MP's submission to KMSP

15 Jul 2004
Submission to the Kent & Medway Structure Plan

The Future Development of the Kent Science Park
by Derek Wyatt MP, Sittingbourne & Sheppey


1. I am the Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and have been since May 1997. In 1998-99 I completed the Parliamentary and Industry Fellowship scheme with Motorola.

2. In June 2000, I began a series of discussions with the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University (Sir Colin Lucas) which ultimately led to the founding of the Oxford Internet Institution in September 2002. Together with a number of Dons, I helped raise the £15 million including £5 million from HEFCE. This involved presentations to the DTI, the DfES and No.10. Already the OII is seen as the major global academic centre of excellence for the internet.

3. I am currently involved in trying to find funding for two further science based projects – a Babbage Institute and a Babbage Challenge for Africa.

4. I take a very hands on approach with businesses currently situated in the constituency or wanting to invest. I have helped small companies resolve their VAT disputes and others with their tax or overdraft facilities. With our multi nationals I have visited them on a regular basis and tried to take time to visit their headquarters in Finland and America and/or with their expansions plans. I have host lunches and dinners in the House of Commons for those companies thinking of moving to the Constituency and personally shown them round the DTI and elsewhere in Government. Recently, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to finesse the largest ever external investment from China which involved high level meetings in the City and the Embassy. I also have an interest in venture capital and belong to the All Party Group.

5. In 2002-03 I was the only MP to be invited by BT on their Management Change courses at Berkeley and Stanford.

6. On 14th July 2004, I had a 30 minute Adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the Kent Science Park. The Rt Hon Keith Hill MP, ODPM Minister responded. The text accompanies this response.

The Shell Research Centre which begat the Sittingbourne Research centre which begat the Kent Science Park.

7. The Sittingbourne Research Centre sits in my constituency and was recently renamed the Kent Science Park.

8. A change of name might suggest that the Park is attracting new science companies and that it is full. It is not. The Park has approximately 80% occupancy (about 800 jobs depend on it). Of that 80%, a half has science based companies but it is unclear how much of that half has applied scientific research of world class status. Nor is it clear where the 400 scientists currently live or how far they have to travel. The old Shell Research Centre (as it was originally known) had 1200 employees back in the early 1990s.

9. Of the remaining occupants (that is 50% of the space) none have science as their base.

The owners of the Kent Science Park

10. The newish owner of the KSP is the Lasalle Investment Management, which runs the pension fund for Mars (UK) Ltd.

11. Only if they can persuade local and national government departments of their ambitious plans will they stay for the long term .

12. According to the UK Science Park Association there has been no new Science Park built since 2000 without a heavy university involvement. In fact, apart from one or two established international renowned science companies, there has never been a Science Park established without a university or universities being attached.

13. The University of Kent, Imperial College and the University of Greenwich are the principle higher education establishments in Kent and none of them have plans to open a post graduate science department in Sittingbourne and if they did we would have to consider a more appropriate site which would more probably be on the Eurolink estate or on the Isle of Sheppey.

14. It would be my wish that at some stage in the near future that these three institutions merge to create a world class university for Kent to rival that of Oxford and Cambridge. If Imperial College could be persuaded to move out of London gradually over the next twenty years and become a university and with it an equivalent of an MIT, we would have the first piece of the jigsaw to create a science park.

15. There can be no certainty that if planning was given for an extension to the science park that it would be used for science. This is a speculative venture that is seeking to underpin its funding by cooperating with a number of land owners to create between 5000 and 6,500 additional homes to pay for both a new extension to the M2 and a southern ring road. However, it would definitely help its pension fund.

16. In an interview with The East Kent Gazette (19/05/04), Andrew Bull, European Director, Nick Sharp, Site Director and Simon Reynolds, Project Director were asked by Richard Jones, journalist EKG: "Will there be just science based companies? Will there be any links with higher education?" Andrew Bull replied: "There is a common misconception about science parks. Being a science park does not mean that we should be limited exclusively to science companies. It is more of an aspirational statement. It is very rare for there to be formal academic links. We intend to build eight bio-incubators, costing £10-£20 million for 20,000 square feet and we will meet representatives from Imperial College who are short of research space."

Swale Borough Council’s Local Plan 2006 -2016

17. Swale Borough Council’s Draft Local Plan which was published earlier this year expects approximately 9000 new homes to be built between 2006 and 2016. Of these about 8,000 are earmarked for brown field sites in accordance with recent changes to Government policy. Redrow has already put in an objection to the draft plan calling for an additional 10,000 homes on top of these recommendations.

18. In the last plan, almost all the Section 106 provisions were not taken up by Kent County Council. As a consequence we have a serious under investment in our infrastructure. We have a shortage of GPs. We are short of schools especially secondary schools; our primary schools are full or almost full as we have the largest cohorts at Year 4 and 5 in Kent. We have a serious lack of provision for sport. We have no cultural centre, no art galleries, no cinema on the Isle of Sheppey and no coordinated plans for a museum or museums to reflect our aviation, brick, paper and farming heritage. None of this will be resolved by an extension to what is only a half filled science park today.

The Thames Gateway Funding

19. The Government, to give it its due, has recognized this profound under funding and through the Thames Gateway has earmarked about £25 million for the Northern Distributor Road and some smaller projects including an analysis of traffic flows to and from the science park. It is still not clear whether the NDR will ever be completed because of funding issues.

20. The traffic survey that has been commissioned by Baptie predatedone action which has now happened and that is traffic calming in Tunstall village and two further actions that are anticipated – the Northern Distributor Road which has started and a new road from Fulston Manor School through to the Canterbury Road estate. As a consequence, the survey is already out-of-date before its results have been published.

The Highways Agency

21. The Highways Agency is the non-Government body that makes decisions about motorways.

22. Apart from one new extension to a motorway the Highways Agency has not granted any new exits to or from a motorway. In email correspondence with me it has confirmed that it opposes a new exit off of the M2 to an extended science park. Only the ODPM could over rule this decision.

23. There is a further need to counsel caution about a new extension and that is the law of unintentional consequences. Any new exit off of the M2 would open the North Weald of Kent to development as there would have to be exits and entrances to both south and north of the existing M2. The North Weald is an area of outstanding natural beauty and its very existence would be threatened by such a move.

Swale Borough Council

24. I would welcome their comments with respect to the file note that I discovered which reads as follows:

KMSP Deposit Consultation - Policy NK3 dated 10/11/2003

Name: Mr Brian Lloyd (on behalf of SBC)

Consultee comment: Amend (e) to read "expansion of the Sittingbourne Research Centre as a mixed science cluster supported by the provision of a southern Sittingbourne Relief Road linking the A2 to a new junction on the M2 motorway."

KMSP Deposit Consultation - Policy FP4 dated 10/11/2003

Name: Mr Brian Lloyd

Consultee comment: Reference to Sittingbourne Research Centre to read "Sittingbourne Research Centre, supported by the provision of a southern Sittingbourne Relief Road linking the A2 to a new junction on the M2 Motoroway".

25. Unless, I have completely misunderstood the nature of the note, it seems to me that the Borough Council has made some kind of supportive statement about the science park before it has been agreed by the locally elected councillors. Can Swale Borough Council be both judge and jury over this issue?

New science park; no local jobs

26. Our secondary schools in Sittingbourne and Sheppey need major investments. Sheppey’s three tier system is under review and we must all hope that change there happens quickly. In Sittingbourne, only one school – Westlands – has achieved special status (Computing & Maths). The two grammar schools have yet to apply whilst both Fulston Manor and Sittingbourne Community College have so far been unsuccessful with their bids. Last year, Borden Grammar School (Boys) had one of its lowest ever acceptances for university places.

27. We have no Further Education College in Sittingbourne. In Sheppey we have a successful Sheppey College but it offers courses in hairdressing and building not in applied science or mathematics.

28. Without either an FE College or a University, it is highly unlikely that any of the skilled jobs on offer at an extended science park would be filled by local people. This begs the question then as to where they will come from?

29. Let us assume they will come from, from where? We have a surfeit of science parks in the UK, so where will these new companies come from in the first place, but maybe that’s a cheap shot, where will the people come from and where will they live?

30. Well, one things for sure, with 9000 new houses in the Draft Local Plan we think we can accommodate them.

31. The Kent & Medway Learning Skills Council has just published its 14-19 recommendations for Swale and Canterbury and its recommendations should be studied by KCC and SBC before a decision is reached. As if I have to re-emphasise the point we do not have the skilled workforce for a science park and nor would we have for a decade without an FE, a single sixth form college or an academy plus a university post graduate department.

32. Given we do not have the skilled work force, an expanded science park would draw its employees from Greater London. The science park therefore wants to offer a quicker route to its buildings other than through Sittingbourne or the Oad Street-Tunstall rat run.

33. Therefore, KSP has tried to resolve how best to do this and has concluded that the only way it can do it is by requesting a new southern ring road to Sittingbourne.

The Proposed Southern Ring Road

34. My own view is that the officers and executive members of Swale Borough Council have decided that now the Northern Relief Road has started that the time is ripe to debate, discuss and decide on a southern ring road.

35. How fortuitous then that just as this discussion has started to formulate along comes a company offering it on a plate. Of course, it must seem attractive and, of course, it is. My constituents who live in the rural parishes of Borden, Tunstall, Bapchild, Bredgar and Rodmersham recognise this debate and wish to be part of it. But they would like it separated out from a science park that wants an extension and 5000-6500 additional houses, representing as much as 15,000 to 18,000 additional people on top of the 27,000-30,000 people expected by 2017.

36. A Southern Ring Road would have to be funded either by KCC or by the ODPM. It is doubtful either would do so without the additional housing acting as a quid pro quo or as we sometimes know it, a Section 106.

37. Let us look at a variety of routes for a Southern Ring Road but let us examine these without the pressure caused by the science park application.

In Conclusion

More questions need to be asked about the current status of KSP.

** What plans has it discussed internally to transform the current Park either upwards or by gradual replacement?

** Has it discussed moving the 50% non science companies to an alternative site on the Eurolink estate?

** What absolute guarantees will be in place as part of a “trust bond” that if the park is approved that only science based companies will occupy the new build? We already know that actually it can only build another “business park” with no guarantees.

** What happens then to the old park as those science companies on it are tempted to cross the road?

** Will this become just another business park?

** What happens, if as I suspect, the fad for science parks is in decline?

** What are the implications for the park if no world class higher education institute is tempted to relocate?

Finally, I have read the objections that Lasalle Investment Management have raised with Swale Borough Council. I am mildly amused at the number of Government documents it has listed that might support it claims. I am more interested in the ones they have failed to quote from.

By far the most important was:

Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004 – 2014. Published July 2004 by H M Treasury, DTI and DfES

Our priorities for the communities that make up Sittingbourne and Sheppey which will see it grow from about 125,000 to over 150,000 by 2017, irrespective of a science park or not, should be:

** SureStarts for Eastchurch, Rushenden, Milton and Murston

** keep improving our primary schools

** one system of secondary schools especially on the Isle of Sheppey

** an FE or sixth form college or academy asap

** a post graduate university department

** complete the Northern Distributor Road so we can analyse its impact

** bring a by pass to Newington

** start the Rushenden link road

** expand job opportunities on the Island

** create greater sporting and cultural entities

None of these will happen as a result of a science park.

Let’s fund these improvements first before contemplating an increase of 15,000-18,000 that will frankly overwhelm us.

Finally, in a letter to me in April 2004, Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart wrote:

"In my view, a development anything like 6,000 homes would be totally unacceptable."