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December 27, 2012 4:39 pm
The capital’s growing reputation as a global leader in science and innovation is to take a step forward with a £1bn research and technology campus in west London being set up by Imperial College.
The Imperial West campus will be built on a derelict seven-acre site just north of the A40 at White City. Imperial has £150m funding to set up a research and translation hub there next year and the campus will eventually become a £1bn development, said Sir Keith O’Nions, rector of Imperial College.
London’s universities are engaged in the biggest science based expansion since the 1960s. University College London, another world-class university in the capital, is embarking on its own £1bn development, UCL Stratford, next to the Olympic Park, and is involved in Tech City, the cluster of technology businesses in east London being championed by the government.
Several other large scientific projects are under way across the city, including the Francis Crick Institute, a £600m medical research centre near St Pancras station, which is a partnership involving UCL, Imperial and King’s College London.
“UCL is tending to look east for expansion while we look west,” said Sir Keith. “Though we will be focusing in coming years on doing all we can at White City, if an opportunity arises for us to obtain more space in west London at an affordable price we’ll consider it.”
While public money, such as from the research councils and Higher Education Funding Council for England, is essential to the projects, the universities have also brought in funds from the private and charitable sectors.
For the research and translation hub at Imperial West, the college won £35m from the government’s Research Partnership Investment Fund, £90m from Voreda, a fund investing in property, and will provide £25m itself. The site will include commercial office and residential developments.
The campus will have space for 50 spin-out companies as well as facilities for research in fields such as advanced materials and biotechnology, taking advantage of the nearby Hammersmith Hospital, part of Imperial’s medical school. Altogether 1,000 scientists and engineers will work at White City.
Imperial needs extra space because, with the number of research staff 38 per cent higher than in 2001, it is outgrowing ts 19-acre main campus in South Kensington.
“The site is as full as I’ve ever seen it,” said Stephen Richardson, deputy rector, who has worked there for 40 years. “We just can’t do any more here, and Imperial West presents a unique opportunity to do things that would simply not be possible elsewhere.”
Lack of space is damaging when academics want to exploit their work commercially by setting up companies. “This is a problem for Imperial and London as a whole,” said Sir Keith. “We have a huge concentration of world-class research and nowhere to put our spin-out companies.”
At Imperial West there would be enough room not only to accommodate the university’s spin-out ventures but also to invite in science-based companies or research organisations, said Prof Richardson. “Co-location on this scale has not previously been possible in London – and it will make the place buzz.”
With increased collaboration between London’s academic institutions and more space to expand, there was no reason why it would not become the world’s pre-eminent centre for science, Sir Keith said. “As a city we probably have the greatest concentration of science anywhere, with all the benefits of the English language, cultural diversity and an extremely business-friendly environment.”
Government ministers and funding agencies praise London for strengthening its position as a centre for higher education and research but reject the idea that its success in attracting infrastructure grants reflects favouritism over regional universities.
“I don’t encourage the idea of London being at the centre of the universe,” said Vince Cable, business secretary.
“We fund the best research wherever we find it,” said David Delpy, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. “We do not bias our decisions on the basis of geography.”
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