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Major new study reveals property and location needs of science and tech communities

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Talent shortages and growth ambitions are forcing some of the UK’s most promising science and technology businesses to re-evaluate their building strategies according to a new research report. As a result over half are planning to relocate over the next three years and over one in six (16%) are planning to move overseas.

The report, Building a Future for Science and Technology, by Ridge and Partners, the multi-discipline property and construction consultancy, suggests a UK science and technology sector with big expansion plans. The 103 science and tech companies interviewed expect to grow by an average 52% over the next three years. However, they are being inhibited by premises and location concerns which have ramifications for the local authorities, developers, city planners, and science parks looking to attract them.

  • A fifth of science and tech companies complain their current premises are not accessible by public transport
  • A further 16% say wider transport links aren’t good enough to attract the talent they need
  • A lack of affordable local housing is a problem for over one in five (22%)  
  • Almost half (49%) are not sure their current premises will meet their future needs
  • 36% say their space either isn’t flexible or big enough for them to grow
  • This lack of flexibility is also an issue for 29% who are struggling with the challenge of staff who now want to work from home
  • A fifth feel their premises are not attractive or environmentally sustainable enough, a key consideration as 42% are facing growing eco/environmental demands from employees

These issues and shortcomings are impacting on the sectors’ ability to recruit and therefore grow. For instance, over a third are struggling to fill crucial support roles such as lab technicians and admin staff – personnel who are massively affected by public transport and local housing costs. Meanwhile, almost half (48%) are having difficulty filling more senior roles. These issues have become so pronounced that almost a third (31%) report they need to be nearer a larger pool of talent. For many, that may involve moving overseas.

Liz Sparrow, Partner, Science and Tech Lead at Ridge and Partners, comments: “There’s no lack of ambition or opportunity for growth within the science and tech communities. Indeed, a third of the companies we studied expect to grow by over 60% over the next three years. But they need to be in the right environment to do this. That means somewhere with the right infrastructure, transport links, housing, and premises to attract the partners, suppliers, and talent they need.”

Ridge’s research also highlights how highly dependent small and large science and technology-based businesses are on each other. Irrespective of size, 31% want to be located nearer to other science/tech businesses.  This drive to operate in such ‘eco-systems’ has made tech and science parks the preferred solution for 98%.

However, the report shows that these eco-systems aren’t working as they should, with 19% reporting that their science park landlords are not in tune with their needs. A third say that there aren’t enough good suppliers near them, while 24% need to be closer to major academic institutions. Such proximity would make collaboration and innovation easier and create a greater magnet for the specialist talent and suppliers the sectors collectively need.

A sizeable 45% strongly agree that science parks can all seem the same and 80% say they feel rather ‘out of town’, an issue exacerbated by public transport problems. 

Conscious that their choice of building reflects on their own brand, 81% believe their science park should prioritise sustainability.  A fifth want their science park to be a more high-tech and greener space to help them attract talent with an array of things on wish-lists such as visible renewable energy sources (19%) and impressive front of house or showcase areas for visitors and partners to use (20%).

Liz Sparrow, again: “It’s important that we note these needs, as every company which exits these diverse eco-systems and relocates overseas, or simply fails to thrive, weakens things for everyone else. To protect one we must plan and build for all.

“But with such a diverse mix of building, housing, and infrastructure needs to address no single body alone can do this. Joined-up thinking is needed between the public and private sectors, between the UK’s government, its cities, regions, construction sector, and science parks. Collaboration is key if we’re to create, grow – and keep – the UK’s tech/science powerhouses.”

The Building a Future for Science and Technology Report is free to download.

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BDC 318 : Jul 2024