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EXCLUSIVE: Bruntwood's Birmingham Springboard To National SciTech Success

Bruntwood plan to use Birmingham as a springboard for the national expansion of their SciTech science property venture with Legal & General.

Can the city take a lead in this fast-growing sector, or will rival players break into a market that has so far been a Bruntwood fiefdom?


Four months ago GVA began the hunt for a partner to develop Birmingham's new £300M life sciences park.

Acting on behalf of the University of Birmingham its task was to find a developer who could take on the remediated 9.9 acre site in Selly Oak, which already has outline planning consent for a 580K SF development.

Very soon we should learn who the lucky developer is, and if it is not Bruntwood there will be surprise — Bruntwood confesses it has been in talks, and it is a well capitalised leader in the sector. If another developer wins control of the site they would be the first serious rival Bruntwood SciTech has faced nationwide in its chosen niche sector.

The £360M tie-up between Bruntwood and Legal & General was also announced in October last year.

Bruntwood and Legal & General Capital have established a 50:50 partnership, Bruntwood SciTech, to drive science and technology growth in regional cities, with Birmingham a big focus for expansion. The deal will build on Bruntwood's acquisition in 2018 of the 80K SF Birmingham Innovation Campus, a move which was already expected to lead to a further 90K SF development. Nabbing the life science site would be a significant early win.

Talking exclusively to Bisnow Bruntwood SciTech Chief Executive Phil Kemp revealed for the first time that talks in Birmingham aimed at bringing the city's science partners together to create a new knowledge property quarter are just the start of a wider nationwide plan.

GVA has been appointed by the University of Birmingham to find a development and funding partner for the £300M Birmingham Life Sciences Park.

"In the first instance we want to be in the cities where we already have a base — so Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool. But anywhere where there is a strong research university is of interest to us," Kemp said.

"L&G Capital’s ambitions extend across the UK. It’s not going to happen immediately but over time and through our partnership we will look as far north as Edinburgh and Glasgow and as far south as Bristol. L&G Capital are already active in Newcastle with Newcastle Helix."

Kemp said it is early days outside the Bruntwood heartlands of Birmingham and Manchester, but exploratory work is already underway. Bruntwood is likely to follow into areas where either it, or its partners, already have strong interests. Fortunately L&G's interest in modular housing is exploring the same university-town markets, which produces synergies, Kemp said.

"We would be looking to have conversations in these cities — and actually L&G Capital may already be doing so. Its commitment and focus is broader than science and technology so they are in a wider dialogue. L&G Capital is involved with affordable housing and one of its partnerships is focused on modular housing in Leeds. It comes back to why it is the right partner for Bruntwood as a group because it cares about regeneration issues in our cities — and  doing something about it," Kemp said.

Bruntwood's Chris Oglesby and Legal & General's Nigel Wilson

Birmingham represents the first real proving-ground for the new SciTech approach. Birmingham is a better test than Manchester because Bruntwood does not have the two generations of contacts and goodwill it enjoys in its home city. Making a success of Birminghham would show that Bruntwood's SciTech approach could be successfully exported.

Bruntwood is already deep in discussions about a new knowledge quarter for Birmingham. It said it will first attempt an alignment of aims between the city council, the universities and the health service. Only then comes the search for sites.

"We bought Innovation Birmingham from Birmingham City Council. Aston and Birmingham City University are close neighbours, so we are collaborating on a strategic plan for the whole area with them and BCC. They both sit on our advisory board for Innovation Birmingham, along with the city council," Kemp said.

"We plan to work with our partners and neighbours, Aston University and Birmingham City University to develop the Knowledge Quarter together. There is a strong link with us providing facilities to support startups and spin outs and for corporates or SMEs based at Innovation Birmingham who want to attract talent from the universities."

Kemp said it is deploying the big-picture thinking that has won it friends in Manchester.

"Whilst they might have their estates or property team, our potential partners value the development and operational expertise that we bring. That big picture, strategic framework view: actually bringing partners together around creating that strategic framework. Again, it’s something we’ve done in Manchester and are just starting to do in Birmingham," he said.


And back in Selly Oak, is the excitement mounting? The life sciences park will align with the broader sector expertise already present in the region, with some 22,000 people employed at 600 companies across the West Midlands.

The uniquely co-located site will utilise the unrivalled healthcare infrastructure of Birmingham Health Partners, the Institute of Translational Medicine and BioHub Birmingham, alongside other centres of research and practice excellence located in close proximity to the site.

“The Park provides a fantastic opportunity for businesses to co-locate at the heart of our vibrant Birmingham Health Partners campus and work in partnership with our academic, clinical and patient community in order to accelerate new innovation into the clinic," Birmingham Life Sciences Park Director of Strategy Dr. Steve Taylor said.

“The innovation space on the park will bring together expertise in healthcare informatics, diagnostics, medical technologies and clinical trials to support the development and deployment of new precision therapies and diagnostics to deliver next-generation healthcare to our population and revolutionise approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.”

Following selection of a development partner, the Life Sciences Campus will be slated for commencement of works on site in January 2020.