Life science-dominated ‘ecosystems’ in the London, Oxford and Cambridge ‘golden triangle’ are reporting a growth in demand and are trying to lease extra space following the outbreak of Covid-19. But universities are worried about their student accommodation, putting their capital programmes on hold and looking to joint ventures instead.
Those were some of the key messages to emerge from a Zoom think tank run by NLA last week to update a February roundtable on the subject of the knowledge economy following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Peter Baird, Urban Design Associate, Perkins+Will said the quest for more space was chiefly to do with getting more research accommodation on everything to do with vaccine production to increased medical provisions and testing. ‘It’s those life science areas where there is just a need to be in a lab situation and a need for extra lab space where we’re seeing this extra crunch’, he said. The question is thus about providing temporary or permanent lab space, with a positive scenario being that those funded by public grants can switch their focus but a danger that venture capital sources show a degree of caution. Innovation and the need for ingenuity has also borne fruit, said Baird, with cross-sector relationships having been formed, not least in companies from, say, precision engineers working in automotive, switching to the production of ventilators.
Jonathan Burroughs, CEO, Creative Places said that R&D-intensive businesses are still wanting to take space and investors looking to get into life sciences are continuing to grow even if universities are ‘generally very concerned’ at the impact on both student numbers and research. Many universities, said Ian Goodfellow, Principal, Penoyre and Prasad, are in fact putting their capital expenditure programmes on hold for 12 months or more and planning for ‘worst-case scenarios until more is known’. It was exciting, however, to see the possibility of science, medical and tech moving into office space in London, he added.
Alistair Cory, Director, University of Oxford Science Park said there ‘had to be a move back to closer working in reality’. But that although some of the NHS Nightingale Hospitals were already being dismantled, they weren’t the wrong thing to do. ‘We can learn from that ability to pull together talent and that ability to do things fast, and make sure that we build that into the long term’.
The Think Tank also included other points made by contributors including the rediscovery of local working, the need for Integrated technology and advances in materials technology, the potential to learn lessons from other geographies, moves to natural ventilation, the possibilities for consultation and greater equality, concern that other non-Covid research is ‘suffering’ and that student accommodation will be hard hit – but that planning and construction is broadly ‘on track’, despite the pandemic.