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      Empowering a Silent Majority

      The Government’s levelling up agenda includes a commitment to increase R&D funding by 40% outside of the South-East – but we must not overlook the enormous potential that still exists in the towns and cities within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

      21 Feb 2022 Olaide Oboh, Director, Socius

      The Arc is not only the UK’s leading science and technology cluster, but is renowned around the world. The combination of world-class academic institutions, blue-chip corporate occupiers and a long legacy of innovation, has made it a major contributor to the national economy. According to Bidwells, the area’s economic output is £115 million – but has the potential to triple if we deliver the right space and infrastructure to support growth.

      The shortage of lab and R&D space has been well-documented, but for us supporting the Arc is not simply about delivery of workspace. We believe in a balanced approach of mixed-use development that meets local needs, and blends modern workspace with new homes, retail, culture and community uses to not only support businesses and grow the local economy, which also helps to attract and retain the talented people towns and cities need to continue to thrive.

      Our development at MK Gateway in Central Milton Keynes is a prime example.

      Working in partnership with long-term investor Patron Capital and award-winning architecture practice Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, we have designed a scheme that retains Milton Keynes’s heritage whilst delivering ultra-modern workspace and homes designed for post-COVID living. The workspace is being delivered through the sensitive repositioning of Saxon Court, a modernist building and local landmark, and will offer flexible floorplates that can accommodate businesses big and small. The building connects via a new public square to a new building that comprises Build-to-Rent apartments, that in a UK first will offer seven 3-storey vertical gardens for people to use for outside work and relaxation. Innovation is part of Milton Keynes’s DNA and we therefore felt it was vital that MK Gateway pushed the boundaries of urban mixed-use.

      Similarly, in Cambridge we are taking a bold approach to transforming a former Travis Perkins depot into a mixed-use community of wellbeing-focused workspace and new homes, set in a new public park. Not only are we creating density in a city where there is a shortage of workspace and affordable homes and land for development is scarce, we are delivering a significant increase in green space, quadrupling biodiversity, creating an attractive – and sustainable – place to live and work.

      In order to strike the right balance between commercial and residential uses – and enhanced public realm – it is vital we engage with the local community at every stage of our development plans. In keeping with the region’s heritage of technological innovation we are utilising new tech platforms to do this. Socius has collaborated with proptech company Built-ID to develop ‘Give-my-View’, a smartphone app that digitises community engagement, enabling the otherwise ‘silent majority’ to fully participate in the consultation process. In Milton Keynes, digital outreach generated a massive 5,000 responses, and we were able to host Virtual Town Halls to get further feedback and local input.

      Genuine local engagement and co-creating with local residents, businesses and stakeholders will be vital for the growth and success of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

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      Creating a Talent Pipeline to Supercharge the Arc

      In the third instalment of our webinar series with the Arc Universities Group and CBI, we will be discussing how to create a talent pipeline for the future, to supercharge the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

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