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      Counting the cost of failure

      Four part Q&A with Max Bryan, Head of Science & Technology, Bidwells

      19 Feb 2022 Max Bryan, Head of Science & Technology, Bidwells

      1. As head of Bidwells’ business space agency team in Cambridge you have a unimpeded view of one of the most attractive UK commercial markets of 2020-21. But where is it headed next?

      We now have a dysfunctional supply & demand imbalance in Cambridge, which means that growing businesses just do not have the space to fully realise their growth potential. We’ve got lab demand approaching 1 million sq ft in Cambridge, with no space available, the situation with offices is not as acute but with similar levels of lab demand and only one building of plus 50,000 sq ft being delivered speculatively this year and only one building of more than 50,000 sq ft coming next year.

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      2. Global investors have flooded into the Arc’s clusters during the pandemic. How do they see their long-term investment into the Arc now they are getting under the skin of the area?

      The Arc can be the leading life science cluster in Europe. It already is in many ways. It is already delivering world-beating science but it still lags behind the east and west coast of America in terms of scale. In Boston they are delivering more than 6m sq ft this year, but we won’t deliver that in five years across the Arc.

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      3. How do you think infrastructure delivery should be prioritised across the Arc? 

      We need real estate provision for business, R&D, and logistics, and the soft infrastructure in between. Prioritising one over the other actually creates a bias which slows growth, like we’re seeing in Silicon Valley where office and R&D space has reached a point of saturation.

      Decision-makers must weigh considerations around new and existing infrastructure collectively, to strike the right balance in the allocation of limited resources. 

      At the same time, a lack of commitment to one choice over another can result in stalled growth. At the time of writing, the government’s commitment to physical infrastructure in the Arc rests on shaky foundations. Overpromising on new projects elsewhere in the UK could potentially push upgraded infrastructure in the Arc, like East-West Rail, further down the chain of priority, while the capacity for innovation in the region remains constrained by diminishing office and S&T real estate.

      While there is no ‘silver bullet’ to these varied infrastructure pressures, inward investment from the private sector can help ease the reliance on government finance if backed by government intervention. As the contributions herein show, this is not a problem so easily solved through funding alone.

      4. There are no easy solutions here but where do you think action needs to be taken to alleviate these issues? 

      At some point, we've got to get real. We know that the Arc is a national asset in terms of producing revenues for the exchequer and local politicians are currently blocking that growth and preventing companies from investing and developing dare world changing ideas and delivering equitable growth for places like Cambridge. I think local politicians should be held accountable for the cost to the economy, not just in terms of pounds and pence but in terms of the lack of progression in schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. This also has a knock-on effect for households too. This lost revenue to the Arc could have a hugely detrimental impact over the long term to all of us.


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