Exciting but Challenging Times for Cambridge Growth: Response to the Publication of the UK Government Long-Term Plan for Housing

Welcome News:

One Nucleus welcomes the Government's support of Cambridge to continue developing as a destination to attract global investment and talent in life sciences through plans to create aspirational housing and communities for those employed in the sector.

Housing to Match Aspiration:

The focus on home ownership whilst important may not in itself deliver the correct balance of residential accommodation. In innovation-driven industries such as ours, a significant proportion of the workforce are international, many of whom seeing the attraction of Cambridge as the next step, but perhaps not the terminus of their career. Delivery of high quality, rental accommodation for these individuals who may not wish to join the property ladder remains very important and could be factored into planning alongside affordability.

The Water Challenge:

There is no escaping the water challenge and the difficulties already faced by planning departments in prioritising developments that best meet the Cambridge need. In such challenges however perhaps lie the greatest opportunities. Shortage of natural resources is not a problem unique to Cambridge. One could consider Cambridge perhaps as something of a test bed for global solutions for future R&D ecosystems anywhere. In the context of life science research, a shift to the more TechBio approach of modern R&D and technology development to increase water efficiency in areas such as microfluidics can have significant benefits. The region already hosts exceptional expertise in this field from the academic research base through to fast growing successful life science businesses such as Sphere Fluidics, Nuclera and Evonetix. Microfluidics is not alone in helping miniaturise R&D, lab-on-a-chip approaches via companies such as CN Bio are also gaining traction.  

Efficient Resource Usage:

Capitalising on these foundations, alongside the world class innovation in areas such energy, sustainable construction and environmentally friendly transport can enable Cambridge to be an exemplar of a natural resource efficient innovation cluster across R&D, housing design, transport and infrastructure. A front runner in sustainable integrated knowledge-based high growth ecosystems that will lead the way for other global locations to follow given all are likely to face such challenges in due course. 

Planning with Confidence:

The proposed scale of the expansion of Cambridge shows exciting ambition and confidence. The careful balancing of such evolution with environmental and community needs is absolutely key. Ensuring there is inclusive opportunity for all locally whilst attracting global talent is not straight forward. Travelling along this path will require collaboration at breadth and scale to bring all stakeholders along as supporters rather than opponents. Interesting therefore, the Government seems as yet to be parachuting in a planning and delivery A-Team, with limited engagement locally being reported. Hopefully that will change in implementation. 

Levelling Up:

The contribution Cambridge can potentially make to UK plc through being enabled to scale its innovation capacity is well documented. Focussing on what the best use of that extra innovation capacity is will be important as will the mechanism to ensure the benefits are felt far wider than the local cluster. Value and jobs created by the innovation need to be aligned with growth in complementary activities in the wider Eastern region and wider UK to maximise the levelling up and inclusivity opportunity this growth brings. Others must surely start to plan how they will attract, grow and support those additional opportunities Cambridge success can trigger if the full economic benefits are to be realised. 

Creating Impact with Caution:

Whether the proposed scale is correct or even achievable remains to be seen. Growing Cambridge in a sustainable manner can play a key role in stimulating growth elsewhere in the country and offer local residents exciting career opportunities. Moreover, it can serve as a template for future ecosystems around the world. Another example of how Cambridge innovation can change the world for the better. Caution just needs to be exercised so that it doesn't inflict self-harm in the process by seeking to achieve the wrong arbitrary building targets at the outset rather than be adaptable on the journey. 

Tony Jones

CEO, One Nucleus


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