Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Science City York


  1.1  Science City York is a joint partnership between City of York Council and the University of York, with significant private sector input. Set up in 1998, the project built on the success of Bioscience York which was established in 1995, making it one of the first cluster developments in the country, and provides specialist help to high technology companies in three sectors, bioscience, e-science and heritage and arts technology. Already more than 6,800 people are employed in this dynamic initiative, and the pace of growth is set to create in excess of 1,600 further employment opportunities by 2003.

  1.2  For the past two years Science City York has been facilitating the development and promotion of clusters within the York area. As part of this work, specific barriers to the growth of clusters have been identified. We would like to see the following points addressed by government to ensure the rate of cluster development continues.

1.3  Recommendations

  The consolidation of funding sources, and a longer life-span for awards and grants.

  Targeting new resources on functional activities, such as promotion.

  A more integrated approach to planning and economic development to speed up the process to match the pace of growth in science based industry.

  The special requirements of knowledge based industries to be recognised in the UDP land allocation process.

  The continual involvement of higher education institutions as an essential part of cluster development.

  That developers are encouraged to offer shorter term property lets.

  That the pace of change in opening up the local telecoms market continues to ensure lower bandwidth access costs.


  2.1  Science City York is geared to meet the needs of high technology companies through a specialised programme of assistance, providing the right supportive environment to allow businesses to grow and flourish. It supports the promotion, development and exploitation of three interconnected clusters in the York area:

    —  Bioscience York includes over 48 firms, employing over 2,500 life scientists working in bioscience within an eight mile radius of the city, and is recognised as one of the country's most exciting bioscience clusters. This cluster is particularly strong on drug development, plant biotechnology, health and food sciences.

    —  Facilities include a new strategic research centre at the University of York: the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, with a mission to undertake inter-disciplinary research in this area.

    —  e-Science York is a fast-growing information and communication technology cluster with over 130 firms, employing 2,600 people in the City. The University's world-class Departments of Computer Science and Electronics, producing over 200 graduates a year and with a proven record of spin-out companies provides invaluable support.

    —  Heritage and arts technology links York's traditional economy and heritage with the knowledge based economy. The established infrastructure of attractions has seen the City develop expert visitor management techniques to accommodate four million visitors a year.

    —  A critical mass of creative interpretative and education expertise has developed, building on York's existing commercial and academic strength, with 55 specialist organisations operating in the field employing over 1,000 people. These include specialist data services, conservation, display design and technology and multi-media content and the creative application of technology.

  2.2  In total, Science City York has seen since its establishment 40 technology transfer projects, eight spin-outs and eight inward investment successes. Results from a comprehensive survey (with an 85 per cent response rate) highlight that between July 1998 and July 2000, a growth of over 1,000 jobs or 18 per cent has been generated as a result of Science City York.

  2.3  Aside from the University and the City Council, funding partners involved include York Inward Investment Board, York Business Development Ltd, North Yorkshire Training and Enterprise Council and the European Union through European regional development funds from the Konver II programme. The success of the initiative also relies on the input of local schools, colleges and local business across all sectors.


  This submission looks at five areas of the White Paper "Excellence and Opportunity" in which we have a particular interest and where we have considerable experience.

3.1  Funding

  3.11  We welcome the acceptance in the White Paper that clusters form an important element in regional economic development. We also welcome the new money for RDAs and a Regional Infrastructure Fund. However, we are concerned that the short-term nature of much government funding is proving a constraint on growth. This form of funding prevents medium to long-term planning, and the application process absorbs considerable time.

  3.12  Investment in cluster development from within the technology community requires the development of sustainable funding mechanisms in order to lever in private sector involvement. The joining up of government resources, both national and regional, into a framework which enables all partners to plan on a longer term basis would be very beneficial to future growth.

  3.14  More resources for specific functional activities would lead to greater growth. A recent report by the Regional Biotechnology Cluster Association Forum, which benchmarked UK cluster development against international competition, demonstrated that trade promotion, the attraction of inward investment and the promotion of technology transfer would lead to more activity.

  The level of funding support for clusters is crucial in supporting the sector, especially as there is growing international competition, particularly from EU neighbours such as Germany.

3.15  Science City York Recommends

  The consolidation of funding sources, and a longer life-span for awards and grants.

  Targeting new resources on functional activities, such as promotion.

3.2  Planning Guidance

  3.21  The uncertainty and delay by the planning system in responding to the need for suitable sites to be brought forward which could accommodate science-based growth and facilitate further growth is beginning to become restrictive on growth. This is partly due to the "lag time" in the drafting and approval processes of unitary development plans, which is considerably longer than the speed of development of many knowledge based companies.

  3.22  Recent changes by DETR have been noted and welcomed; Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) notes 11 & 12 recognise the essential connection between planning policy and the development of business linked to the science and research base. In particular, the clear role defined by PPG 12 for local authorities to use these tools to encourage economic development through knowledge driven industries is one played successfully by the City of York in developing Science City York.

  However, the time-scale for implementation may be too late for the forthcoming Green Belt Review in the City of York. The current Green Belt Review process in York will have a massive impact on whether the fast growing high technology clusters in York will continue to expand or not. Five local factors make this especially relevant for York:

  3.23  The current demand for sites and premises from substantial surveys conducted by SQW within York high technology business, highlight that there are significant shortfalls in the short, medium and long-term in the provision of the quality sites that science/technology firms are demanding. The timescale for completing the Green Belt Review/Local Plan Process is incapable of meeting the requirements that are expected over the next three years.

  3.24  The layout of the City means there is a lack of suitable brownfield sites held in reserve. The only large scale brownfield land opportunity, York Central, land north-west of the Railway Station, occupies approximately over 60 ha will only be suitable for approximately one third of Science City York firms (as defined by consultants SQW) and is unlikely to be brought forward for development before 2004.

  3.25  The majority of the designated employment land held in reserve falls within the City's Green Belt, thus if the clusters are to develop as per the 25 year forecasts, the release of land over this timescale is required.

  3.26  As a "new" university established in the 1960's, the University of York is located on the outskirts, surrounded by Green Belt. In order to achieve sufficient geographical proximity, necessary for successful cluster development and effective business incubation, there is no option but to take land out of the Green Belt.

  3.27  Once employment land is allocated through the process, the current planning system provides only limited support for ensuring that the land can be used for the high-tech purpose for which it is intended—rather than being put to general B1 or B2 uses.

  3.28  The planning process has the potential to aid the development of knowledge based industry, but at the moment it can be a significant barrier in the development of clusters, and in York we are specifically being held up by the Green Belt Review. We would like to see the Government be more pro-active in reforming the planning process in order to speed up timescales and thereby remove the current hindrance on cluster development. We would also recommend that the current definition of "employment sites" be refined so that land can be reserved solely for knowledge based industries.

3.29  Science City York Recommends:

  A more integrated approach to planning and economic development to speed up the process to match the pace of growth in science based industries.

  The special requirements of knowledge based industries to be recognised in the UDP land allocation process.

3.3  The Private Sector and Cluster Development

  3.31  Private partners have been involved in the cluster development in York since the instigation of Bioscience York in 1995. They have helped in defining the direction of the project through the Science City York Advisory Group and have made a financial contribution to running the project, funding a Bioscience York executive staff post to support the development of interactions between companies through a series of working groups.

  3.32  These working groups have examined areas for collaboration between partners including Nestlé R&D, CSL, Smith and Nephew Group Research, the University of York and Covance. Through sharing expertise through the Library and Information Services Working Group savings of over £60,000 per annum has been attained. Similarly the Procurement and Purchasing Group have purchased specialist equipment, such as mass spectrometers, to share between company research teams. The HR & Training Group were also successful in helping to ensure that a bid to the Competitiveness Fund for over £500,000 was invested into new HND bioscience technician training facilities at York College to support company's training needs locally. A new SME marketing and communications working group is shortly to be established to help bioscience SMEs with PR and marketing issues—which has been raised as a pertinent local issue facing their businesses.

  3.33  Two of Science City York's key funding partners, the York Inward Investment Board Ltd and York Business Development Ltd are also from the private sector.

  3.34  In addition to Bioscience York activity, each particular cluster (bioscience, e-science and heritage and arts technology) meets each quarter, to consider local initiatives and activities and to encourage networking between cluster members, with input from commercial and academic partners. Specialist advice is available in technology transfer, funding, start-up assistance, access to finance and venture capital, marketing, and international trade promotions from the Science City York Business Development and Promotion Team.

  3.35  Regular "Business 2 Business" networking events are held bi-monthly on issues which are affecting clusters as a whole, the most recent session has examined at remuneration issues. Members of the cluster also have dedicated email listservers to post information of interest to other firms in their sector, for example the ICT community exchange information relating to the best deals in relation to internet and ASDL access through this service. The heritage and arts technology companies are also working together to support a bid to NESTA to help provide locally more specialist support for creative industries start-ups through a mentoring and funding scheme.

  3.36  Private sector involvement in cluster development activity is at the heart of Science City York to ensure that services and initiatives delivered are beneficial to them. On the whole, most firms within each sector recognise the holistic benefit of them working collectively together on common issues which are relevant to their firms or to the community, for example on National Science Week activities. The key issue to maintain their support is for government to ensure that appropriate funding sources for business driven initiatives are sustained in the longer term and that they are to be flexible to adapt to changing business needs.

3.37  Science City York Recommends

  A longer life-span for flexible awards and grants to support business-driven initiatives in order to sustain private sector support and enthusiasm.

3.4  Universities and Cluster Development

  3.41  The underpinning of Science City York by the University of York, a research led university which is constantly ranked in the top-ten of the UK's leading Universities with world class departments of biology, chemistry and computer science, has been a major factor in the project's development.

  3.42  The University already had a successful record in the commercialisation of research work and intellectual property. Many major global companies have already established research links with the University. Not only does the University provide spin out and start-up companies, but also high calibre graduates which top up the city's skilled workforce year on year.

  3.43  The York Science Park, adjacent to the University's campus, offers opportunities for technology transfer through direct business links, access to facilities and joint venture opportunities. The initial phase began in 1992 with the location of the Smith & Nephew Group Research Centre. Subsequent development has seen mixed office and laboratory space for small technology-based companies, and a persistent demand for space will see a further development of 53,000 sq. ft. being made available. There has also been significant government investment through the location of MAFF's Central Science Laboratory in the City.

  3.44  The University of York has been awarded the HEFCE Reach Out Bid. The £1.1 million, four year award will provide funding for five new key positions to facilitate interactions between businesses and the University. One of these positions, the Science City University Interface Manager will be charged with developing and enhancing technology and knowledge transfer between university staff and Science City York companies. This would complement existing business development activities which are already in place.

3.45  Science City York Recommends

  The continual involvement of higher education institutions as an essential part of cluster development.

3.5  Infrastructure

  3.51  There are two key infrastructure issues which we feel are missing from the White Paper, yet are creating tangible constraints on development of clusters, and knowledge-based industries in general. The first is the issue of property leaseholds for high technology companies who have out-grown incubator space. At present it is very difficult to obtain short leases, as is the norm in the USA—15 years is usually the minimum term sought by institutional investors. Yet the new knowledge-based companies Science City York is trying to encourage will not necessarily have the strength of covenant to make such an inflexible commitment.

  3.52  The second point is the access to broadband telecommunications. The unbundling of the local loop in July 2001 is an encouraging development, and will deliver real benefits if, through more competition, it results in lower prices for "always on" connections. This is a major concern for e-Science York companies at the moment, for example one ICT firm within York has expressed the view that they are considering whether to expand their business in Manhattan, rather than York as the costs of bandwidth in the US are so substantially cheaper. We have been speaking to providers in York about bandwidth infrastructure, and at least one provider is keen to extend their fibre coverage in the City, however, ensuring that the unbundling of the local loop occurs at the pace required by high technology businesses ought to be a main priority for OFCOM.

3.53  Science City York Recommends

  That developers are encouraged to offer shorter term property lets.

  That the pace of change in opening up the local telecoms market continues to ensure lower bandwidth access costs.

12 January 2001

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