BREAKING NEWS: Berkeley Green goes up for sale
By Simon Hacker | 27th September 2023
South Gloucestershire and Stroud College (SGS) has made a move to put Berkeley Green, its flagship Gloucestershire Science & Technology Park (GSTP), up for sale.
The news of the sale announced today (Wednesday September 27th) comes in the wake of a visit to the site by the government's Great British Nuclear (GBN) organisation, which is believed to be now likely to earmark Berkeley as a centre for science and research in the next chapter for the UK's nuclear power investment.
GBN has been tasked with finalising six sites in the UK for the new generation of small-medium nuclear reactors (SMRs). As well as visiting Berkeley, it has also assessed South Gloucestershire's nearby decommissioned nuclear site at Oldbury as a possible location for the reactors.
Sources suggest the most likely scenario is for SMR installation at Oldbury, with Berkeley's site, in recognition of the academic investment there since 2016, becoming a supportive centre for science, research and training.
Gloucestershire Science & Technology Park was set up in 2016 when the SGS Group paid the government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority £3m for a 999-year lease to take over the then-redundant Berkeley site. The county's local enterprise partnership, GFirstLEP, then stepped in to help finance the Park's early development – ploughing £7m into the new academic venture.
Kevin Hamblin, chief executive of SGS, said: "Berkeley Green is a strategic asset to Gloucestershire, but as a college we cannot do anything novel or anything that requires us to borrow money. We know that the site needs money put into it for development so the only option we have is to sell the lease to the land."
In total, the 993-year lease on the Berkeley site includes around 45 acres plus an additional area of more than 50 acres of riverbed on the adjacent River Severn.
Currently, 10 organisations, including SGS's University Technical College (UTC) are housed on the site. The UTC is an initiative to focus on technical education for students aged from 14 to 18, with the core academic focus being engineering, digital and cyber technology. Nearly 400 students currently study here which, Punchline-Gloucester.com understands, will not be part of the sale.
Mr Hamblin added: "These students are working with some of the largest companies in the area and in the UK."
Simon Bowen, interim chair of GBN is reported to have visited both Berkeley and Oldbury sites; Ian Mean, director of Business West's Gloucestershire Chamber, said he believed Mr Bowen is now compiling the SMR shortlist of six sites.
Mr Mean said: "If the government choose Rolls Royce to drive the SMR project in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire, it could be that they are built on the Oldbury site, with a science, research and training centre at Berkeley."
Mr Hamblin said: "I believe the value of our site is in the possible siting of the SMRs and the industries associated with that development. I am really excited by the prospect of the SMRs coming to Gloucestershire—it would be great for the economy of our county and local jobs."
In a letter to investors, SGS confirmed that it is now looking for expressions of interest to develop Berkeley by the end of October, with final proposals by Christmas and a transaction deadline of summer 2024.
In the prospectus for the lease's sale, Mr Hamblin mapped out the details of the site and its advantages to potential investors, explaining how former nuclear station were saved from demolition.
He said: "In 2016 when the SGS Group purchased the redundant Berkeley site from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the buildings were scheduled for demolition. Over the last seven years, SGS, working with partners such as Gfirst LEP, has successfully saved the unique facilities for future generations as Gloucestershire Science & Technology Park."
Key milestones have been the delivery of four high-quality learning environments, he added: "SGS Berkeley Green UTC, C11 Cyber and Low Carbon Centre, Gloucestershire Police's Sabrina Centre and most recently the Active Building Centre Low Carbon training facilities. Many of the older buildings on the park have been invaluable in providing low-cost facilities for science and technology businesses and projects, as well as community support."
Looking ahead, the prospectus states: "The GSTP project must now move on to a new phase, where the full potential of the site is realised, bringing all the buildings back into use will require a significant level of capital investment. As a publicly owned FE college, we cannot do this on our own, hence we are seeking an investment and development partner who can now lead on the regeneration on the park. This will allow SGS to focus on providing the skills and education that our economy needs for growth and decarbonisation at all our other campuses across the region. SGS are interested in discussing any proposals from interested parties for the next stages of the GSTP project."
The brochure also offers prospective investors some reassurance into the state of play for the adjacent Magnox Nuclear site, which commenced contruction in 1956. The station, powered by two reactors capable of generating sufficient power to serve an urban area the size of Bristol, began electricity generation started at the site in 1962 and ran for 27 years, becoming in 1989 the first commercial nuclear power station to be decommissioned.
So far the nuclear decommissioning process has involved :
● Removal of all fuel from the site in 1992.
● Demolition of structures such as the turbine hall in 1995 and cooling ponds in 2001.
● Removal of five of the 310-ton boilers in March 2012 to Sweden for decontamination and recycling.
● Completion of an interim store in 2014 for intermediate-level waste.
The report added: "In May 2023, a £30.8 million contract was awarded to Altrad for the design, asbestos removal, deplanting, demolition and construction works which will take place and conclude in the full removal of the four blower houses that surround the reactor buildings. This was previously slated to be completed when the reactor buildings themselves are demolished in the 2070s."
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