South Gloucestershire Council has bought the Bristol & Bath Science Park with in a joint £18m deal with the University of Bath they say will realise its potential and boost the West of England’s reputation as a centre of excellence for research.
Since the park opened in 2011 after a quarter of a century in the planning it has become home to the pioneering National Composites Centre (NCC) – which is creating new materials for the aerospace and automotive industries – and a magnet for hi-tech and science-based businesses in its Innovation Centre and Forum exhibition and conference building.
It will also be the location for the University of Bath’s £60m Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS), which will be a world-leading research centre on the car of the future.
The university has been a partner in the park along with the universities of Bristol and the West of England (UWE). Now as co-owner, it will be able to take a more proactive role in steering growth on the 36-acre site, around half of which has been developed.
It will also work closely with the University of Bristol to exploit the synergies created by the co-location of the NCC and IAAPS on the park, which is on Bristol’s north eastern fringe at Emersons Green.
The university and South Gloucestershire Council have bought the park from Homes England, the government body that took it over through what is now the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy when previous owner the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA), which was abolished in 2012.
The RDA spent £40m on the park, acquiring the site from private landowners and, with London-based development consortium Quantum Property Partnership, ending years of deadlock to enable it to go ahead. At the time the West of England was one of the few areas of the UK not to have a science park.
However, the park’s growth under Homes England’s stewardship has failed to live up to its earlier potential.
The university said it shared a vision for the Science Park with the council as a place where “science and technology will enable innovation to prosper, business to grow and people to thrive”.
The two will now use their complementary strengths, expertise and networks to fully develop it over the next 15 years.
The university’s and council’s plans for the site include:
Maximising the potential of the National Composites Centre (NCC)
Creating GO2, a new Grow-on Centre, to build on the success of the existing complex
Utilising the Forum exhibition and conference facility to support additional SMEs.
University of Bath vice-president (implementation) Prof Steve Egan, with South Gloucestershire Council leader Toby Savage, said: “Purchasing the Science Park is an important step in the realisation of our university strategy. It will enable us to increase our research activity to address global problems.
“It will contribute to business and technology development across our region as well as providing additional capacity and facilities to complement those on our Claverton campus, in London and in Bath city centre.”
South Gloucestershire Council leader Toby Savage added: “The Science Park is a world-class centre for science and technology businesses to grow and prosper and is already home to a wide variety of innovative and inspirational start-ups.
“The council, along with our partners at the University of Bath recognise the park’s potential as a future driver of economic growth which would bring even more new hi-tech jobs to the area. We look forward to working with them, our other local universities, and partners to develop the park and cementing South Gloucestershire’s reputation as a hub for innovation, technology and collaboration.
“We will give it a new lease of life and ensure that it is fully developed. Not only will we grow the opportunities for growth, we will also generate a commercial return that will feed into council coffers, which will support our ongoing efforts to deliver a balanced budget as well as the value for money services that our residents demand.”
South West at Homes England general manager Kevin Bourner said: “As a strategically important regional employment location, Homes England is delighted to have been able to facilitate the sale of Bristol & Bath Science Park to the University of Bath and South Gloucestershire Council so that they can bring forward their ambitious plans to develop the site.”
The university and the council were advised on the acquisition by the Bristol office of property consultancy JLL.
Director Paul Baker, said he believed the joint purchase would breathe new life into the park while the IAAPS project would act as the stimulus for other development on the site.
“This new centre of excellence in automotive engineering will also attract businesses in this sector to the region, potentially enabling the emergence of a new specialist tech cluster in the Bristol and Bath area.
“It’s also great to see this flagship employment site being bought by a local authority and an academic institution based locally. It means it will be overseen by organisations that have an interest in building on its success for the benefit of the local and regional economy, expanding and reinforcing the science and technology cluster that already exists on the park.”