Simon Carter, the chief executive of listed property giant British Land, writes exclusively for City A.M. on the desperate need for an overhaul of the planning regime
The Prime Minister has a vision for the United Kingdom to be a `global sciences and technology superpower’ by 2030. In the Autumn Statement later this week, we expect the Chancellor to re-commit to that ambitious goal, but without the right life sciences space we risk falling further behind our global competitors.
The UK has all the ingredients to achieve superpower status: world-leading academic institutions, a skilled workforce, cutting-edge clusters, R&D spend and the unique centralised resources of the NHS.
There should be no limit to our ambitions for the UK life sciences sector, but it needs more room to innovate and grow, to ensure we attract and retain the world-leading companies that can deliver the Government’s ambition and respond to evolving needs driven by innovation in AI and data-led research.
Demand for UK laboratories is growing fast: laboratory vacancy rates are just 1% in Cambridge and London, and 7% in Oxford; yet across these areas 11.6 million square feet of laboratory space is waiting for a planning decision or in the pipeline.
Despite this, the UK is still a long way behind the more mature US markets. Boston, San Francisco, San Diego and New York are home to 113 million square feet of laboratory space, over 20 times the equivalent space in the UK’s Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge.
The UK must overcome barriers to expansion by attracting more funding, equity finance and Initial
Public Offerings (IPOs), ensuring that it creates the right conditions for investment, with less stringent NHS price caps and an internationally competitive tax environment. The UK’s over-burdened planning regime adds complexity and delays much needed development.
Today British Land and Savills have published `Accelerating Innovation: a five-point plan to boost life sciences real estate’, which shows that if life sciences real estate markets in the Golden Triangle were to match the growth of their counterpart markets in the US, by 2035 they would generate 66,700 more jobs, £4 billion per year in additional GVA and an extra £1.1 billion per year in tax revenue.
And this opportunity is not just limited to the South East of the UK. Accelerating the growth of research and development facilities outside the Golden Triangle to match its growth rate would result in 14,500 more people in well paid jobs across the country by 2035.
Together, British Land and Savills have set out a five-point plan to ensure that the UK life sciences sector has room to innovate and grow:
- First, we recommend that the Government sets clear targets to grow the life sciences sector, in Gross Value Added terms, by at least 25% and double the value of inward Foreign Direct Investment by 2035.
- We are calling on the Chancellor to fully commit to building the new East-West Rail line linking Oxford and Cambridge, as efficient transport links are particularly vital to growth.
- To accelerate planning and delivery, Development Corporations should be designated to support innovation-led regeneration in economic growth corridors.
- We believe the Government should expand R&D tax credits to include relief for capital expenditure on laboratory space, drawing on international examples to boost the sector in the UK.
- Adult education and skills budgets should be devolved to create local, sector-specific training and employment programmes and ensure that high-skill, high-wage job opportunities can be accessed locally.
British Land is delivering significant life sciences projects across the UK, including lab enabled space at our Regent’s Place and Canada Water campuses in London, and an office and lab building at Peterhouse Technology Park in Cambridge to address the acute lack of supply of life sciences and innovation space in the city. In total, across our real estate portfolio, we have a pipeline of over 2 million square feet of life sciences and innovation space.
As a developer of essential life sciences space, we believe that the plan we are outlining today can help realise the sector’s full potential and deliver long-term sustainable economic growth. The opportunity to become a science superpower is there for the taking – but we need the right real estate in the right places to match our ambition to take on the world.