London developers must be nimble, flexible and open-minded to new areas in the capital if they are to reap the rewards being offered by the burgeoning knowledge economy market. But they should avoid being over prescriptive and above all ensure they are ready to meet the challenges being demanded by such a growing and diverse sector.
Those were some of the key points made at an NLA breakfast talk sponsored by GVA Bilfinger on the knowledge economy last week, which opening speaker Chris Hall, senior director of GVA Bilfinger, described as covering science, creative, media and technology subsets. London is important to the sectors - and they to it - primarily because of scale, with London’s economic output a quarter of the country’s growth – 18% since 2009, double the rest, and a workforce in the capital of which 53% have a degree. Traditional City sectors have grown but have been hit hard by the recession, said Hall, but although the press concentrates on the big companies like Google and their locational decision-making in TMT, 50% are SMEs that are reflective of a new ‘start-up culture’. But they are going beyond traditional core and ‘fringe’ locations, with new investors coming into the market with new models of providing space, and new locations being opened up by overland rail connections. ‘This is a tremendous opportunity for those looking to draw these sectors to your localities’, said Hall. ‘We think it is very dynamic so you have to be nimble and keep up with changes in the sector. It is very diverse – there is no one size fits all – but at the same time being over specific about what type of place and facilities you create may lead you down a cul de sac.’
Matthew McMillan, head of inward investment at LB Croydon, described the measures his authority is taking to attract tech companies, including pointing to Croydon’s travel connections, letting 21,000 sq ft of its own space to a tech incubator, improving local internet facilities, and attracting new ventures such as Boxpark to help to shift perceptions of the place. McMillan added that the authority has implemented business rate cuts and is assessing what the ‘new live/work space’ might be like to attempt to address affordability issues.
Argent partner Nick Searl said the key thing was to create businesses to attract the talent that London needs, with an emphasis on creating the right sort of place, as at King’s Cross, aided as that was by the lure of Central St Martins to firms which wanted to draw from its youth, energy, ‘vibe’ and footfall. ‘Creating a place that people actually want to come to and spend time in is absolutely fundamental’, said Searl. Euston, he added, is the next big opportunity, building on developments such as the Crick Institute.
Finally, Demand Logic chief executive Joe Short described his firm’s Cognicity Challenge winning design, which allows building users to glean efficiencies by using an embedded device that analyses performance. ‘We think we have totted up savings of approaching 3,000 tonnes of CO2 annually already’, he said.
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly