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The Crown Estate announces significant new partnership to provide vital workspace to support UK’s science, technology and innovation ambitions

Property & Places

The site of the former Debenhams in Oxford will soon be transformed into a c.100,000 sq ft life sciences, technology and innovation space in the heart of the city, as The Crown Estate partners with Oxford Science Enterprises and Pioneer Group to provide vital lab space in the region. The project represents an initial investment of c.£125 million by The Crown Estate, marking the start of a partnership that has a long-term ambition to invest up to £1.5 billion to support the UK’s science, technology and innovation sectors.

A lack of available and suitable real estate, especially for early-stage businesses, has been identified as a key barrier to growth for the UK’s science, technology and innovation industries, especially in supply-constrained locations such as Oxford.

This partnership presents a significant opportunity for the UK to build on its growing reputation as a tech ecosystem - already ranked as the third largest in the world, and largest in Europe1.

Oxford is the third most intensive science and innovation cluster in the world2 and is ranked second globally for Life Sciences Research3. Its university is the leading academic institution in the world for university spinouts, with 210 founded since 20114, adding to the pool of successful UK startups that secured more VC funds than France and Germany combined in 20235.

In order to seize this opportunity for Oxford and the wider country, the three partners bring together the industry-specific expertise and capabilities that underpin their collective ambition: to deliver the real estate needed to support the growth of the UK’s next generation of innovative companies.

Oxford Science Enterprises is one of the world’s leading builders of university spinouts, having worked alongside academic founders to found, fund and build over 80 transformational companies created from the University of Oxford’s ground-breaking research. OSE brings access to a cohort of the country’s most exciting science and technology businesses and a deep understanding of their requirements as they scale.

Pioneer Group is Europe's only life sciences growth facilitator to provide a complete ecosystem of laboratory space, venture funding, strategic guidance, and state-of-the-art real estate. The ecosystem, established in 2003, is designed to nurture and accelerate the growth of enterprises focused on planetary and human health. It currently manages a portfolio of more than four million sq ft in key locations, including London, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Dublin.

The Crown Estate has a diverse national footprint, proven ability to bring together the public and private sectors, and a unique structure compelling it to act in the long-term national interest. It has identified science, technology and innovation as a sector where it can have a meaningful impact to support regional economic growth. By working in partnership with others, it can provide the space that is desperately needed to prevent world-class UK start-ups looking abroad, drive wider regeneration and attract inward investment.

Subject to planning, construction at the former Debenhams site will begin next year, with the lab space due to be fully operational by 2027/2028. The site will provide a much needed, high specification solution to the needs of Oxford’s fast-growing science, technology and innovation sectors.

The partnership between The Crown Estate and Pioneer Group also has the potential to expand beyond Oxford to other regions, supporting future science, technology and innovation growth nationally. The Crown Estate is investing where it can have the most meaningful impact in addressing areas of national need, meeting local challenges and realising opportunities.

Dan Labbad, Chief Executive at The Crown Estate said: “Science, technology and innovation are vital growth sectors for the UK as the nation looks to cement its position at the forefront of innovation globally. To realise this goal, the sectors must be supported with mission critical partnerships that bring together venture capital and expertise in asset management and property investment, matching the immense talent and ingenuity of the companies that are growing at pace. This partnership represents our long-term commitment to supporting national and regional growth, and we hope others in the industry will also come together and continue to invest in sectors that are of significant value to the UK.”

Ed Bussey, CEO at Oxford Science Enterprises said: “The UK’s science and technology sector is full of promising businesses with the potential to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges, but they often struggle to access the right lab or start-up space – which can be a significant barrier to entry for companies as they scale. As a key player in Oxford’s innovation ecosystem, we’re proud to partner with The Crown Estate and Pioneer Group to support entrepreneurs and companies working at the forefront of the UK’s science superpower strategy. This collaboration will ensure the next generation of pioneering life science and technology companies have the necessary space to grow their operations in the heart of Oxford and continue to export world-leading research from the region to the world."

Richard O'Boyle, Executive Director at Pioneer Group, said: "We are thrilled to partner with The Crown Estate and Oxford Science Enterprises, two industry-leading organisations, on this pioneering initiative. Our joint effort will not only transform the former Debenhams site into a leading life sciences hub but also deliver extensive developments throughout Oxford. This collaboration will create a central nexus for scientific innovation, supported by our accelerator and launch programs aimed at empowering science entrepreneurs. With the UK’s largest network of life science experts, cutting-edge labs, and robust support systems, we are poised to redefine industry standards and foster a vibrant scientific community. This is just the beginning of a far-reaching and impactful partnership that will enhance innovation across our existing locations and beyond."

1, HSBC Innovation Banking, UK innovation 2024 forward look

2 2023 Global Innovation Index (GII)

3 QS World University Rankings by Subject 2024: Life Sciences & Medicine

4 Beauhurst, Spotlight on Spinouts, UK academic spinout trends, April 2024

5, HSBC Innovation Banking, UK innovation 2024 forward look