UK science parks are set to benefit from a long-expected push announced by Government last week to shake-up planning law and allow high-tech business clusters to expand rapidly.
Chancellor Gordon Brown targeted restrictive planning policies in his pre-Budget announcement. The move is part of a broad review that aims to invoke the spirit of California’s Silicon Valley in the UK and boost the growth of specialist new companies in specific geographical areas.
Brown said: `For the first time the planning system will be required to promote competition.’
Reform would allow science and research parks, often linked to universities, to speed up planning applications and keep abreast of the demand for office and laboratory space from high-tech businesses.
John Prescott, Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, fleshed out the Chancellor’s commitment to reform with proposals to `recognise the importance of planning for clusters’ by revising planning policy guidance notes covering regional and local development.
The changes should cut the time applications take to pass through the long and uncertain planning process.
Malcolm Parry, manager of the University of Surrey’s 28ha research park, said: `If university science parks want to attract specialist businesses, they need some certainty from the planning system.’
Steve Sillery, planning partner for Cambridge Science Park, said reform would help avoid a repeat of the Wellcome Trust’s failure to secure planning permission this summer for its 40,000m2 genome research site at Hinxton, Cambridge.
However, he added that the rapid growth in numbers of skilled workers and scientists drawn to Cambridge’s high-tech cluster had fuelled an urgent need for more housing, which was also a planning problem.
Cambridge and Herriot-Watt were the first universities to set-up science parks in the early 1970s. The UK Science Park Association now has 46 members and 13 associate members.
Lord Sainsbury, minister of innovation and science, who in August called for planning systems to take account of cluster areas, was due yesterday to add his Office of Science and Technology department’s own set of high-tech business friendly measures.