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| 2 minutes read

If you build it they will come…

The Estates Gazette and Bidwells conference held in Westminster this week had the intriguing title ‘Creating a Scientific Superpower’. Hosted in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, the event considered but also challenged the government’s ambition to restore Britain’s position as a global scientific and technological superpower and the stated objective that 2.4% of UK GDP would go into research and development over coming years.

The event brought together speakers across many disciplines from the scientific business community, academia, investors, funders  and real estate developers who were able to bring direct and wide ranging insight on issues such as the importance of business clusters to generating growth, infrastructure requirements (not least in real estate but connectivity more broadly) and the competition for talent. Collaboration between industry, government, and universities was seen as critical to success, and collaboration, in general, was one of the recurring themes throughout the conference.

It was evident in the views expressed by the speakers involved in real estate development that there is an increasing appreciation of the importance of understanding occupier needs and a willingness to create the infrastructure that the sector needs. In a market where the demand for suitable space outstrips supply, particularly in the grow-on space needed by small but rapidly expanding businesses, creating facilities in the right locations with flexibility and connectivity are key requirements. There are huge incentives for businesses to move their technologies abroad to more established scientific communities in the US and elsewhere. In order to ensure that talent and enterprise remain in the UK, there needs to be a rapid scaling up of the provision of appropriate space in locations where people need and want to live and work.

Understandably there was a focus on real estate and place making and concern was expressed that the importance of delivering on the government’s levelling up agenda could come at the detriment of investment in the Oxford, Cambridge, London Arc. It was the view of many of the conference participants that building on the strength of the Arc and generating critical mass is in fact critical to ensuring that the levelling up agenda can be achieved as the benefits are spread throughout the country. As aptly pointed out by Dr Andy Williams, Vice President at Astra Zeneca, the company’s investment in Cambridge has generated more than ten times the level of employment outside the region than has been created in the Cambridge area itself.

The overall sense of the conference was that although there are challenges to the superpower objective, with collaboration between the various stakeholders this could be achieved. The success of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine was highlighted as an example of this and what can be delivered with ambition and self-confidence.


real estate, life sciences