The first of a series in which Hugh Blaza looks at the sectors behind the phenomenal technological and scientific innovation activities which are powering the Arc.
First, to deal with a common misunderstanding, one which those charged with delivering the Arc are acutely aware needs to be addressed if they are to succeed.
The activities behind the concept have been developing quietly, one might say too quietly, for many years. The Government did not choose the Arc for those activities.
But now, recognising that it represents a national economic priority area, it has launched a spatial planning review, the conclusion of which will determine how best to realise the colossal benefits, not just to the area itself, but to the whole of the UK and beyond.
The importance of the Arc to the property sector is abundantly clear. It presents the challenges and – just as importantly – offers the opportunities for us to demonstrate that the needs of the Arc can be delivered in ways which are sustainable and beneficial.
The key areas of innovation in the Arc are life sciences, sustainable aviation, future mobility, zero carbon energy and the space gateway.
The importance of space to the future of humanity might sound a bit ‘Star Trek’, but the recognition and exploitation of its opportunities are not new. The exploration – putting a man on the moon and trundling over Mars in a rover (built in Stevenage, by the way) – is but one element.
Of more immediate importance are those activities which are much closer to Earth – just a few hundred kilometres away.
This is where the vital communications links using satellite technology, from phone calls to satnav systems, weather forecasting, measuring the impact of climate change and mankind’s responsibility for causing and addressing its impacts are in action increasingly.
None of these are particularly new. But the improvements generated by technological innovations abound. And the legacy of the activities of the past decades (think space junk) need to be addressed.
The universities in the Arc are onto this as a recent webinar has demonstrated. And already, we have a considerable number of companies operating in the sector.
UK Property Forums managing director Matthew Battle and I were recently given a guided tour of Westcott Venture Park’s new Innovation Centre by the park’s project manager Nigel McKenzie and Claire Thompson of PR consultancy Papa Romeo.
Like so many business parks in the region (Milton Park, Harwell and Culham to name but three), the site is an ex-Government facility. Rocket research began at Westcott in World War Two and continues to this day.
As the importance of space to the activities and endeavours of the human race grows, so the attraction of Westcott to this vital technology sector increases.
The arrival in Westcott’s new Innovation Centre this month of space-based global communications company OneWeb’s ‘demonstration experience’ is just the latest piece of positive news for the sector.
With the UK Government having taken a stake in the company, it is another excellent example of the ‘triple helix’ which the Arc leaders have recognised and are embracing: the collaboration between Government, industry and research from which it anticipates systemic beneficial changes will come.
And less than 25 miles from Westcott, the global potential of the Harwell space cluster grows apace. A total of 105 space organisations employ more than 1,100 people on this campus alone.
The cluster is the gateway to the UK’s space industry, with a critical mass of activity which draws those committed to the sector from around the world to its gates.
At both Harwell and Westcott, investment in the infrastructure and facilities to cater for the burgeoning space sector is considerable. The commitment to Harwell by Canada-based investment manager Brookfield has been well documented.
And since its acquisition in the 1990s by Rockspring, subsequently acquired by Germany-based Patrizia, Westcott has gradually been laying the foundations for a tech-based business community hub, with the support of Bucks LEP.
New roads infrastructure and a solar power array have been installed and, as part of the Satellite Applications Catapult, the Innovation Centre will provide a facility for the demonstration and development of pioneering technologies, as OneWeb’s arrival has demonstrated.
As the space hubs build critical mass, their occupiers are creating clusters and the benefits which have been identified from connecting the clusters demand solutions. Which brings us back to the rationale for the Arc itself.
Creating the infrastructure, building environments attractive to people who want to live and work in the Arc but who are conscious of the need to address the climate crisis: many in the region see this as a dilemma and are alarmed.
Others see it as a unique opportunity which must be grasped. To boldly go, indeed…
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