Policy fads and new initiatives are always seductive, especially in the field of regional development. The favoured policy is currently the development of Innovation Districts, with their focus on physically compact urban areas, where leading edge institutions and companies connect with start ups, business incubators and accelerators. Walkable neighbourhoods where housing, jobs and amenities mingle.
There is always a temptation for cities to try and reflect this new wrapper in their strategies, but it is often quickly apparent after a little scratching beneath the surface that the reality is less than skin deep. However, this policy could have been written for Liverpool and its Knowledge Quarter. Unsurprisingly, it is part of the blueprint, which Colin Sinclair is already successfully driving as Liverpool Knowledge Quarter chief executive, and which is already gaining recognition well beyond the city’s boundaries. Having been dealt such a stellar hand, how each of us in the city develops and enhances the remarkable raw material, which we already have, is the prize. As with most things in life, timing is always key. And that time is now.
Liverpool Science Park (LSP) has a key role to play as both a deliverer of flexible accommodation and as the facilitator of these interactions and of collaboration. LSP’s creators were clearly ahead of their time when they eschewed the prevailing trend fifteen years ago for putting innovation space on green field sites outside the city boundaries or in a suburb. Instead, they chose to place LSP at the nexus of the city’s two major universities on the edge of the city centre. The recent exciting flurry of additional facilities in the Knowledge Quarter, which operate on the interface between knowledge and business, are complementary and deepen the mix. Key facilities such as the BioInnovation Hub, the Accelerator, the Materials Innovation Factory and Sensor City have all opened within the last 18 months, and as they start to fill, opportunities will start to present themselves for the respective tenants to benefit from streamlined advice, shared events and opportunities to mix together. That they are all within 400 yards of LSP only serves to enrich the Innovation District mix.
LSP is physically and conceptually at the centre of this web. As the longest established and most recognised element of this commercial knowledge economy, it is not resting on its laurels. Having recently had its estate professionally valued and with it shortly to post its second annual profit, it is now looking to establish how it can realise the value in its assets, both to refine its physical offer and to deepen further the services it offers to its tenants. This might take the form of additional borrowings or of seeking external investment. As a not for profit company, it can only ever do things for the benefit of its tenants. What is clear is that as the tectonic plates in the KQ shift and developments rapidly evolve around Paddington Village and on the now-cleared Copperas Hill site, the pace and level of opportunities will increase rapidly. LSP will look both to drive and to benefit from these opportunities.