Lancaster’s science park innovation

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The construction of a state-of-the-art science park adjacent to Lancaster University is in the early stages of initiation, after a bid to renew planning application for the project was approved at a meeting of Lancaster City Council’s Planning and Highways Regulatory Committee earlier this month.

The 34,000 square-metre park will be a collaborative enterprise between the city and county councils and Lancaster University. The site, just to the south of Bailrigg Lane, neighbours the university campus at its northern boundary, and will comprise science and technology hubs accessed from the A6 via a purpose-built roadway and internal ‘spine’ road. The area is also to be landscaped, with provision being made to protect existing trees, hedgerows and wildlife habitats.

Outline planning permission was granted by city councillors in June 2009, subject to conditions which included the stipulation that no development may commence until all third-party landowners had agreed to any works necessary to lands outside that controlled by the council-university partnership. Following the committee meeting of 8 April, the detailed planning permission – originally granted before the collapse of the city council’s initial funding body, Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) – was renewed.

Since the unforeseen abolition of the NWDA, which had originally supported the city council’s £2.3m purchase of the land, the council has been forced to source alternative funding for the project’s £8m of infrastructure works. These works will include access roads, drainage and power supplies as well as significant work to mitigate the potential impact on traffic flow around nearby Scotforth and Galgate, which are each to acquire an innovative traffic light system that responds to traffic conditions. The environment is also to be taken into account with the installation of new bus stops close to the park’s access road and the extension of the existing cycling route to integrate the park into its eco-friendly cycle-path network.

Fortunately, the council was successful in its search for alternative funding, through which it secured £3m from the Government’s Growing Places Fund through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.

Lancaster University submitted its support of the project to the council’s consultation report, stating that its key areas of interest would be ICT, engineering and environmental sciences. The university described the project as potentially “a significant stimulus to the local economy,” and the Lancaster Guardian reported that up to 1,000 new jobs opportunities could accompany the site’s inception.

However, numerous objections were raised by local residents on the grounds of aesthetic concerns and fears around increased traffic congestion. Five letters were received from members of the surrounding community, but the report submitted to the city council concluded that the potential benefit of the science park fully justified the approval for its development. Conditions are in place to ensure that minimum disruption to the environment, the community and the infrastructure of the southern neighbourhoods of Lancaster occurs during both construction and operation periods.

The committee report summarised the prospect thus: “It is considered appropriate to deliver a high quality science park which has the potential to deliver high quality jobs, retain skilled graduates within the district and help transform the local economy.”

The project development is subject to a standard three year timescale, taking its projected completion date to a full decade ahead of the original proposals of 2006.

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