Approval was secured to search for a partner in September. Credit: via Active Profile

Durham launches Innovation District partner search

The county council and Durham University, advised by Avison Young, are seeking a joint venture partner to take forward a business and research accelerator zone.

In September, Place North East detailed how a report was to go before the local authority’s cabinet asking for approval to launch the partner hunt.

Although it will also include commercial areas down to the riverside, much of the Innovation District will be based around Aykley Heads, the 367-acre strategic development area where an outline consent covering 414,000 sq ft is in place.

As part of the project, the council agreed to the principle of council-owned land at Aykley Heads being invested as equity in the JV partnership.

The thinking behind innovation districts, as witnessed in Manchester’s Oxford Road Corridor and Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter (KQ Liverpool), is to give businesses access to talent, research, networks, and resources within a setting that combines high-quality infrastructure and amenities.

Durham’s project looks to bring together public, private and education sectors to help drive innovation across multiple industries including environmental science, technology and engineering.

The Durham City Incubator is already located at Aykley Heads, supporting university spins outs and high-growth potential start-ups, as well as national and international innovation businesses.

Other key names in the picture are Atom Bank, Low Carbon Materials, Waterstons and Kromek.

Amy Harhoff, Durham County Council’s corporate director for regeneration, economy and growth, said: “Durham City Innovation District is of international significance and home to major businesses and institutions including the Durham University Business School and Atom Bank. We are delighted to bring forward the latest opportunity for investment at the innovation district with a 15-hectare tranche of land at Aykley Heads.

“We are seeking a joint venture partner to support us in delivering a vision for international, world-leading capabilities, at this attractive green oasis right in the heart of Durham City, only five minutes’ walk from the train station and with views of the UNESCO world heritage sites.”

Harhoff said that the incoming combined authority, which will see Durham combine with six other local authorities including Newcastle and Sunderland, with a £4.2bn devolution deal as the prize, should give it greater firepower yet:

“We are bringing this opportunity forward as the region enters into a strategically important transition to establish a Mayoral Combined Authority. With an initial £4.2bn regional devolution deal and the formation of one of the largest MCAs in the country, this development comes at an important time for our region.

“The development of Aykley Heads is identified as a key strategic priority in the devolution deal, which reflects its regional importance and the widespread recognition of the role it has to play in enabling growth in the North East.”

“For our part as a council, we are wholly committed to the delivery of this site. We are relentless in our ambition and confidence in County Durham, and through bold investment decisions and working with partners we’ve demonstrated over and over that we have an approach which underpins growth and success.”

In highlighting the council’s successes so far in supporting knowledge economy projects, Harhoff pointed to NETPark Sedgefield, something he said gives Durham confidence it can deliver “something truly extraordinary at Aykley Heads”.

Stuart Howie, head of regeneration at Avison Young, said: “Aykley Heads is already home to existing innovation-led businesses; however, this partnership will create a world-class campus to harness further innovation and investment, delivering economic and social benefits across the region.

“This is a brilliant opportunity for investors, developers and operators who excel at delivering innovation-led growth.”

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