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Medway Council in the south-east UK is hoping to transform part of a former runway into a hi-tech innovation centre. Jason Mitchell reports.

A new innovation park in Kent in south-east England is planning to generate 1300 highly skilled jobs within the next few years.

Innovation Park Medway ­– which is located at Rochester Airport in the northern part of the county, close to the River Thames – offers 100,000 square metres of commercial space in a prime location between London and the European mainland. In July, South East Local Enterprise Partnership, a strategic development agency, agreed to provide £4.4m ($5.71m) of funding to develop the 22-hectare site, which is owned by Medway Council.

Part of the masterplan

The park is one of three sites that make up the North Kent Enterprise Zone and is located only 57 kilometres from central London and 72 kilometres from the port of Dover. The local authorities have drawn up a draft masterplan for the park’s development, which should be fully approved in the next few months.

“We would like innovative companies and hi-tech engineering firms to locate in the park,” says Alan Jarrett, leader of Medway Council. “Many local companies in these fields are keen to expand and to move to the park. There are 12,000 students at local universities, so there is a big pool of local talent to draw upon. We hope the park will create many high-value-added jobs.”

Four universities are located close to the park: Kent, Greenwich, Canterbury Christ Church and the University for Creative Arts Rochester, while about 14,000 companies are based in the Medway area.

Rochester Airport opened in 1933 as a base for civil aviation but was bombed heavily during the Second World War, though it hosted commercial passenger flights in the 1950s and 1960s. It now consists of two grass airstrips; one will be turned over for the innovation park’s use and Medway Council would eventually like to tarmac the other one. The park’s first tenant is the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, which shifted its operations base from Maidstone in Kent. 

“The park will focus on hi-tech, high-growth, knowledge-intensive industries,” says Chris Broom, head of investment at Locate in Kent, the county’s investment promotion agency. 

“It would like to attract companies in the engineering, industry 4.0 and automation spaces. Medway already has a strong manufacturing base with important companies such as BAE Systems and Delphi Technologies located there. The park will generate many highly skilled jobs and will help to keep graduates from the local universities in the area,” he adds.

Firms that move to the park will qualify for business rate discounts of up to £55,000 annually for up to five years. The local authorities will also grant local development orders that fast-track the planning process and provide a high degree of certainty for businesses investors and developers.

Land up for grabs

Mr Jarrett says companies that locate at the park will also benefit from competitively priced real estate and business land. Construction of its first phase should start in late 2019.

The park complements the Medway Innovation Centre and Innovation Studios (which opened in mid-2017). It is located close to junction three of the M2 motorway and junction six of the M20, offering easy access to London, the M25 (London's orbital motorway) and continental Europe.

Besides the innovation park, North Kent Enterprise Zone includes two other locations at Ebbsfleet Garden City – a new garden city close to Dartford and Gravesend that will provide 15,000 homes – and Kent Medical Campus, an academic, health and science centre.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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