Property firms launch policy recommendations to bolster economic growth in UK tech hub

Brexit uncertainty and development deadlock are threatening to roll back years of strong economic growth within the Arc region, an area that produces an annual GVA of £100bn according to government figures – more than Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol combined.

Research from Cambridge-based property consultant Bidwells finds that the pace of local economic growth has more than halved since the Brexit vote in 2016, with annual growth in GVA falling from 2.7 per cent in 2015 to 1 per cent in 2018.

High growth locations at the core of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc have not been immune from this downturn. R&D and tech sectors are highly dependent on business investment and this has dipped sharply in the face of uncertainty. In addition, in areas such as Cambridge, where office and labs rent has jumped by 12 per cent in the last year alone according to Bidwells, there is a real threat that start-ups, unicorns and talent could be priced out.

However, opportunity within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc is still plentiful. Following his party’s sweeping election win, Boris Johnson announced the government’s aims to double public spending on research and development (R&D) to £18bn a year over the next five year, while also stimulating private sector R&D through more generous tax credits. The Arc, which is home to some of the UK’s most innovative life sciences and tech businesses and giants such as AstraZenaca, Apple and Microsoft, will be a main beneficiary of such policies.

To ensure the area’s knowledge-based economy, home to over two million jobs, remains competitive on the global stage post-Brexit, Bidwells, alongside global architects Perkins and Will and policy advisory firm Blackstock Consulting, has launched the Radical Regeneration Manifesto.

The manifesto sets out 16 policy recommendations to radically overhaul how the public and private sector deliver housing, workspace, and infrastructure within the Arc.

The manifesto is intended to offer a blueprint for future regeneration projects nationwide, while also driving forward other industry initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

The recommendations include:

Creating a singular body, like the ODA, Olympic Delivery Authority, to fast track key development across the Arc, whether it’s homes, transport infrastructure or lab space. This could include PDR around brownfield sites meeting a particular agreed criteria and density of sites linked to transport hubs for example

Update archaic planning rules enabling quicker change of use and far more flexibility over how sites can be used, given that many fast-growing businesses have no idea where they will be in two years. Alongside this, extending permitted development rights for brownfield sites and mandating that younger people partake in community engagement through the use of apps rather than just town halls

There needs to be fixed regulation that mandates zero carbon, and ideally, carbon negative, development. Passivhaus should be as standard for housing, and without this, there will be no way to really build trust and galvanise communities to become ambassadors, rather than opponents, of development in areas of natural beauty

A think tank of twenty-five major investors and developers, including Legal & General, Barratt Developments and Countryside Properties, all contributed to the manifesto.

Patrick McMahon, senior partner at Bidwells, said:

“The Arc’s success has been highlighted in its growth over the last decade. Thanks to ongoing government commitment and the area’s thriving knowledge-based economy, there is already evidence of the global force the Arc can become. We’ve launched this manifesto to highlight the need to tap into the different expertise that the public and private sectors possess at a time when it’s crucial.”

John Drew, managing principal at Perkins and Will, said:

“In 2020, we should be embedding sustainability at the heart of any regeneration policy. Climate change is here and now, which means the days of greenwashing within our industry are over. We need to embrace the net-zero target wholeheartedly and thread it through everything we design, deliver and operate. To do this, we need to garner a greater understanding of the operational and lifecycle emissions of buildings, working together as an industry to better mitigate emissions and adapt our buildings in the face of the challenges that the climate crisis poses.”

Eleanor Jukes, senior investment manager at Legal & General, said:

“Partnership and collaboration are essential for successful regeneration. It is not just about construction and development; it is a holistic approach that links transport, clean energy and digital infrastructure back into the built environment. Our vision is to create a sustainable ecosystem that underpins the urban centres of the future and connects systems, people and places.”