Finishing touches are now being made to the first building at Exeter Science Park with talks under way to draw down funding for further construction work in early 2014.
The 26 hectare site, near junction 29, has been hailed as a key plank of developing Exeter’s knowledge-based economy. About £240 million is expected to be spent on developing Exeter Science Park over the next 20 to 25 years, making it one of the most significant investments in the South West. Between 2,000 and 3,700 jobs are expected to be created as the site is fully developed.
Earlier this year a topping out ceremony was held for the first building on the site which will house science park developer Eagle One and other businesses.
Negotiations for a lease with the Blur Group to relocate its headquarters to the science park are nearing completion.
Talks are also under way to ensure that funding is in place to start work on the 30,000sq ft Science Park Centre, in January.
Science park coordinator Gerry Shattock said: “We’re at a critical stage. We’re close to signing a number of agreements between shareholders and stakeholders including the Homes and Communities Agency and the Local Enterprise Partnership with a focus on drawing down funding from the LEP.”
With even its chairman, Sir Bill Wakeham, acknowledging that progress on the site has been slower than he would have liked, it is the development of the Science Park Centre that is likely to raise the park’s profile.
As well as providing a cafe, business support services and incubation facilities, it will also host events and seminars.
Mr Shattock said that by 2015, the park would be on the radar of Exeter’s business community.
“In the next 18 months to two years it will have a real sense of identity when people start to go in there for workshops or networking events, there will be a sense of ownership. I think that’s going to be in 2015,” he said.
As work progresses on the Science Park Centre, an operator will be appointed to run the Science Park. this operator will then be charged with a marketing push to secure inward investment.
Mr Shattock said that he had been having informal discussions with potential tenants, adding that he was confident that the Science Park would have no problem in signing up tenants, despite the subdued economy.
“I think we can be confident. It’s going to take 20 to 25 years to develop the whole park. Given where we are with the economy we will more likely attract SMEs and start ups or science based entrepreneurs into the centre while large organisations are repairing their balance sheets,” he said.
“But we are approaching the tipping point where companies will no longer be focused on saving costs, they will be thinking about investing – they will be moving into an expansion phase.”
It is hoped that a focus on climate change and biosciences will help to create jobs in the knowledge economy, enabling graduates from the University of Exeter to remain in the city and even encouraging them to start their own businesses.
“That’s not where Exeter has come from in terms of its industrial heritage but it fits with the knowledge economy,” added Mr Shattock.