Aykley Heads set for redevelopment as part of new Durham Innovation District

Sep 9, 2023 | Local News

An already thriving cluster in County Durham is poised for expansion and to be a key site within a brand-new innovation district.

Aykley Heads Business Park, in Durham City, is set to develop and to be part of the new ‘Durham Innovation District,’ which is to be delivered by Durham County Council working with the world-class Durham University.

The innovation district is set to be a ‘triple helix’ model of public, private and education sectors working together. As well as Aykley Heads, the district will boast both the new Durham University Business School and Milburngate, in the heart of Durham City.

The new innovation district in Durham City will build on the council’s track record of similar investment, including NETPark at Sedgefield, the UK’s premier science park, which is currently under expansion.

And to complete the triple helix, the county council’s Cabinet will next week be asked to support the procurement of a joint venture delivery partner. If agreed, this partner will work with the authority and the university to redevelop the wider Aykley Heads site as part of the new district.

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of the county council, said: “What we have done in recent months is reimagine our vision for Aykley Heads to a redevelopment of the site that is part of a wider innovation district that will have perfect conditions for businesses to grow.

“We believe this district can be of regional, national and international significance, and that it can be the driving force for County Durham’s future economic growth.

“The Durham Innovation District will be a uniquely attractive proposition in many ways. Not only is it centred in a UNESCO World Heritage Site city, but it will boast the triple helix that is the knowledge and skills of Durham University; the public sector jobs we are committing to Aykley Heads, which we hope will act as a catalyst for further development; and the expertise of a private sector delivery partner.

“The district will also boast excellent transport links including proximity to the East Coast Main Line and the A1, while the success of businesses already at Aykley Heads such as Atom Bank and Waterstons show the ingredients for success are already here.

“As with the expansion of NETPark with a third phase, the redevelopment of Aykley Heads and creation of the district are very much in line with the vision of our Inclusive Economic Strategy, which seeks to support business innovation, growth and higher levels of productivity. We look forward to bringing them all forward.”

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “We are pleased to be working in partnership with Durham County Council to develop our shared vision for County Durham to be a highly attractive place to live, work and study, in a prosperous region which delivers good jobs and new opportunities.

“We believe the combination of public, private and education sectors working together for Durham offers the potential to develop an outstanding innovation district including Aykley Heads, and drive the continuing growth of the County Durham economy.

“We look forward to playing our role in developing a close partnership in the next stage of this project and to bringing our ideas and expertise to this potentially transformative project.”

The report to the Cabinet meeting next Wednesday 13 September sets out how the council is proceeding with moving out of its current County Hall headquarters which will be demolished to enable the wider Aykley Heads site to come forward for redevelopment, with 381,936 square feet to be available.

The report also sets out how the county council will be a key part of Aykley Heads with under-construction new office accommodation for the authority on ‘Plot C’.

It also reveals the potential for the authority to acquire the Rivergreen Building at Aykley Heads and use it for office and civic accommodation – as well as conferencing facilities which businesses on the wider site could utilise.

The report explains how innovation districts are geographic areas with networks of knowledge-producing organisations such as universities, research bodies, cultural institutions, and knowledge-intensive businesses. They bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers, creatives, knowledge workers and investors to work together, to collaborate, compare and compete, creating the conditions for business growth.

It sets out how the university and county council have worked collaboratively on plans for Aykley Heads in recognition of the mutually beneficial role that they can play for both the University and the county’s economy. Councillors will be told that in line with the Memorandum of Understanding between the authority and the University, the partners are committed to collaborating and exploring options in partnership.

Cabinet will hear that a soft market testing exercise this year and last showed significant market interest from developers, institutional investors and long term develop and hold partners.

Following that exercise, it has been concluded that the Durham Innovation District will be best delivered and operated with the council working with a strategic partner which brings the skills, networks, investment, and expertise needed. By partnering, the council will retain long term influence over the district’s activity and a share in its future economic success.