With more start-ups created in the Greater Thames Valley than anywhere else in the UK, the region is a key driver of UK productivity. Bringing together leading research institutions; great quality of living, a highly-skilled population, and unrivalled connectivity, the cluster creates an economic impact that belies its size.
The Greater Thames Valley’s Gross Value Added (a productivity measure which assesses contribution to the economy) dwarfs that of regions with similar population sizes. In 2015/2016 its GVA hit £144bn compared to the combined GVA figure for Greater Birmingham and Solihull and Greater Manchester of £99bn.
Oxfordshire, in common with many of the Greater Thames Valley regions, is undergoing a period of transformation. We are a key player in the UK economy, with a thriving, globally respected knowledge economy that makes a major contribution to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Oxfordshire has Europe’s largest concentration of multi-million pound science research facilities, underpinning advanced engineering space and satellite and life science businesses. Investment in new specialist office, laboratory and technical space, at locations like Harwell Campus and Thames Valley Science Park, are future-proofing the region.
High-tech SMEs and established global brands are attracted by the fertile enterprise and innovation ecosystems across the region, which offer high-quality office space and facilities, coupled with easy access to a highly-skilled, educated workforce (over 1,268,300 people in the GTV are qualified to Level 4 or above) all within an innovative, collaborative environment.
But in order to capitalise on these outstanding assets, it’s key that we’re able to offer the complete package and tackle the challenges – like lack of affordable, available housing - that pose a barrier to promising businesses wishing to enter the region.
It’s a common theme across the Greater Thames Valley and one that each of the Local Enterprise Partnerships across the region recognises needs to be tackled in order for us to continue to achieve sustainable growth
In practical terms, creating an environment where innovation thrives, means encouraging the development of new affordable housing in great locations, with great access to down time activities like quality restaurants, retail and leisure – and excellent schools. It also means developing suitable business start-ups, incubation and grow-on premises which enable and encourage collaboration, knowledge sharing and open innovation.
Local housing is at the limit of affordability for many who live and work locally and in order to maximise the benefits of the region’s significant assets, it’s key that we look at the wider picture and develop both a quality environment and choice of homes needed to support growth.
By making this a priority, OxLEP has supported ambitious development plans, which will see 85,000 new homes planned in Oxfordshire over the next 15 years, which will go some way to easing demand and ensure that people are provided with appropriate and affordable housing.
Multi-use developments like the Oxpens development, the first phase of which will include a £200m revamp of Oxford's city centre, is set to create a new neighbourhood with up to 500 homes, offices, academic buildings and commercial space is a prime example of the kind of development that encourages a positive knowledge-sharing community. Reading’s new c£200m mixed-use scheme, Royal Elm Park, which includes plans to build 630 new homes on the site alongside 18,000 sq m of new public space, and Buckinghamshire’s new Handy X Hub - a multi-use development at Junction 4 of the M40, which forms a new gateway into High Wycombe, are also tackling this challenge.
As we know, closer links between academic research excellence and entrepreneurs can stimulate significant business spin-outs and growth opportunities for the existing business base, by converting knowledge to wealth. In order for this to happen, we need closely located, high-quality space which offers a proper meeting place for the worlds of science and business where innovations, ideas and insights can be shared and commercialised. Let’s build on having the world’s best university in our region – it’s a wonderful asset that will help drive innovation led growth.
While projects like Didcot Garden Town will assist with the delivery of infrastructure, 15,000 houses and 20,000 high-tech jobs and pave the way for funding for major infrastructure improvements like a northern perimeter road for Didcot, the Science Bridge over the railway line into Milton Park, and improvements to existing areas of Didcot.
The Garden Town will bring forward new mixed neighbourhoods of between 200 and 3,000 homes, which will have a strong focus on sustainability and green space and be linked through a series of green connections. The vision for the Garden Town is to create a place renowned for world class innovation, enterprise and vibrant communities, in harmony with an exceptional environment.
This model, which enables people to easily access their work and home life, in pleasant surroundings, close to local schools and with good leisure and retail opportunities nearby, has multifaceted benefits ranging from better quality of living, to driving forward economic growth and innovation.
Co-located communities which enable and encourage knowledge sharing and the development of collaborative, open innovation projects, are the model of a future city. The close proximity of business parks and knowledge assets provides major opportunities to expand university and business interaction.
Our ambition is to create the conditions that make The Greater Thames Valley the location of choice for the world’s leading science, research and technology businesses, and removing barriers to entry for smaller innovative start-ups which may be on the cusp of commercialising their innovations.
A key element of this vision involves parties from across the Greater Thames Valley region coming together with a clear focus and a collaborative ethos to drive forward the wider development plans which make the creation of these innovative eco-systems possible. Investing in infrastructure and ensuring that we have the connectivity behind us to enable the sharing of knowledge, goods, people, and services is critical in future-proofing our regions.
Driving forward innovation-led growth, by creating the right environment for this sort of industry to thrive is key to enabling the Greater Thames Valley to continue to retain its place as the UK’s most productive region outside London. Future-proofing our urban environment to ensure we are creating an eco-system that is primed to enable collaborative, innovative working, driving forward GVA and enabling us to target optimum growth.