We want to inject more soul into the Science Park', says inaugural director
The Science Park's first director, Jeanette Walker, talks about the site's extensive redevelopment plans, which include a new hotel.
With the Science Park celebrating 45 astonishing years this year, owner Trinity College has embarked on a huge schedule of redevelopment and renovation spearheaded by the site’s inaugural director, Jeanette Walker.
Jeanette is overseeing a massive build-out which has pencilled in a new hotel complete with restaurant, pub and gym facilities, alongside major redevelopments and refurbishments on existing plots, improved access and a whole new plaza at the guided busway terminus. She’s already in situ in a wall-free office on the ground floor of the Bradfield Centre, right next to the foyer and cafe.
“It’s a smart agenda,” she explains. “What we’re asking is this: we have a lot of smart people here, how can the park itself become as smart as the people?”
It’s no accident that Jeanette is stationed at the Bradfield Centre: John Bradfield was the senior bursar at Trinity and spearheaded the development of the campus even before its inception in the 1970s.
“Harold Wilson, when he led the Labour Government (in the late 1960s), was looking at the role of universities relative to high-tech industries,” says Jeanette. “Sir Nevill Mott, who was Cavendish professor of physics at the time, wrote a report that emerged from a committee saying yes, science-based industries should be supported by universities and Cambridge has a role to play. John Bradfield said: ‘We have derelict land to the north-east of the city, why don’t we put in some infrastructure which might be of use, even indirectly, to the university?’”
Planning permission was acquired in 1971 and the first firm, Laser-Scan, moved on to the site in 1973.
“Over the years Trinity developed the plots as demand increased,” says Jeanette.
Today the Science Park accommodates 90 firms on 173 acres, of which Trinity owns 152 acres and the other 21 are owned by Trinity Hall. Trinity’s current master is genetic engineering genius Sir Greg Winter – “he’s got deep insights into setting up high-growth companies” – and the bursar is Rory Landmann.
“Rory is very actively involved in the Science Park and is very much the driving force behind the establishment of this Bradfield Centre and the development of the whole of the Science Park.
“There’s a very close relationship with Bidwells – which has been the managing agent since the park opened and know it inside out – myself and the senior bursar.”
There’s no plan to expand the site’s borders.
“What we are planning to do is redevelop some of the older buildings, which are more than 30 years old now,” Jeanette explains. “These will be more modern, sustainable, higher and of increased density. Potentially they will be of three or four stories – the first is this one, the Bradfield Centre, which is three stories.”
The 40,000 sq ft Bradfield Centre, which officially opens later this year, cost £20million.
“The next is Unit 26, a pre-let to [games company] Frontier Developments, which moves in next spring, then there’s planning permission for two additional buildings, one a bio-hub, one an office block.
“There’s planning permission for two further buildings after that and for the refurbishment of a number of other buildings. There are 57 buildings on the park at the moment – some are single occupier.”
The proposed new facilities sound exciting.
“We want to do a major overhaul of amenities. We’d like to build a hotel with a conference centre and a leisure centre with a gym and a swimming pool, with a pub, restaurant and coffee shop as part of the hotel. As part of the rejuvenation programme we’re calling it a social hub. At the moment the place lacks soul, so we want to inject a bit of soul to the Park by creating this social hub.
“The colleges also have a commitment to alleviating congestion, particularly on afternoons when people are trying to get off the park, so there are dozens of measures trying to get people out of their cars. There will be a major new gateway from the guided busway – a major new plaza which will make it much easier for cyclists and pedestrians, including people coming from the new station, to access the park.
“There will also be improvements to the Milton Road entrance that will include better cycle paths – we’ve had input from Camcycle for that.
“We have Ofo bikes around the park. We’re lobbying the Government – the Department of Transport – for better train connections, including a direct service from Cambridge North to Stansted, and cross-country links which we don’t have at the moment.
“It’s a very exciting time to be here.
“We’re developing a mission and a vision, which put simply is to make the world a better place by providing the optimum sustainable ecosystem for science-based companies to collaborate in the development and launch of products, services and technologies that improve the quality of life for people around the world.”
I look outside the window to the new ‘amphitheatre’ under construction. It’s much closer to completion than when I was last here a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s a lakeside pavilion, not an amphitheatre!” says Jeanette, smiling. “It’ll be like one of those lakeside holidays where there’s a beach bar and outdoor spaces to enjoy. What people want is quiet places they can go to reflect and relax, which is what we found people wanted during our consultation process.
“It’s the intersection between technology and creativity,” adds Jeanette of the revitalised new hub.
Jeanette’s background makes her the ideal person to take the park forward.
Originally from Dublin, she was raised in Belfast and came to England to do a degree in law and French at the University of Kent. After deciding on business rather than law, she took a diploma in European export mmarketing in Belgium and started working for the Irish government’s international investment team.
She came to Cambridge to stay with a friend for a weekend in 1990, went for dinner at Charlie Chan’s and was talked into taking a role at what had been Cambridge Instruments Company – and she’s been here ever since.
“That is an Irish long weekend,” she says with a smile.
Her more recent role saw her as project director of the development of Cambridge Biomedical Campus for Countryside Properties and Liberty Property Trust.
“I set up the marketing and the strategies that attracted AstraZeneca to the campus,” she says.
By the end of the year, the Science Park will have reconfigured its credentials as a benchmark for world-leading facilities, and its first director isn’t the only person looking forward to the next stage of the Cambridge phenomenon.