Where’s the plan for the Golden Triangle? asks new Oxford/Cambridge arc report

Milton Park

A major new report published by New London Architecture, an independent forum on architecture, planning and development, says that London, Oxford and Cambridge, referred to as ‘the Golden Triangle’ will play a significant role in the post-COVID economic recovery of the UK as a global exporter of innovation and employment creator.

But the report bemoans the current lack of a regional plan and coordination across the Golden Triangle which it says poses significant challenges for the future of the region.

The region’s strengths in life sciences have been in the headlines since March following the development of a potential vaccine by University of Oxford scientists, which is now undertaking current trials with Cambridge-based AstraZeneca.

And in late May, AstraZeneca announced that it had signed a one year clinical and commercial supply agreement with cell therapy group Oxford Biomedica plc  manufacture multiple batches of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222.

Oxford Biomedica is working alongside AstraZeneca and other manufacturing organisations to provide large scale manufacturing capacity for this vaccine, should the trials prove successful.

The £1.25 billion support package announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April confirms the central role that it sees the tech, life sciences and related sectors playing in the UK’s recovery.

Oxford North CGIThe report urges government to streamline planning to speed up development and unlock housing, transport and workspaces to help future-proof the UK economy.

Over the last two years, the Golden Triangle has seen significant investment in spaces for knowledge intensive industries in this area, and close to 100 projects are showcased in the report.

London, Oxford and Cambridge form three points of an area of southern England —increasingly referred to as the ‘Golden Triangle’ — that has become one of the world’s foremost knowledge-intensive areas, thanks in great part to the research and innovation by world-leading universities working with companies in the technology, medicine and life sciences sectors.

Within this area lie five of the world’s top-ranked universities for life sciences and medicine: the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University College London, Imperial College and King’s College London. As of March 2020, the UK life sciences sector, mainly driven by the activity in and around these three cities, contributed £74 billion to the UK economy..

The report highlights some key statistics: More than a million square metres of office and lab space are currently being sought in Oxfordshire, but only half that amount is available.

It also says that 50 per cent of additional commercial floor space is needed to support the anticipated 950,000 new jobs expected to be created across the Arc by 2050.

Property consultancy Bidwells reported in February 2020 that office rents rose by 24.3 per cent in a year in Oxfordshire’s world-class research cluster.

The region as a whole is home to more than 3,700 companies with specialist expertise in areas including genomics, advanced therapies, digital health, artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, and neuroscience.

This world-class innovation ecosystem has become a cornerstone of the government’s Industrial Strategy to support wider growth and sustain the UK’s global economic competitiveness.

Oxford Science ParkThe Arc has been identified as contributing £111 billion annually to the UK economy, with the potential to generate an additional £80 billion annually by 2050.

But with COVID-19, funding streams have been heavily disrupted, especially for start-up and early-stage businesses, and demand for space among this sector has reduced.

A survey of innovation-based, R&D companies in Oxfordshire since the lockdown showed that while 87 per cent of the companies responding stated that they were expecting to grow, prior to the current crisis, only 37 per cent companies now expect to see growth in the next year.

80 per cent are experiencing delays or are stalling their research and development activity. This has a ‘domino effect’ as funding is often contingent of staged completion on research or trials, and also the employment of new researchers. Anecdotally, many emerging businesses are seeking flexible terms from landlords, and new approaches to business models for start-up space may therefore be needed if demand remains low among this group.

David Williams, Head of Science & Technology for property consultancy Bidwells, said: “Billions of pounds of public and private investment is pouring into Oxford. International research facilities at Harwell and Culham, fast growing technology companies and real estate investment acquisitions are all attracting significant funds. It is no surprise Oxford is now a top performing market.

“There is a healthy development pipeline now underway, with more planned for 2021 but the real game changer for Oxford will be the development of its own world-class innovation district in the city centre. Only then will the small city’s economy begin standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other leading global locations. This type of new district is now taking shape in the city’s West End area at a scale of development not seen for many centuries.”

COVID-19 has clearly had an impact on the market, he added. “Certainly in the short-term, but the activity seen in the science and technology sectors during this period of crisis — across life sciences, space, AI, energy and engineering — has seen the majority of our deals continuing and a flood of fresh inbound enquires into lab space at the science and technology campuses we act for, such as Harwell, Oxford Technology Park and Wescott.

“The city’s real estate is now imperative to Oxford’s growth trajectory. It’s now perhaps of national importance, given our country’s renewed economic focus on science and technology and the city’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”