Cambridge University Innovation District gets green light

The university plans to add 370,000 square metres of academic floor space to the existing site to the west of the city

A new “Innovation District” in the city of Cambridge received the green light from the council yesterday (29 July), sparking development that the University of Cambridge hopes will almost quadruple the number of jobs on the site by 2031.

The university says the “restyled” site will enable academic and commercial research spaces – such as “Growth Hubs and Innovation Spaces” – to sit “side by side” to better support new start-up spin-out companies.

At the centre of the site, the university plans a series of “shared amenity hubs” that offer flexible teaching and study space, business and networking facilities and civic areas for talks, art exhibitions and social events.

The plan submitted seeks permission to construct 370,000 sq metres of academic floor space. The application submitted does not spell out the specific buildings – instead, it seeks the principle of future development.

First started in the 1960s, the West Cambridge Campus is already home to numerous facilities: the Cavendish and Whittle laboratories, veterinary medicine, materials science and metallurgy departments, the British Antarctic Survey, and countless other STEM research centres. Around 4,000 people work on the site – and the university hopes to increase this to 15,000 by 2031.

But the university – which received planning permission in 1999 for development on the site – said the current consents thwarted attempts to build social facilities, collaborative projects between academic departments and commercial researchers, and develop ‘high’ density buildings with good public transport access.

The development of West Cambridge will support the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic and nurture the entrepreneurial strengths of the Cambridge Cluster
– Prof Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations 

The new civic spaces will “complement” the existing sports centre, which is open to the public. “Pedestrianised plazas”, cycle lanes and a lake, gardens and orchards will also feature, the university consultation outlines. Cambridge plans for a solar farm – adding its hopes that the Innovation District will operate as a “testbed” for its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the entire university by 2048.

New buildings are already under construction for the to-be-relocated Department of Physics. New buildings destined for the chemical engineering, electrical engineering and biotechnology departments are also under construction.

Prof Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations at the University of Cambridge, said: “The West Cambridge Innovation District will be a vibrant new destination quarter within the city, connecting industry with academic expertise and creating a welcoming, people-focused environment, including leisure facilities, that will be enjoyed by the wider Cambridge community.

“The District will have a positive impact on biodiversity, and bring a wide range of new jobs at various skill levels, turning Cambridge brilliance into sustained economic growth.

“The development of West Cambridge will support the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic and nurture the entrepreneurial strengths of the Cambridge Cluster. Through architecture and landscaping, the restyled campus will foster connectivity and the kind of ‘serendipitous collisions’, or chance meetings, that spark new ideas and change the world.”

Read more: New government strategy will ‘put people at the heart of R&D’

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