Universities as Regenerators 2017
Shelagh McNerney and Phil Cusack presented plans for regenerating Salford University's campus

Universities as Regenerators | Slides, summary + pictures

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Better collaboration with local authorities and the private sector will see universities taking a more active role in large-scale community regeneration, a panel of industry experts told delegates.

Around 110 delegates attended Place North West’s conference in Manchester city centre, which was sponsored by Morgan Sindall.

Capital investment

George Griffith, head of university consulting at CBRE opened the event saying, despite accounting for 2.25m sq ft of land across the region, the scale of university estates were still underestimated. He told delegates:

  • Capital expenditure from North West universities was £260m annually with the figure expected to grow as institutions bring forward long and complex investment programmes over the next five to 10 years
  • Estates management costs stood at £190m a year, but it was “inevitable” that cost of managing estates would now start to rise as universities invested in upgrading their facilities
  • Universities across the North West had a total annual income of £2.6bn, with the University of Manchester topping the list with £830m and six institutions reporting income of more than £150m, meaning the sector compared favourably with large private sector businesses

University of Salford

Shelagh McNerney, head of development at Salford City Council, and Phil Cusack, council member at the University of Salford, provided an update on the university’s plans, saying partnership working was regenerating parts of the city in new ways. They said:

  • The university and council has appointed 5plus Architects and CBRE to create a framework for how to better integrate the university with Salford’s industrial, cultural and residential offers
  • New Industry Collaboration Zones have been established on university sites to break down barriers with the businesses community focusing on engineering, health and wellbeing, digital and creative, and sport
  • More than £100m has been invested in the university’s estate in recent years including £55m in the New Adelphi Arts Centre, which includes a public theatre

A panel discussion followed with Griffith, McNerney and Cusack joined by Alex Solk, partner at Sheppard Robson; Joel Arber, pro-vice chancellor at University of Central Lancashire; and David Boles, director at Buro Four.

A changing marketplace

  • The market for universities was becoming much more “blended” and moving away traditional two-tier system according to Solk, who said that younger institutions were showing how “dynamic and innovative” they could be to compete with the Russell Group institutions
  • The panel agreed new universities had become clearer on their offer and were investing in new facilities to attract specific types of students – leading to greater success


  • The panel agreed universities would increasingly have to work in collaboration with local authorities and the business community on development plans
  • Griffith said institutions were now shunning isolated developments on university campuses, and instead looking to work with local authorities on community regeneration schemes “bringing areas back to life,” with Cusack adding the universities needed to break down barriers with industry and the local community and encourage more shared use of university facilities and public realm
  • Arber said UCLan worked with other institutions to make sure the university was a “driver of growth,” adding that partnership working with Lancashire County Council was key to helping delivering a new £60m civic square and student support centre in Preston city centre

Investment in facilities

  • Boles said he had seen a shift away from capital projects focused on the arts with investment centred on improving links with industry, while Solk added investment in improved student facilities had been going “full speed ahead” since tuition fee rises in 2012
  • Arber said UCLan was developing a £200m campus masterplan for Preston being delivered by Allies & Morrison, with the university looking to work with the NHS on capital investment plans
  • Boles explained his firm was delivering the £350m engineering campus at the University of Manchester which will link the university with the city centre adding that regeneration of the soon to be vacant North Campus presented a “great opportunity” for both the university and the city

Funding and fees

  • Arber said fee rises had changed the relationship between universities and students and forced institutions to invest in facilities. He added that UCLan had £120m of capital reserves, and was considering taking advantage of the low cost of borrowing for its development plans, but the price of land made the bond market less attractive. He said the university had worked with the local LEP which was helping fund a new engineering innovation centre
  • Cusack said rising fees had made it more difficult for the University of Salford to find funding for capital works, and traditional mechanisms for funding had “all but disappeared.” He added that universities would need to be more commercial in how they generated funds


  • McNerney said links between MediaCityUK and Salford University were crucial, pointing to the university’s onsite campus and The Landing, which supports start up creative firms. However, she warned that universities need to adapt much more quickly to meet the changing skills demands of new businesses coming to the region
  • Boles said universities were becoming more proactive in linking their offer to the needs of regional industries and anchor businesses with Arber saying universities must be “fit for purpose” in delivering skills to meet the needs of local communities
  • Universities need to better reflect the way employers expect people to work according to Griffith, encouraging collaborative working between students and moving away from the outdated 9-to-5 model

To view the presentations given on the day, visit Place North West’s Slideshare page

Click any image below to launch gallery


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