Press Release

Create Spaces to Fuel London’s Future Economy

New spaces to promote collaboration and creativity should be at the heart of London’s economic future, argues a new report from Centre for London.

Spaces to Think shows the geography of London’s universities and research institutions is changing, creating opportunity for the development of radically mixed-use spaces which unlock innovation and economic potential for all Londoners.

Spaces to Think: Innovation Districts and the Changing Geography of London’s Knowledge Economy identifies two key spatial trends:

  1. London’s universities and research institutions are moving;

A number of high profile universities and research institutions have recently moved from central London into zones three and four, driven out by high land values and the pressure for space. Others are looking to post-industrial districts and outer London employment centres, often enabled by improved transport infrastructure.

  1. The nature of London’s campuses are changing;

Recent trends reveal a move away from science park models and towards radically mixed-use spaces, which are designed to encourage collaboration. Many include incubator, accelerator and co-working spaces for university and non-university occupants, and some include residential units for staff and postgraduate students.

The report shows that the pressure for land and changes to London’s demography are leading to the development of new innovation districts – clusters of cutting-edge anchor institutions and companies which connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators.

The report argues that these innovation districts – a term first used by the Brookings Institution – could become powerful engines of inclusive economic growth. By collaborating with the private sector, London’s universities and research institutions could create long-term employment opportunities, help to upskill local residents and provide new public spaces and a sense of place.

Kat Hanna, Research Manager at Centre for London said:

“As a leading global city, London has the skills base, the financial environment, and much of the physical infrastructure to support and sustain its success as a knowledge economy hub.

“Yet increasing pressure for land and an uneven distribution of economic growth and employment is threatening London’s potential.
“If London is to continue to attract and retain global talent and investment it needs to get the spatial balance right – creating places for innovation, collaboration and wealth creation.”

Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution, said:

“London has never been starved for innovation. From world-class universities to global corporations, research institutes and start-ups, this city has long had the ingredients needed for a successful knowledge economy. Across Europe and the United States, however, other places are starting to catch up.

“This rise of innovation districts, as identified in Centre for London’s report, is an opportunity to think more strategically about the innovation assets this city has – how to better connect them to the broader city and how to bring more of its residents into the knowledge economy that is growing within these districts.

“It is through this process that London can design strategies to enhance its competitive edge globally, by growing more intelligently and in a way that is ultimately more inclusive and sustainable.”

Jo Negrini, Director of Place, London Borough of Croydon, said:

“As a local authority, we are acutely aware that we have three fantastic assets at our disposal when it comes to economic development in Croydon, particularly the innovation and tech sectors.

“The first is an abundance of competitively priced office space, within easy reach of London Bridge, and importantly, Gatwick airport. The second is our young people. We have a large population of young people, many of them digital natives, producing digital content as well as consuming it. By harnessing and developing this talent, we can create a tech ecosystem that not only attracts businesses to Croydon, but will see Croydon residents fully participate in all that the tech sector and its incumbent jobs have to offer.

“Finally, we are already recognised as having the fastest growing tech sector in London – with more companies and businesses setting up here than anywhere else in the capital. Croydon will continue to build on this by supporting start-ups and more mature businesses in our area.”

Roly Keating, Chair of the Knowledge Quarter and CEO of the British Library said:

“This report recognises the immense economic and social impact that concentrations of knowledge-based organisations can have for London. The Knowledge Quarter brings together commercial, public and non-profit organisations of all sizes from sectors including culture, science, research, academia and music and is developing rapidly as one of the UK’s major centres of innovation.

“The Knowledge Quarter looks forward to working on the findings of this report with the new Mayor of London to help shape the future development of the area around Kings Cross, St Pancras, Euston and Bloomsbury.”

Martyn Saunders, Associate Director, Bilfinger GVA said:

“Innovation and knowledge intensive economic activity is fundamental to London’s continued success as a global hub, increasingly forming the central focus of business growth and property demand.  From the life sciences through big data to the creative industries, providing the right environment to attract and retain businesses and talent is critical.

“Today more than ever developers, local authorities and London government are focussed on delivering space for innovation.  However the sector is complex, with a wide range of drivers affecting the location decisions of businesses and the nature of property requirements.  A ‘one size fits all’ across London’s will not suffice, what will work for Sutton is unlikely to work for Stratford just as the approach in Greenwich will need to differ from that around Goldsmiths.

“What is made clear within “Spaces to Think” is that there are increasingly diverse opportunities but responses need to be tailored to local circumstance, delivering the right workspace in the right environment alongside the right infrastructure to maximise a location’s knowledge assets.  What is common in all cases, however, is that the quality of development and place created is critical to successfully attracting and sustaining knowledge based activity”