The Knowledge Sector - a Powerful Catalyst of Urban Regeneration

Knowledge sector organisations are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the need for major urban development projects to be based around a diverse range of uses.

20 Feb 2020

By Oliver Thomas

female architect working on computer
Knowledge sector organisations are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the need for major urban development projects to be based around a diverse range of uses. City planners have long recognised that creating new places with the capacity to thrive means combining a broad range of mutually interdependent activities with the capacity to remain interesting and engaging twenty-four seven. Some combinations are obviously complementary; residential accommodation goes naturally with retail. Commercial offices often need hotels and leisure nearby for staff or oversees business travellers. When all are combined, a richer day/night economy is able to develop.

UK planning policy at a strategic level continues to encourage cultural and institutional uses as part of developers’ masterplans. Activities like education and culture all have a contribution to make, each has the capacity to enrich new communities and make them unique and distinctive. Think of a few of the larger regeneration projects undertaken recently and it’s the cultural content that is often one of the most prominent differentiators. The University of the Arts at Kings Cross for example or the emerging cultural zone which will supplement the legacy Olympic facilities in Stratford, bringing the V&A, Sadler’s Wells and the London College of Fashion to this east London regeneration area.

So how does this create opportunities for the knowledge sector? The answer is that developers need you. They need you to add richness and diversity to their schemes and they need you because the planners are telling them they won’t get planning consent without making space for you or someone like you in their developments. Seen in terms of planning gain, bringing knowledge sector occupiers into a new mixed-use development gives the developer and its scheme more public credibility and adds an extra dimension and character that a vanilla residential and office scheme would lack. This translates into an environment where commercial negotiations to acquire space can be tilted in your favour; this is particularly the case where the agreement of terms with an institutional occupier has been set by the planners as a pre-condition to the occupation of any commercial space. Developers will be very keen to unlock this constraint as soon as they can.

But there’s more in this for the Knowledge Sector than just the prospect of doing a keen property deal. A relocation project or a new building are opportunities to re-think the organisation from top to bottom. It’s a chance to embrace Wellness and new ways of working, as well as doing more to be sustainable both environmentally and commercially. Better public facilities and enhanced income generation are also on offer. Being at the heart of a regeneration scheme means being at the heart of a new community so it’s a real opportunity to promote and showcase the body of knowledge you represent.

That brings us the Royal College of Physicians, whose new northern headquarters will open in Liverpool in 2021. In partnership with Liverpool City Council, the College has agreed it will occupy 72,000 sq. ft at the Spine, part of Paddington Village, a new hub of SME’s and larger organisations focused around health, education and science. These organisations have come together to share ideas, promote innovation and exploit the collaboration that will come from this proximity, as well as helping to stimulate local employment and investment. Developed in conjunction with residential and office space, the plan is to create a fully integrated and diverse community.

The new building will be a powerful expression of the College’s values as well as being an exemplar of sustainable design that focusses sharply on staff and visitor wellbeing.

Our work with the College covers many aspects of their move to the Spine, ranging from the purely commercial through to the technical and practical aspects of making sure the new building is right in every detail. Ultimately projects like this demonstrate the latent power knowledge sector organisations have to unlock larger scale urban developments and by doing so be the heart of something that gives them in return a prominent platform to express their values and showcase their work to a much wider audience.

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