Brexit should be viewed as a massive opportunity for Oxfordshire’s Science Vale, delegates were told at last week’s property festival.
A debate on the remarkable success of the county’s multi-site science and technology community, prompted discussion on how it would be affected by Brexit.
Dr Caroline Livingstone (centre in photo), head of property, EMEA, at Culham Science Centre told the audience of 130 business and property professionals, her message, in the finest style of Dad’s Army, was ‘don’t panic’.
She said: “Of course in Brexit there’s a lot of uncertainty but there’s a lot of certainty in the rest of the world and I think (seeing) the global challenge and looking at the opportunities that the global market presents is a much more structured and positive way of trying to move forwards.
“Our colleagues over the other side of the Channel were always going to be there. We might be having a tiff at the moment but it will pass and the global market is a massive market that I think we should be pushing to develop.
“Parochially we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of approaches and opportunities that are now coming forward to us from the rest of the world.
“Yes, it’s a challenge, and yes there’s uncertainty and I’m not taking away from any of that but there’s massive opportunity.”
Earlier Philip Campbell, commercial director at Milton Park landlords, MEPC, said there had been a Brexit dividend in terms of investment coming forward for the county but he was concerned about recruitment.
He said: “We have something like 30 nationalities across the park and that is a real challenge - giving the people working for us reassurance that they are going to be able to stay and continue to work.”
William Cooper, partner at Harwell Campus, said growth could not occur without immigration. He hoped the Home Office would act to ensure it supported recruitment from abroad after Brexit.
He said: “The hope is that there is enough of a shock (from Brexit) that we get a very fast immigration system where, if one of our tenants wants to recruit someone from India, they pick up the phone and they get them from India - end of. They don’t have to sit and apply to the Home Office.”
Mr Campbell described the history of Science Vale where science parks had come together in a group, initially known as the Quadrant Partnership in 2007, creating better inward investment opportunities and subsequently a hugely successful concept.
Didcot had also risen from 20th in the Crap Towns guide to Britain’s most ‘normal town’ in a later survey.
But Suzanne Malcolm, head of development and regeneration at both South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils, said one of Science Vale’s USPs was its sense of place.
She said: “It’s not just one of the worlds leading science clusters, it’s actually about the fact that we are surrounded by a number of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and country side. The work life balance is unique.”
Mr Cooper said the multi-cluster nature of Science Vale made it uniquely reactive to future clusters. He said: “We have been focused on encouraging new companies to Harwell. As of yesterday (April 17) we had let just over 200,000 sq ft in just over 12 months.”
Most of the growth had come from companies formed on the campus. He added: “We are a living example where you can say put x pounds in and get x plus GVA.”