RAU launches vision for £100m innovation village
By Sarah Wood | 20th January 2023
A concept for a sustainable, carbon neutral innovation village has been unveiled today (January 20) by the Royal Agricultural University (RAU).
The proposed £100m development, on a 29-acre site at the university's Cirencester campus, will be home to a community of entrepreneurs, policymakers, practitioners and researchers committed to addressing major global challenges.
It is central to the RAU's vision and aims to support industry, food producers, farmers and landowners in developing sustainable solutions for healthy land and nature, food production and resilience in rural communities.
The university will be liaising with local residents and stakeholders to shape the proposals as they progress, with a view to submitting a planning application to Cotswold District Council later this year.
Professor Peter McCaffery, RAU vice-chancellor, said: "A first for Gloucestershire - and indeed the UK - we are delighted to be working with the support of Cotswold District Council, GFirst LEP, Gloucestershire County Council and the Department for International Trade to establish a rural innovation village here at the RAU.
"Our innovation village will turbo-charge SME agri-tech enterprise activity with a distinctively rural feel. We anticipate we will increase the RAU's current contribution of £52m to the local and regional economy by half as much again over five years, when the project is up and running."
The site will comprise a number of integrated areas, including a research and innovation centre, live/ work residential units, business start-up and support spaces, as well as business and conferencing hospitality facilities.
A cluster development of this nature, applied to agriculture, food and land management, doesn't exist in the UK and gives the proposed innovation village the opportunity to impact globally, addressing issues such as climate change, sustainable land use and food production, biodiversity loss and heritage management.
The initiative will provide a rural complement to the proposed developments in the urban core of the county, such as Cyber Central in Cheltenham and The Forum in Gloucester.
The RAU is committed to ensuring that the innovation village will push the boundaries of sustainable design and has employed Hereford-based Architype, the leading Passivhaus architect with more than 30 years' experience, to lead the design process.
Design principles include construction methods and materials that will minimise environmental impact of the development, enabling energy efficient and low carbon ongoing usage, operations and maintenance of the site.
Low carbon transportation will be promoted in and around the site, which will be designed to protect and enhance biodiversity and, visually, the construction will complement the local landscape.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, chair of the RAU's governing council, said: "As well as benefiting the Royal Agricultural University, as a global centre for the future of sustainable farming and food production, this will also benefit the people of Cirencester and other local communities."
Mark Barry, director at Architype, said: "The innovation village is an amazing opportunity to create an exemplar ecological development for the university and wider community. We are excited by the potential to enhance biodiversity, revitalise access to the beautiful site and provide a thriving and vibrant new hub for Cirencester with an exciting breadth of new facilities."
Architype will be joined by Cirencester's OPS Structures and QODA MEP Consultants of Faringdon, meaning the core design team are all based within 60 miles of the site.
The landscape-led design will be the responsibility of BD Landscape Architects of Tewkesbury, whose job it is to develop a scheme that embodies the values of the university and supports the 'village'. The project is being overseen by Oxford-based Ridge and Partners, which is working closely with the RAU to provide project management and planning services.
Ruth Dooley, chair of GFirst LEP, said: "This mixed-use scheme, adding to the RAU's reputation as a global centre of excellence in agriculture, food and land management, will be a major boost to the economic development of Gloucestershire.
"Through fostering the emergence of new start-up companies and supporting the growth of scale-ups, as well as being a magnet for inward investment from elsewhere in the UK and overseas, this exciting innovation village will provide many new job opportunities across a range of subjects. It will also help in the delivery of new skills needed to tackle the challenges of food security and sustainable land management."
Cllr Tony Dale, Cotswold District Council cabinet member for the economy and transformation, said: "We have seen real and positive growth in our economy over recent years and this development, which is the biggest of its type in the district for a very long time, has the potential to add real value to local businesses and residents."
Cllr Mark Hawthorne, leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for innovation and sustainable investment in the county. We are very pleased to support this exciting project and I look forward to supporting it further as it gains momentum."
It is hoped that, in the first five years of operation, the new innovation village will double the current new business output of RAU's Farm491 and the Growth Hub, as well as providing skills, training, employment and affordable housing, targeted towards improving retention of 16-24yr olds.
The RAU hopes to gain full planning consent for the development by next spring.
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