Innovation districts are a great showcase of positive, win/win relations between the public and the private sector, experts agreed at Real Asset Media’s Innovation Districts, Winning Cities & Investment Briefing, which was held online this week.
‘The principle of a public sector lead is to be the catalyst and provide a platform that allows the private sector to come in and feel comfortable about taking on risk,’ said Graham Hill, Partner, City Executive, ARCADIS. ‘If the public sector leads on the vision, then the offer becomes more attractive for the private sector and the place can become a real hive of investment’.
Each innovation district has a group of partners, cities, local governments, universities, so ‘it provides a great opportunity for the private sector to come in and support and shape the sector,’ said Ann Allen, Executive Director of Estates & Commercial Services, University of Glasgow. ‘Funds have moved from supporting investment in one building to supporting an entire district. It is crucial to create the right partnership to go out to the market with great clarity on the project and speed up the process as well’.
Local Government has a fundamental role to play in the process. ‘We are trying to achieve the perfect balance between the private and the public,’ said Alasdair Morrison, Head of Regeneration, Renfrewshire Council. ‘Local Government has a key role to play to facilitate and bring about change in the built environment and to ensure sustainability’.
The project has benefited from a 40 million funding for upfront infrastructure from Glasgow City, but ‘we are now looking for a joint venture partner with a long-term commitment of up to 20 years to develop the site’.
A looming issue that cannot be ignored is the squeeze on public finances because of economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.
‘Reliance on public finances will be under pressure at a time when major investments are needed,’ said Anna Stamp, Interim Programme Director, Edinburgh Bio-Quarter. ‘Investments in infrastructure and transport so that people can reach the site, for example, can determine the viability of the entire project’.
The problem can become an opportunity, as the crisis is leading to a re-thinking of supply chains and encouraging near-shoring. ‘Innovation districts can play a big role in involving local businesses and factories a lot more,’ said Hill.
In difficult economic conditions innovation districts ‘can create new ideas to develop, can facilitate and nurture start-ups and local businesses and create employment,’ said Eri Mitsostergiou, Director of European Research, Savills. ‘They have a particularly valuable social impact at a time of economic recovery’.