Can the built environment improve the nation’s global success
For those old enough to remember, King’s Cross 20 years ago invokes murky memories of heavy industry, street crime, and the Cross club on a Sunday night. For people in their twenties today (and, mercifully, the rest of us), the reality is vastly different.
King’s Cross has been a triumph of urban regeneration. The area now plays host to global technology companies, exciting startups and venture capital investors. The next movement is underway in West London, at White City, and those of us involved believe that the King’s Cross project has given us a lot from which to learn.
The regeneration of King’s Cross has, according to research led by property developer Argent, supported over 10,000 jobs to date, adding over £600m to the UK economy a year. At the end of 2017, the development had included 19 new and refurbished office buildings, three million sq ft of commercial office space (with a 97 per cent occupancy rate) and generated £33m of value to the local area each year, with 500 local jobs created. Additionally, 900 homes have been delivered, with spend per year from new residents exceeding £77m. King’s Cross today is a location where bright young things go to live and work. And it has become a beautiful place – a destination.
The future of White City
Suddenly, we have another area of London positioned to write itself a new chapter of history – this time, as a national innovation hub that marks a joint venture between Imperial College London and the venture firm Blenheim Chalcot. We are building 200,000 sq ft of real estate for the UK’s fastest-growing tech scaleups on Imperial’s new campus and helping to usher in the capital’s, and the country’s, latest tech hub.
White City has its own ebb and flow history. The site of the great Franco-British Exhibitions, which ran from 1908 until 1914, housing developments did not spring up until the 1930s, with the BBC arriving in the 1950s. And it has only been over the past five years that change has really ramped up.
Designated as an “opportunity area”, White City is being reborn. Among other major projects, five thousand new homes are being built, Westfield White City is the biggest shopping centre in Europe, BBC Television Centre and White City Place have just been totally redeveloped, and Imperial College London has chosen White City for its major new campus. Two years ago, Imperial opened its Translation & Innovation Hub on the 23-acre site. This year, the Molecular Sciences Research Hub was opened, and later this year, we will see the launch of the Sir Michael Uren Biomedical Engineering Research Hub.
Where great happens
How do you create great? We believe the answer is the cutting-edge academic research and talent that is starting to arrive in White City, and that is a huge part of the reason we have chosen to launch there, offering scaleup business, which so desperately needs support, access to business leadership, academic expertise, talent, funding and affordable space. Our incoming tenants to date include the likes of Fospha, Contentive and Researcher.
Digital scaleups are vital to our economy. Tech Nation estimates that they add £97bn to the economy each year. In the current climate of heightened political and economic uncertainty, supporting them should be front of mind for business and policymakers alike. We firmly believe White City is poised to become the next UK tech destination, positively contributing to improving the prospects of British companies on a global scale.
However, in order to ensure that this happens, we all need to think beyond the interiors of our own buildings. The success of every organisation here is inextricably linked to White City’s success and vice versa. That means we need to do everything we can to influence and support the development of the area, ensuring that this will be a place the highest performers in the world want to work and live. Such a place will need a balanced portfolio of exciting spaces, coupled with events and activities to support a growing local community.
We do not believe we should be stopping here. As other areas of the capital have provided inspiration for White City, so too should it inspire other UK cities. We are already looking at the expertise that exists all around the country, and the potential to turbocharge regional economies using a collaborative, hub approach not just to regenerate, but to build centres of business innovation.
While we have early-stage discussions with universities, businesses and local governments across the UK, we would encourage other stakeholders to do the same. Let’s come together to support the next generation of global tech businesses. There has never been a better time to put our money, mouths and time into UK Plc.