When the Government invested £7.36m of its Regional Growth Fund (RGF) into Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus in 2010, then Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts said it would: “not only strengthen the science base at the campus, it will also drive up inward investment and increase the economic impact of science through business access to a broad range of scientific capability and facilities.”
The RGF initiative, launched in June 2010, was designed to support businesses across all sectors and regions in England with two primary objectives. Firstly, to stimulate enterprise and create sustainable jobs by leveraging private sector investment to support projects and programmes with significant potential for economic growth. Secondly, to support areas and communities dependent on the public sector to make the transition to private sector-led growth.
For Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, the announcement established a public-private joint venture (JV) comprising the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Halton Borough Council, the North West Development Agency (now defunct) and private sector property investment development company, Langtree. The campus was also renamed Sci-Tech Daresbury.
The 20-year JV created a 50:50 partnership between the public and private sectors to bring up to 15,000 knowledge-based jobs to the area during its lifetime and attract further domestic and international inward investment in world class scientific research and innovation.
David Parr, chief executive of Halton Borough Council, said at the time: “We’re tremendously excited about the vision we have for Sci-Tech Daresbury. It’s about nothing less than the creation of a world-class business destination.”
Progress was quickly apparent when in 2012 the site assumed official status as one of the Government’s flagship Enterprise Zones, as well as being chosen as the location for the very first business incubator unit to be established by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and home of the Large Hadron Collider.
And in the intervening ten years the cash injection in Sci-Tech Daresbury, which already had a long heritage of scientific discovery as home to The Cockcroft Institute and STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, has supercharged its growth and had significant impact – with still more to come.
Within a month of David Willetts’ pledge, the development of a new office and laboratory complex was announced as well as an upgrade of Sci-Tech Daresbury’s power supply system, environmental and infrastructure improvements and a travel hub programme to make the site more easily accessible.
To support future power requirements for new supercomputing facilities on the campus through the Hartree Centre, more than £4.5m has been spent on increasing the power supply to STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory involving the construction of a new electricity sub-station and connecting underground cables to the existing distribution network.
Recognising the importance of making the campus ever more attractive to businesses pondering relocation, as well as staff looking to access many of the high-skills jobs becoming available on-site, £350,000 was put towards improving transport connections, enhancing public transport links to and from Sci-Tech Daresbury and improving accessibility to Runcorn and onwards to Liverpool. This included a travel hub programme developed to offer support to the Sci-Tech Daresbury community by making travelling as convenient, sustainable, healthy and affordable as possible.
Then there was the £1.66m spent on environmental improvement works which saw the creation of the linear park, a new communal space increasing interaction between the various scientific and business communities on the campus to foster greater levels of collaboration.
Finally, £830,000 was earmarked to support the development of a new multi-million-pound laboratory and office building, in order to attract more high-tech companies to the campus and support the growth of existing businesses on-site. Further enhancing the campus’s reputation as a place where great science and innovation happens – often generated by the culture of collaboration, long-nurtured at Sci-Tech Daresbury.
Techspace One, a three-storey, self-contained building comprising 33,000 sq. ft of high quality wet and dry laboratories, grade A office accommodation, meeting hubs and break out areas, opened its doors in March 2017.
Techspace One immediately attracted new tenants in sectors such as biomedical, material science, and instrumentation. This included the likes of international corporates such as Hitachi and Hosokawa Micron but also SME businesses like Perfectus Biomed and X-Cellr8 that started as fledgling companies on campus a number of years previously and which experienced rapid growth. The building will be full by early 2021 with the likes of materials development businesses Croda and Holiferm and clean tech company G2O Water Technologies having established lab and pilot plant facilities in the building.
In addition to an abundance of awards, annual company surveys testify to the realisation of the JV’s vision and to Sci-Tech Daresbury’s success. The latest survey of the businesses now on site has revealed that over 240 new products and services were developed in 2019 – nearly double that of the previous year and the highest ever figure for the campus
The survey also showed Sci-Tech Daresbury companies created a net increase of 162 full time jobs in 2019, over 40% higher than in 2018.
There are now over a thousand full time employees on site, representing an 18% increase on the previous year. 69% of the jobs are at bachelor’s degree level or above.
The impact of the collaborative culture at Sci-Tech Daresbury also resulted in overall sales growth of 27% for the companies based at the campus during 2019.
John Downes, group chief executive of Langtree and chairman of the JV believes the campus’s success is a reflection of the unique eco-system that has been created: “What differentiates us is the marriage of an open collaborative culture and leading industry expertise with world-class technical facilities of STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory including the UK’s largest super computer, creating exceptional capabilities which businesses are able to tap into to maximise growth, often with potentially world-changing results.”
He added: “One of their biggest challenges is to provide the right environment to attract and retain staff, so a standard business park won’t be sufficient. Therefore, there’s an opportunity in property development to create something which is differentiated and more attractive, and well connected in terms of transport.
“However, it is also about developing and supporting a vibrant business community which facilitates the collaboration between businesses and enables staff to bounce ideas off other highly-skilled and experienced people in other businesses.”
The STFC Hartree Centre is also a relatively recent addition to Sci-Tech Daresbury. It was formed in 2012 to provide UK industry and academia with access to advanced high-performance computing and data-intensive technologies, expertise and training to boost UK productivity and economic growth. In 2014 the government announced a further investment of £115m for the centre over five years as part of the Northern Powerhouse strategy, enabling the centre to expand its remit into artificial intelligence (AI) research.
There’s also more development on the horizon. John Downes again: “Our long-term vision means we are already in the planning stage of the next expansion phase of the campus, to ensure we are future-proofing the site to meet companies’ growth needs.”
The next phase of expansion, known as Project Violet, will see the construction of two buildings providing 12,500 sq. ft each and one building providing 18,000 sq. ft. As part of the work there will be an extension of the existing linear park and an extension and improvement of the existing highways network with the creation of a new access road to serve the latest development site and future ones to the east. Work on this project began in late 2020.
“It’s not just about providing buildings, but also about providing further amenities and facilities”, said John Downes. “Bringing forward the ‘home for life’ ethos where companies can grow and continue their journey here moving from one facility to the next one that meets their needs, even perhaps their own building. The resilience shown by our businesses during 2020 has been inspiring, and we begin the new year very excited about what can be achieved. Over ten years on from the RGF investment, in some ways it feels like we’re just getting started.”