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Abstract is granted permission for 140,000 sq ft R&D building in Sawston - and promises ‘affordable’ lab space

Additional reporting: Hannah Brown, Local Democracy Reporter

Abstract's proposed South Cambridge Science Centre
Abstract's proposed South Cambridge Science Centre

A large new science and technology building will be built on a brownfield site in Sawston, after councillors granted planning permission.

The South Cambridge Science Centre, featuring a 140,00 sq ft, three-storey research and development building and a decked car park, with 286 car parking spaces and cycle storage, will be ready for occupation in early 2025.

Abstract (Mid Tech) Ltd, part of Abstract Securities, said its plans for the site at the Dales Manor Business Park in Grove Road will help meet the high demand for lab space in the Cambridge life science cluster, and the building will be operationally net zero carbon.

The company is also preparing an application for a second building of around 40,000 sq ft, which it expects to submit in the coming weeks.

Mark Glatman, chief executive of Abstract, said: “We saw a fantastic opportunity to acquire and reposition around five acres of land, to create much-needed new science and technology lab space at a sensible and affordable rental.

“The scheme is in an established location in the Cambridge market where the availability of quality laboratories is almost zero against unprecedented demand for this type of space. Tight land supply and a very difficult planning regime means that there are huge barriers to providing the type of accommodation that is in so much demand. We are delighted to have the ability to get on and deliver and will be breaking ground soon.

‘’We can deliver great quality laboratory accommodation for a wide range of different user types and the building is designed to offer maximum flexibility in a landscaped setting, which will eventually sit alongside the proposed Cambridge South East Transport route, linking the neighbouring science and research parks, biomedical campus and Cambridge city centre.

“Potential end users in the market are currently faced with rents in the high £60s per square foot but we have deliberately positioned the project to offer the best quality flexible laboratory space, aiming for rents under £50 per square foot. We feel that companies that are focused on growth will be looking for more affordable accommodation and we have been able to assemble a scheme to achieve this pricing point.’’

Discussing the application, South Cambridgeshire district councillors heard the site had been part of a wider area of land allocated for up to 200 homes in the district council’s 2018 Local Plan, but permission had previously been given for part of the site to be redeveloped for business use.

Emma Woods, a representative of the developer, told a planning committee on March 8 that rainwater recycling would be used for water to flush toilets and tree and hedge planting, plus changes to the colour of the building’s cladding would mitigate the impact of views fom the green belt.

Ms Woods said: “The landscape proposals incorporate significant habitat and biodiversity improvements reflected in the biodiversity net gain metric of 761 per cent will be achieved on site.”

Sarah Nicholas, principal planning officer at Cambridge Past Present and Future, said the charity had concerns about the impact of long-distance views, particularly from higher ground at Gog Magog Hills, as the building would be taller than trees and hedges.

Cllr Heather Williams (Con, The Mordens) said it was “sensible” to change the plans for the area from residential to business, and noted that it was a brownfield site. She appreciated the concerns raised around the impact on the wider views, but believed “reasonable steps” had been taken with the proposed landscaping.

Cllr Dr Martin Cahn (Lib Dem, Histon and Impington) said: “This site is clearly unsuitable for housing in its present location surrounded on three sides by existing industrial buildings. This is in fact a change to more research-oriented use and the area has a lot of other research developments coming up.”

He added that the “only real concern” was the impact on the distant views, but said he believed the building looked better than the other existing buildings on the site and said he did not think it would be “particularly invasive”.

Cllr Dr Lisa Redrup (Lib Dem, Harston and Comberton) said it was good to see a brownfield site being redeveloped, and said “glad to hear the environmental credentials” of the developer.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the plans.

Christopher McPherson, development director of Abstract Securities, said afterwards: “We believe that there is no other building in the Cambridge market that has a better carbon footprint than SCSC. A great deal of thought has gone into designing space that will meet the exacting requirements of several different occupier types whether biology or chemistry biased, and we have a high degree of flexibility in how we can accommodate different users.

“Given the supply demand imbalance and the more affordable pricing of our scheme, it won’t be a surprise that we are already at the early stage of discussions with a number of parties.’’

Peterhouse, the University of Cambridge college, retains the freehold ownership of the land and has granted a 175 year ground lease, which will attract a ground rent after buildings are completed and let.

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