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3 August, 2006 - 09:25 By Staff Reporter

£60m Essex Research Park given the green light

The first foundations for the University of Essex’s £60 million flagship Research Park are expected to be laid within the year following Colochester Borough Council’s decision to grant the project planning permission.

The 43-acre Park, which is expected to create up to 2,000 jobs, will house more than 1,000 students, host some 200 private houses and flats, provide 400,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art office space.

Work will now focus on finding a buyer for the residential housing to generate the £5 to 6 million funding the Park needs to get the first phase of development underway.

Nic Rumsey, director of Carisbrooke Alliance who are leading the project with the University under the Carisbrooke-Essex Partnership, said: “We are eager to commence this prestigious development and the sale of the private housing land is our priority in order to fund the substantial investment in infrastructure required to open up the site.

“We will continue to work closely with Colchester Borough Council to design an attractive environment which complements the regeneration plans for East Colchester.”

The Park will accommodate new high technology businesses which will benefit from working closely with the academic and research expertise of the University, as well as a wide range of commercial companies with requirements for high quality office accommodation in the Colchester area.

It will provide a home for University of Essex spin-outs and is designed to kick-start a stronger entrepreneurship culture at the Colchester establishment. First companies could move in as early as 2007.

Tony Rich, the University registrar, said: “It has been a longstanding ambition for the University to establish a Research Park and it will act as a major boost to our collaboration with industry as well as providing highly skilled jobs in Colchester to the benefit of our graduates.

“Electronic Systems Engineering, Computer Science and Biological Sciences will all help pull companies to the park. We are developing entrepreneurship programmes to encourage staff and also students to treat entrepreneurism as a normal activity and a way of creating a future.”

Plans for the first phase of development include the site infrastructure (roads, landscaping, utilities), a 30,000 square foot office village, and a Business Innovation Centre, catering for new start-up businesses including spin-offs from the University’s own research.

The original plans for the research park provided 600,000 sq ft of office space. That has now been reduced by almost a third so the University can fund the cost of building the infrastructure necessary for the park.

The approved master plan for the park was eventually submitted by the Carisbrooke–Essex Partnership whose genesis has been attributed to Business Weekly.

Rumsey, said: “This deal came about as a direct result of an article I read in Business Weekly. Business Weekly reported that Essex was actively seeking partners to take the research park project forward, and I approached the university expressing Carisbrooke’s interest and credentials.

“This land had been allocated by the University to build a research park for some time, but the project was stalled for a number of different reasons. Business Weekly was instrumental in facilitating this deal, which sees the union of an extremely experienced and dynamic developer with one of the country’s top research universities.”

To make the office space on the research park as flexible as possible, it will be broadly split into two divisions, a business innovation centre for young start-up businesses and an office village that is able to provide space for more mature companies.

The Business Innovation Centre will follow models similar to Warwick Innovation Centre and St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge by offering short-term leases within offices supported by a multi-use support service infrastructure; important and necessary incentives for new research-driven firms with little cashflow.

The office village will cater for larger companies and allow those from the innovation centre to expand onto the university park under longer term leases.

It will also be made available for established companies wanting to move to the university and could even offer entire buildings to firms capable of filling them.

As well as the favourable tenancy arrangements, the University will rely heavily on its cutting edge research to attract ground-breaking companies eager to tap some of the University’s intellectual capital.

A feasibility study is currently underway to establish demand for the Business Innovation Centre. David Marlow, East of England Development Agency’s (EEDA) CEO, explained: “As part of EEDA’s role to encourage greater interaction between academic, public and private sectors, we are supporting a feasibility study to investigate the impact a dedicated space will make on the development and growth of knowledge intensive high tech enterprises.

“The ultimate aim is to ensure the skills and expertise which are developed at the University are retained for the benefit of the county and the region.”

The Colchester 2020 Community Strategy has identified the Park as a key component of its regeneration strategy for East Colchester and as one of four major development projects in the town.

Dee Evans, chair of the Colchester 2020 Local Strategic Partnership, said: “The University of Essex Research Park is the most significant regeneration project in the town in terms of future job creation. Colchester is required to create 14,000 new jobs by 2021 and this project will act as a catalyst to bring new cutting edge businesses to the town.”

As part of the planning agreement for the Research Park, the Carisbrooke-Essex partnership will contribute £1.2 million to the highways authority for improvements to surrounding roads, including increasing the capacity and flow through the Greenstead roundabout, and towards the upgrading of the Hythe railway station. A further substantial contribution will be made towards enlarging and improving nearby schools.

CB Richard Ellis has been appointed to handle the residential land sale and is also jointly appointed with Whybrow and Carter Jonas on the commercial element of the Park.

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