What’s happening at Begbroke?

Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) invites you to a virtual event on 30 March to find out more.

It’s an exciting time for the future of the University’s research and teaching facilities. The Life and Mind Building in Oxford’s science area recently reached its highest point, and construction work on the Schwarzman Centre for our Humanities Division is underway. These are two of the biggest building projects we have ever undertaken, but something even bigger is gathering momentum just north of the city – our plans to significantly enhance the Begbroke Science Park over the coming decade. 

Portrait of Patrick Grant

For many years, this University-owned science park has given our academics and research students a place to carry out cutting-edge research, to collaborate with industry and to develop innovative ideas into new products and technologies with the potential to address pressing challenges and improve the lives of people all over the world. 

Begbroke is now at the centre of perhaps the most ambitious development project we have ever undertaken. With our joint venture partners Legal & General (L&G), we aim to establish a future-focused innovation district that’s both an expanded hub for research, innovation and entrepreneurship, and a unique, inclusive place to live. We will create homes, facilities and jobs that will benefit the wider community and help address Oxford’s need for affordable housing. 

We are now in a position to be able to share more detail on these plans. I will host an online briefing on Thursday 30 March, from 10–11.30am, with my colleagues from Oxford University Development (OUD – a key part of our joint venture with L&G) and Estates Services, to update you on the exciting plans for Begbroke and what they might mean for us and for the wider Begbroke community. No matter where you work or study, you are warmly invited to attend and hear about our vision. 

Please register to attend using this online form.

At the briefing, members of the international, inter-disciplinary design team will outline the development masterplan, with illustrative ideas of how the innovation district might look. You’ll hear about the challenges and opportunities the project presents over the next decade or so, and have a chance to ask questions and comment on the plans. You’ll also hear about the many opportunities to get involved. 

An innovation community for the future 

Our hope is that this exemplar mixed-use development across 415 acres of University land, with the expanded Science Park at its heart, will ultimately provide 1,800 new homes – a large proportion of them available at affordable rent prices to eligible University and college staff – along with new schools, early years childcare, community facilities, shops and places to eat and drink. 

Begbroke aerial photo

The innovation district will be a model of sustainability, with energy-efficient homes that allow residents and their families to live close to where they work and study. The district will also be a landscape-led development, comprising of a social farm, nature reserve, conservation area, public parks, playgrounds and sports facilities. There will be new sustainable transport links to Oxford and surrounding towns and villages. Additionally, some 54% of the site will be public open space, with the aim of improving existing biodiversity by 20% and achieving net-zero sustainable development status by the time the scheme is complete. 

The community will be built around research, development and collaboration. Begbroke Science Park has a remarkable track record of incubating transformative products and technologies, through co-location of academics and innovative businesses, spin-outs and industry collaborations. These interactions have led to real-world impact – from fuel additives that make diesel engines cleaner and more efficient, to revolutionary gene sequencing technologies. We wish to scale-up these interactions while maintaining the aspects that have secured Begbroke’s success – particularly its promotion of informal interactions between research and business and its beautiful rural setting.

We know that many more companies, including those originating from University research, want to base themselves at Begbroke, and fast-growing companies on-site would like to stay as they scale-up – but we have no appropriate space. Therefore, construction work on two new lab-enabled buildings is already well underway, thanks to the joint venture partnership with L&G, and in the next two years these will almost double the Science Park’s usable floor space, with one offering flexible space for University research groups and the other available to the private sector. 

But even beyond these two new buildings, the University’s need for 21st century flexible lab space to replace aging facilities and for affordable living space will increase. The new development at Begbroke will give our researchers and others room to live well, think big and expand their work in amazing new directions, and to work across boundaries. 

The project is a unique research opportunity in itself, and we want to facilitate its use as a ‘living laboratory’ for University and other researchers, to help us understand and improve aspects of the development – from biodiversity and wellbeing to energy usage, transport and archaeology. We have made funding available for research projects that can use Begbroke as a test-bed for their research ideas, via the Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund. If you have an idea to share or want to register your interest, use the online form or email [email protected]. We would love to hear from you. 

OUD are managing the project’s design, planning and consultation. After incorporating feedback from staff, local residents and others, they intend to finalise the masterplan this spring and to submit an outline planning application over summer 2023 after further consultation. As the project then builds momentum, there will continue to be multiple opportunities for your engagement and feedback.

I hope you share the excitement as work at Begbroke gathers speed, and I look forward to telling you more about it at the briefing in March.

View an overview of the current Begbroke illustrative masterplan.