The strong management and vision of the University of Surrey have created one of the most prestigious and successful business parks in the UK.
The University of Surrey was originally the Battersea Polytechnic, established in 1880 to serve the growth of technology-based businesses of the day in London.
In 1966 a Royal Charter decreed to make Battersea Polytechnic into a University. At the time, Guildford was experiencing a declining manufacturing base associated with the automotive industry, and associated job losses. The Guildford Borough Council wanted the university as it would provide opportunities for employment and facilitate the shift from manufacturing to a knowledge-based local economy; and there was sufficient space to build the campus.
Together with the Government’s original £3m investment and private donations, including those from local people and businesses, the funds were raised to secure 300 acres of land on the slopes of Stag Hill and also at Manor Farm less than a mile away. After a Public Enquiry, planning permission was given to the University to develop the Stag Hill site. In 1965 a Public Enquiry noted that Manor Farm would not be developed for 30 years.
Money from the government funding body, The University Grants Committee (UGC) and a £1 million grant from Surrey County Council were used to develop the University’s initial phase on Stag Hill completed by 1968. This provided the core facilities, academic buildings, student residences, recreational areas and construction of the Cathedral roundabout and associated A3 road intersection – a planning requirement to link the two parts of the campus at Stag Hill and Manor Farm.
Science and technology parks were gaining popularity in the 80’s. With increasing financial pressures due to declining funds, the University of Surrey moved ahead to build the The Surrey Research Park.
In 1981 the County Structure Plan brought forward the use of some of the land to build the Surrey Research Park as it was recognised that the University of Surrey needed to extend its links with industry.
By 1989 there were 65 companies on the Research Park. The development of the Research Park has strengthened the university’s regional economic development role, which became explicit government policy for higher education since 1997. The Surrey Research Park has been at the forefront of this strategy.
The tradition of working closely with industry, developed by Battersea Polytechnic, continues through current courses in Engineering, Science and applied aspects of the humanities. These feature a “sandwich” (co-op education) programme in which an “industrial professional training year” forms part of the four-year degree programme. The University of Surrey has extensive research contracts and links with industry and the Surrey Research Park was key in promoting this important policy of cooperation with industry.
An effective Management Team leads the Park to become a Leader in the development of Technology Parks.
In 1981 the University of Surrey recruited a small management team from its academic departments. It was established as an enterprise unit within the University’s administrative structure with delegated powers to raise and invest funds for the Park and carry out its development.
This team has remained intact for over 20 years and has taken on additional responsibility for long-term land use planning for the University, as well as the construction of new buildings across its whole estate. In essence, the team has created the University’s largest single asset that it manages through the Foundation Fund Bank Account.
The team initially consisted of the Director of the Park and a secretary. By 1983, when building began, a Development Director was recruited from the University’s Department of Civil Engineering. In 1987, a professional accountant joined.
This team is supported by a Research Park Management Group, which meets regularly to informally approve investments and longer term strategic developments. The Management Group comprises the Vice Chancellor, University Secretary and Registrar, the University Director of Finance, a Senior Pro Vice Chancellor, the Director of Building and Estates and Park’s Director and University’s Development Director. In turn a Board, known as The Research Park Executive, supports this Group. This Board has delegated powers from the University’s Finance and General Purposes Committee to authorise investments.
To initiate the development in the early 1980’s a long leasehold interest in a small area of the University’s landholding was sold to the then Associated Examining Board (AEB) now known as AQA. The funds for this were used to pay for the installation of the initial infrastructure.
With Phase 1 of the development secured, the University identified a potential “under tenant” – BOC. The University’s strengths in terms of its Departments and its activities in Chemical and Process Engineering were of benefit to BOC and hence they established working links with the University. A site was sold to BOC UK Limited for its headquarters and technical centre, now known as the Priestley Centre.
The premium paid by this investment was used to fund a first phase of speculative buildings; known as Chancellor Court, all five of these speculatively built buildings were let “off plans” to the first tenants. The rental income stream allowed the University to support further borrowings and finance the phased development of the remainder of the Park through bank borrowings.
Further investment created an incubator centre, The Surrey Technology Centre, and space for its “graduate” companies to occupy in Frederick Sanger Road, Huxley Road and Stirling House. The Technology Centre was also developed in three phases, each enabling the cost of its central business support services to be spread over more tenant companies.
By March 2015, 90% of the Park had been developed with just two remaining sites, known as George Stephenson Place and Faraday Court, undeveloped.