw/Manica Architecture

The new YTL Arena in Bristol is the focus of much anticipation and expected to become a large and exciting venue for the city. CEO Andrew Billingham who spoke at Future Cities Forum's 'UK Innovation Cities' event pointed to the importance of the venue's heritage:

'The hangars that form the re-developed venue are very much part of the history of the South West, particularly around Concorde, and we have a responsibility to continue to tell that story, so we will continue to be the home to supersonic.

'We want visitors and schools to know what it is today. So we will be a modern exhibition centre but with a strong heritage. The venue will have a very industrial feel but with sustainability and tech as core pillars. We will be net zero from day one, with no gas supply. Commercially there has been pressure to buy supplies from further afield, but we are not doing that, just very determined to buy locally.'

Fighting climate change has been a priority in the building of the new arena. The company states:

'The most transformational actions we can take are to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions, phase out the use of fossil fuels and move to renewable energy. Our goal is to be the most responsible and sustainable arena in Europe, and to be carbon neutral from day one. We are committed to delivering an arena for Bristol that aligns itself with the city’s passion and dedication to environmental causes, building on the work that has continued since Bristol was the first UK city to be named a European Green Capital in 2015.

'We fully support the touring industry’s move towards more green practices, with artists such as Billie Eilish, Maroon 5, Tame Impala and The 1975 collaborating with non-profit arts organisation Reverb to reduce the environmental footprint of their tours, and educate fans.

'The Complex will operate without the use of fossil fuels. Solar panels covering 10,000m2 combined with two megawatts of battery storage will allow solar harvesting for peak time use. Air source heat pumps will provide ambient heating and cooling, while LED lighting will be used throughout the Complex, linked back to an intelligent building management system.

By repurposing the Brabazon Hangars, the birthplace of Concorde, we will save approximately 18,600 tonnes CO2 from being emitted compared to building a completely new structure. The concrete floor, which supported every UK-built Concorde, will be retained as the event floor, where fans will be able to dance.

'We will source more than 75% of our products and services locally, sharing our success with the wider community and driving business to the region. The Arena will attract 1.4m visitors to the city region generating in excess of 300,000 more overnight stays as fans choose to stay in city hotels, adding £60m per year to the city’s tourism economy.

'The Complex will create 500 new jobs with a starting salary of the living wage and offer apprenticeships and work experience opportunities. A community stage will offer local, up-and-coming artists the chance to showcase their talents, and through our community programme we will collaborate with city partners to use the power of music and entertainment for greater good.'

The South West has built a reputation for the creative industries over the years with companies such as Aardman, but now there has been a recent trend for film companies to locate in the region.

Nine Trees Studios is one of them and is opening over 15,000 square feet of purpose-built and fully soundproofed studios, production offices and green rooms. The company describes its site in Brislington as home 100 years ago to a small copse of roughly nine trees surrounded by allotments - an idyllic spot that looked out over Bristol's thriving port, railway station and nearby Butter Factory and Brick Works.

Future Cities Forum recent event at the British Film Institute in London drew together research on what 'buyers' of studio space wanted in production districts. A sense of place and community was high on the list.

Nine Trees Studios' Co-founder Russell Jones, commented on this during the discussion:

'I moved here 15 years ago because I saw Bristol as a truly creative city. There is something about its independence. When people visit, you cannot find a chain shop in most areas and that is a difference to other cities in the UK.

'People are comfortable in the South West. It has become a microcosm of little broadcast facilities, a long way from just some big bland place.'

With the mention of the Brislington site overlooking significant industrial factories in Bristol, it seemed appropriate to ask Mike Dodd, Director at development company Socius, about the importance of preserving the heritage of the former Soapworks in Bristol for new workspace.

Mike oversees the delivery of Soapworks which will provide 180,000 sq ft of flexible workspace, 243 new Build-to-Rent homes and create space for independent retail and a vibrant food and drink offer, including Bristol’s first purpose-built food hall.

Socius describes the original building as commissioned by Gardiner Haskins in the 19th century, with it has being home to manufacturing for hundreds of years:

'With award winning architects Woods Bagot, we are sensitively respecting the original building while infusing a new identity that will reimagine the place for many years to come. Planned to be a new district with homes, workspace and cultural space; all set around a new public square including biodiverse green spaces, Soapworks will be connected to the city’s commercial centre at Temple Quay and the cultural quarter at Old Market.

Mike told the forum:

'We are very conscious about the value of the building's heritage and want to retain it. There are challenges over the sustainability of converting a factory with very high ceilings into a sustainable space with energy needs. It is an old building that has to be made fit for modern purposes.

'There is a real wow factor to it and we have kept nods to the history of it in the design. It sits on the edge of the new science Temple Quarter opposite 'Science Creates' and there is a lot of interest from those who want to move into it, off the back of that.'

Socius acquired the site in 2019 and secured planning consent for 166,000 ft2 of commercial space, 30,000 ft2 of FBLR space, and 243 residential units, as well as a listed building consent for the Soap Pan building. Socius has been working with Barings to push the sustainability credentials to a best-in-class level and to build in additional tenant amenities. Strip out and early enabling works began in Spring 2023, and construction is due to commence in 2024.

Thank you to all our contributors for their insights featured in this the first part of our 'UK Innovation Cities' report. Part Two will be published next week.

Image below: Soapworks, courtesy of Socius/Woods Bagot

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