I have long been a supporter of the UK Science Park Association (UKSPA), indeed I chair its regional equivalent, the NW Innovation Network. UKSPA’s three conferences a year, each lasting two days, give attendees the chance to visit a new venue around the country to pick up ideas, to mingle with the cream of the country’s science and innovation parks, and to hear key note speakers provoking wider thinking. Sometimes it is reassuring to know that one’s direction of travel chimes with others, sometimes it is equally good to hear a radical view, which will cause a change in direction of travel. The latest UKSPA meeting took place last week in Lincoln, with over 100 delegates in attendance. As I said to both the chair and to the chief executive at the end of the two days, I felt is was the best and most useful in my eight years of attending.
There is no doubt that the country’s key science parks are consolidating. Many of those facilities created in the nineties and early 2000s, quite often kick started by significant injections of public resources like ourselves, having survived and flourished, are now working out how best to take the next step in their evolution. Whereas previously, this might have involved positioning oneself for the next tranche of public funding, the commercial imperative and attraction of bringing in private sector investment is now on everyone’s lips.
Speakers talked about ensuring that any potential investor understood the unique requirements of running a facility of this nature, and the need for, so called, patient capital to develop any science park’s full potential was discussed at length. This is clearly not simply a purchase, slash and burn, sell large floorplates to blue chip companies before moving on kind of operation. It was equally interesting to hear from wholly private sector companies, which understood that profits could be made from the sector whilst staying true to the flexible approach being demanded by young, innovative, growing tenants. We heard from a Dutch company, Kadans Science, whose overarching premise was how to create the whole-system conditions for success and for making tenants want to stay in facilities without the big stick of long leases.
Finally, we heard from David Hardman, the chief executive of Innovation Birmingham and chair of UKSPA. His organisation had recently been bought by Bruntwood, which has ambitious plans to support a necklace of Knowledge Quarters in up to ten key cities in England, some of which are already in place. The rail network would certainly seem to provide the arteries of much of what was evolving. The 1million sqft around Kings Cross and Euston Road in London’s Knowledge Quarter – it’s certainly changed a bit since I used to drive to my sales patch through what was then a very “interesting” area. Birmingham’s KQ, incorporating Innovation Birmingham, ten minutes walk from New Street and with the new HS2 station being built a short stride away. Manchester’s Knowledge Corridor, a short hop from Oxford Street station and Piccadilly
So, what did I reflect as I left Lincoln? Firstly, LSP’s approach to working with knowledge based firms from whichever discipline is fully on message with other leading venues. LSP’s Board is certainly looking to use its asset value to expand its reach, potentially in conjunction with the private sector, whether that is for new physical space or for softer infrastructure including a venture fund. Liverpool’s KQ is now very real and has assets increasingly being added to the mix. Lime Street station is currently in the middle of the final stages of redevelopment to provide that connectivity to London, Manchester and Birmingham’s Knowledge Quarters. In short, LSP is a key asset for Liverpool, the KQ brand is a key element of the city’s attack brand, and maximising the synergies between the two is a key opportunity for the city. Exciting times.