PlaceEXPO: Place Tech UK

This event looked at the latest trends in science parks and the knowledge economy in the UK's core cities. Place Tech UK was sponsored by GVA, Sheppard Robson and Cheshire East Council.

GVA's report Driving Future Growth: Core Cities and the Knowledge Economy was launched at MIPIM 2014 to give insight into the commercial knowledge economy ecosystem including universities and hospitals in the North West and UK.

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The analysis of the research was led by James Kingdom, principal researcher, and Iain Jenkinson, senior director of GVA. The crux of the report, they said, was to understand the knowledge economy as a "key to driving growth and rebalancing the economic make-up of our core cities."

Kingdom stressed that cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle need more support as they underperform the GDP national average by 40%. The historical reliance on financial and public sectors prevented "the right environment" for innovation, Kingdom said. In 2007, 30% of jobs in Liverpool were in the public sector.

Harnessing the power of local universities was a key driver behind growth in science and technology sectors in a region, said Kingdom, with places like Oxford and Cambridge which together make up 20% of the UK's total science park floorspace.

Building on the existing knowledge base would also help growth, with discoveries such as graphene in Manchester providing a strong foundation.

Alongside the Driving Future Growth research, GVA built a toolkit to predict the development of the next decade of university (and also city) progress and specialisms, which Jenkinson demonstrated using Liverpool as a case study. Drawing from data from university publications, patent applications, and industry intelligence, the toolkit allows specific clusters and relationships to be identified in each area, through a user-friendly app. The intention is to highlight strengths and weaknesses of an area, for potential occupiers and also in order to drive development.

In the Liverpool case study, the example showed that clinical genetics, geophysics, nuclear and materials chemistry were all good areas to develop bespoke investment strategies, with some research set to become "very high value business activity".

Jenkinson used this analysis to highlight how regional cities were selling themselves short, and said: "The question to ask is, why are Google and Facebook not in Liverpool? Science, research and development and technology is where the investment is going into, but until this year Liverpool didn't have commercial grade laboratories.

"A 'build it and they will come' approach no longer works in this market. We have to connect capital flow with regeneration and projects in order to maximise the potential of our cities."

According to David Hardman, chairman of UK Science Parks Association, "the name 'science park' is almost history".

He said: "The next generation of ideas is going to happen in cities, as part of 'innovation ecologies', driven from people to place and not the other way around.

"In core cities, you can get examples of lots of place but not people with expertise. Many elements are moving in the same direction, yet are not in sync."

Cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester cannot replace Cambridge, Hardman said, but have their own unique offers that need to be explored. Developing the right office space in the right locations was key.

Driven by what Hardman called the 'SoLoMo' generation, which stands for social, location and mobile, the next wave of economically powerful companies would not want to be based in a modern office or even a science park. With the use of mobile devices higher than ever before, Hardman acknowledged that this "borderless and complex" target audience was a difficult one for science parks to get a foothold in. In order to tackle the problem, he called for core cities to work together in a better way.

As part of a panel discussion, Andy Round, investment director of Spark Impact, emphasised the point about the manoeuvrability required in a modern workforce, saying "companies are now more likely to spread their staff, particularly as there is rarely an offer that can house all of them".

Alex Solk, director at architect Sheppard Robson, stressed that 'flexibility' was the buzzword for science parks, with "cafes and interaction space becoming the valuable space in a building. From a design point of view, we need to ask what next? We need to think differently and not simply build boxes with walls around them."

Challenging Hardman, GVA's Jenkinson said that he believed there was always going to be a need for large scale specialist locations in cities such as science park, with "more science parks in the UK than there has ever been".

Chris Roberts, development director of Bruntwood, gave an overview of activity for Manchester Science Parks in the Oxford Road corridor and the recently-acquired Alderley Park site in Cheshire. On Oxford Road, the 200,000 sq ft development was 100% let, Roberts said, with plans underway to expand to 800,000 sq ft due to the strength of the demand. He said that in two years, Bruntwood had not seen an MSP-housed business fail.

At Alderley Park, Roberts said that Bruntwood intended to provide a wider offer, through "partnership working, funding, deliverability and talent". However, he admitted that "to make the asset world class, we will need to attract other investors".

Tony O'Brien, partner at Sheppard Robson, talked through the practice's recent design activity for the science and technology sectors, including the redevelopment of the Royal Eye Hospital for Bruntwood and Sci-Tech Daresbury in Cheshire. The key, he said, was to make the space adaptable for users who need different types of space, ensuring success for the buildings in posterity.

"It's all about how to make a space fit for purpose, but not so bespoke you can never let it again", O'Brien said.

Ned Wakeman, director of BioHub at Alderley Park, pointed to a potential £250m hole in the local economy where regions were missing out on the benefits of science and technology innovations.

"In 2013, £1.85bn was raised in the Silicon Valley and Boston through technology companies," Wakeman said. "The critical success factor is helped by developing clusters of like-minded businesses, building networking partnerships and using human capital."

He pointed out that the distance between Manchester and Liverpool was smaller than the total size of Silicon Valley, and that increased partnership-working could make "a huge difference".

BioHub at Alderley Park is a laboratory and office centre to support local bioscience companies. Wakeman said that the success of the incubator had been huge, with 10 companies on site in October increasing to 62 in July with 256 staff on site.

Sameer Kothari, head of healthcare innovation company Zilico which is based in BioHub, joined for the panel discussion and the end of the event, and supported Wakeman's view of the importance of clusters and human capital, and said that "the only reason I am good at anything that I do is that I have fantastic people behind me".

Questions from the floor covered topics such as the limited availability of investment, which Kotharis said was "not enough outside of London".

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