Analysis

Forty football fields of lab space needed by 2023

3rd April 2019
Alex Lynn

Cambridge and Oxford will need around 40 football pitches worth of new lab space to accommodate the next five years of growth, according to a new report by Bidwells. Despite Brexit, research says Science and technology (S&T) companies are looking to attract 20,000 new R&D workers by 2023.

Analysis based on Bidwells’ market data and interviews with 50 S&T companies estimates growth in demand for lab and research space of around 2.5m2 over the next five years, the equivalent of 60 new labs or 40 football fields, as investment across the knowledge industries continues to soar.

Employment would need to grow by a fifth (22%) to support growth. This could add £2.8bn to the UK economy by 2023, boosting an S&T sector that employs more than 90,000 people in the two cities and is worth an estimated £9.8bn.

Bidwells is currently advising on over 10m2 of science related real estate for clients such as Trinity College (owners of Cambridge Science Park), Cambridge Biomedical Campus (UK home of AstraZeneca), the UK’s space industry epicentre at Harwell, Oxford, and Imperial College London.

The research estimates around 6m2 of commercial space across the two cities is currently used for R&D.

This includes insight from 50 of the leading global S&T companies represented in the UK in which over half said they plan to increase global spending on R&D over the coming five years.

The research said recruitment depends on strong connectivity through quality infrastructure and companies also prioritised the need to have space to grow. Close proximity to academic and research institutions is a key driver of decision making.

Brexit was not noted as a major challenge but the impact on recruitment of high skilled international talent is a real concern.

  • Cambridge and Oxford have been two of the UK’s economic success stories outside of London, attracting some of the world’s most advanced science and tech companies, from start-up satellite builders at Oxford’s Harwell campus to biomedical giant AstraZeneca Cambridge, through their two world leading universities and the pool of talent they provide. 
  • Future demand will be for a variety of space: Wet and dry labs, offices for computer modelling and specialised industrial floorspace for high-tech manufacturing. 
  • However, this will place considerable strain on the already constrained commercial markets, and growth risks being stifled by a lack of joined up thinking amongst government and planners. 
  • Bidwells, along with other key figures and companies in the two cities and along the ‘Growth Corridor’ that connects them is lobbying for more proactive policy around development, from offices and laboratories to housing and infrastructure. 
  • Currently the corridor adds around £100bn to the economy, but has the potential to quadruple this by 2050 if its knowledge based industry receives the support it requires. 
  • A recent Independent Economic Review by Dame Kate Barker for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority said the area needs a package of infrastructure projects to double the size of the economy, while housing shortages will stifle business by deterring staff relocation. 
  • It warned the government needs to adopt a ‘Cambridge or overseas’ mentality towards knowledge-intensive business and recognise many companies will relocate abroad if the area is no longer fit for purpose.

Patrick McMahon, Senior Partner at Bidwells, said: “Oxbridge's soaring S&T sectors are a huge UK success story but we must do everything to ensure the area can maintain its place as a global leader post Brexit. That means infrastructure, dozens of new labs, a million new homes and certainty over employment.

“Businesses that cannot get the space or people they need will take their investment elsewhere and the time is now to launch clear proactive policy and a single joined up growth plan for the area to ensure its future world leading status.”

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