Dr John Williams
Birmingham’s giant Life Sciences Park is a £171m project, with the potential to create 2,200 jobs. BQ2 asked the three major players in its evolution about their vision for its future.
Creating the right kind of space for new and growing healthcare companies, and their supply chains, is a major strategic challenge, so it’s good to see the city council, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and the University of Birmingham (UoB) taking their time over the crucial development phase.
Removing decades of industrial contamination took almost two years, but now the site, once home to Yuasa Batteries, is fully remediated, and plans are being fine-tuned to deliver 400,000 sq ft of science park space: for R&D uses, SMEs, their suppliers and start-up ventures.
The massive project was initially driven by the city council, in partnership with GBSLEP, but almost 10 acres of the site was recently acquired by UoB. Driving the debate now is Birmingham Health Partners (BHP) a strategic relationship between the UoB and the city’s two NHS Foundation Trusts; University Hospitals Birmingham, and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s.
Dr John Williams, BHP’s managing director, is currently preparing a strategic ‘refresh’, which will soon be going to the board, and the Birmingham Life Sciences Park (LSP) will be high on the agenda. Naturally, he is unable to be specific about the new approach, but was willing to discuss the rationale which will underpin his recommendations.
“The LSP is still at the concept stage, but is also moving forward quite rapidly. We are currently gathering all the market intelligence and data which decisions will require, and I’d expect to see a public announcement in between three and six months,” said Williams. “You could say that we now have all the pieces available, and now we have to assemble the jigsaw. However, we realise we need to deploy unprecedented levels of technology to support healthcare innovation and are looking at having a Precision Technologies Accelerator (PTA) on the campus site.
“The organisation was set up to work and innovate for health impacts across the age range. We have to decide how we make best use of our resources, harvest the ideas and thoughts of key leaders in our sector and to prioritise strategies which will deliver the best patient outcomes,” he says. “We are uniquely placed to add value and growth to the local and regional economies, and we also have a critical role to play, not just within Birmingham, or in the new West Midlands Combined Authority, but nationally, and also internationally.
“The strong relationships we have with the city’s LEP, and local authorities, will be crucial in delivering a pipeline of attractive and high-value jobs, and in helping to deliver our ambitious and innovative agenda.
“In that context, Battery Park presents a unique opportunity to leverage our ambitions for health impact, across the city and the region, and its co-location to our teaching hospitals and our multi-disciplinary hospital trusts enables us to create a genuinely innovative offer in life sciences.
“We are now working with key stakeholders, consultants and the government to bring forward the most appropriate offer, which will attract foreign direct investment, create high-value jobs and skills, and also establish the campus as a leading location for innovation in drugs, medical devices and diagnostics.
“We already have tremendous infrastructure in place, but we need to engage with local and regional SMEs to establish and grow an industrial base here, and to ensure that the industrial eco-system we create will help drive the regional growth agenda.
“The offer will recognise that we have internationally recognised expertise here, in (for example) Big Data, and we also have a very strong genetics programme. BHP, our partners, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network and others are now ideally place to accelerate life sciences innovation.”
GBSLEP chairman, Steve Hollis, has been a passionate supporter of the LSP concept since it was first mooted, and his organisation provided a crucial £5m tranche of early-stage funding through the Growth Deal. “In the early days – for this site, and for the Greater Birmingham healthcare and life sciences sector – we went through a phase of financial leverage. Now, with the opening of the Institute of Translational Medicine (ITM), we are seeing the first blush of intellectual leverage.
“Having a PTA on the campus will be another significant step forward, in demonstrating to audiences at national and international level, to potential investors and to potential tenants on the LSP, that there really is a joined-up strategy in place and that there is also a powerful focus on delivery.
“Outline discussions are already happening between BHP and other stakeholders, and it’s really encouraging to see that a very powerful business case is being assembled.”
City council leader, Councillor John Clancy, is another long-term supporter of the LSP initiative, and his relationship with Hollis has been critical in progressing the complex proposals. “Healthcare and life sciences are already important strategic sectors for the local and regional economy, and will become driving forces of our future economy,” he says. “I was delighted to be able to open the ITM, even though it clashed with the Tory Party conference in Birmingham, because it is such a key component of what we are all trying to achieve here.
“We’re all involved in backing the LSP, because we believe Birmingham has something genuinely radical to offer in terms of healthcare. We have a very young and diverse population, and I believe we have the most diverse and comprehensive research data-base on blood anywhere in the world.
“As the park evolves, it will be very attractive to Big Pharma, SMEs, start-ups and manufacturers of medical devices, and there will be an explosion of creativity.
“We have always stuck to a very practical timetable; to assemble the site, decontaminate it, and then to promote it, and now it’s going to the UoB. The park will complement the ITM and help to transform Birmingham into a global hub for medical research.
“This is a fine example of partnership working, bringing together the city council, the UoB and GBSLEP to deliver something that will create jobs and wealth for the economy and, crucially, develop new healthcare technologies for improved patient care.”