Sidelining UK’s ‘Silicon Valley’ could cost economy £50bn

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A government decision to suspend a strategic plan to create a British rival to Silicon Valley linking Oxford and Cambridge risks costing the UK economy £50bn, a research report has warned.

A group of more than 60 prominent members of the academic and investment communities urge more investment in the ‘Oxford-Cambridge arc’, a hub of innovation that has grown around the Kingdom’s two best-known universities -United.

Ministers have acted in recent months to “deprioritize” the 2017 development plan in favor of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “race to the top” agenda, according to the group.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, who was involved in the development of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, wrote in the foreword to page 160 Radical Capital report that investing in the Arc would ‘boost’ its potential and bring many benefits to the UK.

“This added value is not only measurable in economic terms: in the right combination, improvements in Arc’s knowledge transfer, skills, sustainability and connectivity will ripple through to the societal returns that will far outweigh the monetary impact.”

Calculations by property consultancy Bidwells and Blackstock Consulting estimate that proactive investment in the Arc could take the region’s cumulative output to £235billion by 2030, up from just £185billion if the government maintains its current “passive” approach.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University: “This added value is not only measurable in economic terms” © Aaron Chown/PA

The region is also experiencing a crisis of available lab space, with more than 2 million square feet wanted but only 10,000 square feet available, Bidwells said.

The government’s decision to put the Arc project on the political back burner was driven in part by strong local political opposition to plans to build new million homes to support the growth of the tech corridor.

However, Arc supporters argue that the corridor must address broader infrastructure issues, including housing and utilities, to avoid repeating the mistakes that have led to inequality and social tension in Silicon Valley. in California.

Michael Anstey, a partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, which manages more than £300million and has invested in more than 30 Cambridge-linked medtech companies, said active intervention was needed to keep pace with demand.

“The Arc needs government support – the aspiration to make it a global supercluster and a leading innovation geography will only work if there is the right infrastructure in place, from funding to transport to housing,” he wrote.

The upgrade department said it recognizes “the importance of the Oxford-Cambridge arc as a world-renowned hub of innovation” and is expected to publish the results of an October 2021 consultation on the provision of an overall planning framework for the “timely” project. .

Cambridge Science Park: Cambridge Ahead lobby group says the success of the AstraZeneca vaccine has shown the benefits of the Arc being felt far beyond the region © Robert Evans/Alamy

However, local government leaders have expressed frustration with the lack of clarity from Westminster on how the initiative will progress.

Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said only central government could address the “critical water and rail infrastructure deficit” facing the area after a decade of housing construction that had driven facilities available to the limit.

“Further growth will be extremely limited unless these issues are addressed,” she added. “If the government unplugs the Arc, we need to know how these critical issues will be resolved.”

Among those urging the government to capitalize on the potential of the Arc are Santander UK, L&G, the Wellcome-Sanger Institute, Abcam, Harwell and AstraZeneca.

Harriet Fear, the UK Prime Minister’s trade ambassador for life sciences between 2014 and 2018 and now chair of Cambridge Ahead, a lobby group, said the success of the AstraZeneca vaccine showed the benefits of the Arc were being felt. far beyond the region.

“[The vaccine’s] fundamental importance to life and our collective social prosperity is a wake-up call to what is possible if the region’s innovation ecosystem is fully supported,” she wrote.

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