Integrated knowledge-based environments have been evolving for the last 30 years globally, however they have only recently started to move beyond the infancy phase in Australia and in turn morphing into competitive Science or Technology precincts in their own right.
The origins of science parks date back to the early 1980’s when a number of UK-based universities recognised that an era of integrated educational and knowledge based business had arrived and realised the benefits of aligning multidisciplinary research and businesses.
What is a science park?
A science park is an entity managed by specialist experts usually being universities, local or regional government, whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting a common culture of innovation. Science parks aim to find the balance between social and educational benefit through knowledge enhancement with commercial considerations for the provision of the infrastructure.
Linkages with start-ups, manufacturing, incubation hubs, R&D and many more enable them to carry the knowledge gained from such synergies through to practical and or commercial uses. The aggregation of science parks results in a ‘knowledge economy’ of social and commercially oriented zones of influence. In theory it’s a win-win for the developers and researchers.
Over the last two decades this ‘new’ property sector has continued to evolve with the UK and USA leading the charge. Allied businesses have opted to position themselves in these parks to take advantage of not only knowledge and infrastructure sharing but also the flexible operational elements ranging from financial advice through to marketing support.
Consider the case, for example, of a small orthopaedic research entity that can’t afford specialised integrated laboratories but needs to be aligned with an industrial designer, intellectual property advisors, marketers and manufacturers of prototypes. By positioning themselves in a science park dedicated to their line of research, they could collaborate with such aligned professionals, share specialist laboratory space at nominal cost, and collaborate with an industrial designer to manufacture prototypes, patent them and be able to test them on patients at an adjoining hospital once they are approved for use. Such associations would be much more difficult in disparate locations and ‘accidental collisions’ would be very unlikely.
One of the oldest and largest examples of this concept from Europe is the Cambridge Science Park in the UK, a joint venture between Trinity College and another Cambridge College – Trinity Hall. Between 1994 and 2004, David Lupson and Dr Sarah Tasker of Savills Science were responsible for crafting the development and operations of the Cambridge Science Park.
This project provided for Europe’s largest biotech cluster at the time and the UK’s first purpose designed laboratories for commercial leasing.
Another example is the Liverpool Science Park developed on behalf of the joint owners Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Liverpool, and Liverpool City Council. Liverpool Science Park is as a not-for-profit company which operates on a fully-commercial basis. Savills was first appointed on the project in 2004 and have been instrumental in providing the initial science park design, funding, governance and commercial advisory to all three phases of the 11,000sq m development.
The construction of the latest phase is currently underway which will see an additional 9,000sq m of commercially available office, teaching and laboratory space added to the Liverpool Knowledge Centre.
Asia Pacific adoption
Undoubtedly, science and technology parks are well established across Europe and the USA, while in other parts of the globe including many Asia Pacific countries, these concepts are only beginning to be mature. Hong Kong, China and Singapore have been at the forefront of the sector’s rise in Asia including but not limited to Hong Kong Science Park, Zhongguancun and Biopolis.
Thailand is currently preparing to welcome its first ever Digital Park, located on the Chonburi Province within the Sri Racha district of Chonburi Province. CAT Telecom, Thailand's leading government-owned Telco Company has appointed a world-class consortium led by Savills.
With a strong emphasis on using smart technology, this Digital Park will enable entrepreneurs and start-ups to intermingle to enhance networking opportunities and ‘accidental collisions’. The CAT Telecom Digital Park will span 100 hectares with development estimated to take between 10 and 15 years. The purpose of the Digital Park is to create an environment for a digital ecosystem to excel.
With the rest of the world making way for the digital and science ecosystem boom, Australia too is beginning to further explore pre-planned precincts to accommodate challenges such as a growing and ageing population, exponential advances in technology and the effects of climate change to name a few.
Melbourne’s west precinct of Werribee has been identified as an area of growth set to morph into a $30 billion cutting edge ‘Education City’ with the aim of becoming the largest Science Park in the southern hemisphere. The precinct will comprise of universities and schools along with home and apartment development to house 80,000 residents. If the proposal is approved, it will develop a 400ha stretch of State Government owned land into its own knowledge economy hub.
In Queensland, the Commonwealth Games Athletes village will be transformed into a multi-billion dollar medical research and technology hub as the Gold Coast Health & Knowledge Precinct prepares to inject $2.9 billion into the Gold Coast economy and employ 26,000 people.
The 200ha Parklands site is a joint strategy of the Queensland State Government, Gold Coast City Council and Griffith University. The precinct is already positioning itself as a biomedical research hub and adapts the Science Park knowledge economy concepts from overseas.
Similar momentum has been generated across the Sunshine Coast region where Kawana has become the motivation of yet another rapidly evolving health precinct. The master-planned site incorporates a $1.8bn Sunshine Coast University Hospital and the $250m Ramsay Private Hospital. The precinct itself comprises 17ha of mixed-use land incorporating medical, aged care & retirement, car parking facilities, retail, residential, hotel and child care facilities.
Savills has been tasked by the master planner to work with all stakeholders in assessing demand and subsequently securing interest to develop land and occupy purpose built medical facilities within the precinct.
Other current and proposed precincts around Australia include the St Vincent’s Research & Biotechnology Precinct (Sydney), Bentley Technology Precinct (Perth), Australia National University Science Precinct (Canberra) and Monash Science Precinct (Melbourne).
Australian developers and public entities are not fully conversant with this sector and its specific idiosyncrasies yet. Development models for commercial buildings do not necessarily align with those of Science Parks where social and educational drivers are key. Returns in this sector are long term with a focus on ensuring that the assets incubate start-ups and small research which in turn attracts larger investors and allied entities to provide commercial offsets.
Because each Science Park needs to be focused on a specialised niche to avoid cannibalisation of talent, resources and professionals, there is no one standard model for their creation. Whilst some principles from successful international precincts may apply, each one needs to be purpose crafted with the right elements of governance, tertiary, professional and allied industries etc. The creation of a focused and well-crafted Unique Value Proposition (UVP) through actual operation rather than just aspirational words is key. This suggests that governance platforms, vision, partnering, precinct development protocols, methodology of investment attraction and commercial return on investment modelling must align with the UVP.
The sector has arrived in Australia and is here to stay. How existing Australian precincts can be modelled to ensure the right balance of commercial and social benefit to make them sustainable and self-sufficient is still debatable and not yet achieved. We now have a property class taking shape and morphing into its own sector. With smart planning, appropriate sector specific advisory, along with appropriate governance, this sector has the ability to become a highly sought-after investment offering.
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