‘Science Vale UK’ is a relatively recent entity (introduced in 2008) encompassing 3 established but diverse high-tech employment centres in the southern part of Oxfordshire, UK: Harwell Oxford, Culham Science Centre and Milton Park.
Harwell Oxford is a centre of ‘Big Science’. Historically a major government site for civil nuclear power research under the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), it has transformed into a leading centre of science and technology business which now houses the Diamond Synchrotron, the UK’s largest investment in science for 40 years and ISIS, the world’s largest pulsed neutron source. It is also home to the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the UK Medical Research Council, and the European Space Agency Space Centre. Harwell is host to over £1 billion of world-leading research infrastructure. Over 5000 people work across some 180 organisations focusing on a range of applications including healthcare, medical devices, space satellites, detector systems, computing, green enterprise and new materials. The 710 acre site is owned and managed through a joint venture between Harwell Oxford Developments Ltd, STFC and the UKAEA. Further information is available at: http://harwellcampus.com/
Video courtesy of harwellcampus.com
Culham Science Centre (CSC) is also engaged in big science as the centre of the UK’s fusion research programme and currently the world’s largest fusion experimental facility, the Joint European Torus. Owned and managed by the UKAEA, CSC combines world-class publicly funded research into fusion power, commercial technology organisations and Culham Innovation Centre, to create a major concentration of high technology innovation and enterprise. CSC is home to Reaction Engines Ltd, which is developing a revolutionary Synergetic Air-breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which allows aircraft to fly into Earth’s orbit from conventional runways. Building work has also recently got underway at Culham on the RACE (Remote Application in Challenging Environment) building, a new robotics and remote handling centre with applications for example in deep space and deep sea exploration. The centre will create up to 300 new jobs by 2020. Further information on CSC is at: http://www.culham.org.uk/
Milton Park is one of Europe’s largest multi-use business parks, hosting 7,300 people and 200+ organisations. Previously a railway depot for military supplies and then an industrial estate it has evolved into a mix of office, industrial and science park space with particular strengths in the bio-tech and ICT sectors. The life sciences cluster in particular has grown rapidly, now comprising nearly 50 companies, spread across biotechnology, medical devices, contract and clinical research services and associated industries. The growth of Milton Park reflects the proximity of academic institutions and research centres based in the Science Vale UK area and across Oxfordshire. The park provides on-site business incubation facilities including a purpose built innovation centre for small and growing companies. Further information at: http://www.mepc.com/miltonpark/home.aspx
As a new planning space, SVUK is an emerging story built around a complex assemblage of sites and governance. The science parks themselves are somewhat diffuse and disparate entities, quite distinct in terms of their character and their future development requirements. They were not developed as integrated or self-contained entities and have operated quite separately from other key aspects of development activity – it is noteworthy, for example, that the three major sites contain almost no housing provision. In many respects the parks are individual and differentiated ‘clumps’ of high-tech activity projected onto a mainly rural background, rather than integrated and planned ‘campus-garden’ developments (see Forsyth, 2011; Forsyth and Crewe, 2010). They are also physically separated from each other across 10 miles of relatively open countryside and woven around an intricate network of historic villages and near to formally designated Green Belt land and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. While SVUK has emerging advantages in terms of its location in relation to national road, rail and air networks, infrastructure shortfall within and surrounding this ‘soft’ planning space is evident.
In light of this, the process of imagining and governing SVUK as a coherent high-tech space is not straightforward. There are significant challenges of mobilising popular, political and technical support and of coordinating appropriate funding streams across local government jurisdictions. There is the challenge of constructing and maintaining a meaningful identity for the area, as well as the critical task of integrating future development potential into the wider strategic planning of a semi-rural, village-based environment. Nevertheless, SVUK has emerged as a ‘soft’ planning space which has been recognised in formal planning policy and official documentation and has gained traction in securing support for planned growth both across local government boundaries and across the three major commercial sites. Notably, the Science Vale Oxford Enterprise Zone was designated by the UK Government in 2011, incorporating 92 hectares of development land across sites at Harwell and Milton Park.