Developers in Edinburgh are hoping to build a ‘digital quarter’ on a site next to the city airport in a bid to attract domestic and international tech firms, and help further growth in the city’s burgeoning technology sector.

Crosswind Developments, an independent company set up by Edinburgh Airport owners Global Infrastructure Partners, have proposed the mixed-use development for a 30.4 hectare brownfield site around a disused runway.

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If approved by the city council, the ‘Elements Edinburgh’ project will feature 2500 homes and more than 1 million square feet of commercial space, including the dedicated digital quarter, hotels and retail units.

Ambitious project

John Watson, Crosswind’s CEO, says that the digital quarter “aims to be a place where start-ups, academia, ambitious tech firms and firms with a global presence can work and collaborate”.

He adds: “The planned ‘live–work’ approach to Elements Edinburgh is designed especially to appeal to tech and digital firms, based on similar developments in other parts of the world with top class connectivity and access to green space.” 

With plans to be a net-zero-carbon development, with more than 40% of the site dedicated to green and public space, the developers are aiming to put sustainability at the forefront of their plans. Existing air, rail and road connections are to be supplemented with a planned cycle route through the development in the hope of creating a unique selling point for the site.

Charles Bell of the project’s architects Corstorphine and Wright, says: “The hub-and-spoke design of Elements Edinburgh allows inclusive access, enabling greater mobility and accessibility for a wide range of people of all ages, including those with specialist needs and access requirements.” 

Mr Watson says that Elements Edinburgh will also create a ‘market square’, a key aspect highlighted by the recently government-commissioned Logan report on how to improve the Scottish tech sector. The commercial spaces will also be designed to be flexible to accommodate changing workplace requirements, allowing start-ups to grow and interact as they develop.

Burgeoning tech sector

In 2017, Edinburgh’s tech sector contributed £4bn ($5.19bn) to the Scottish economy and employed almost 60,000 people, according to Tech Nation, a UK government quango aimed at promoting the UK’s tech clusters.

On top of hosting the headquarters of travel comparison site SkySkanner and wealth management platform EZN – which are both unicorns with a value of more than $1bn – Edinburgh has also become a preferred destination for foreign tech firms. 

The city has attracted 32 foreign greenfield ‘tech’ projects since the start of 2017, according to fDi Markets, the FT’s greenfield investment monitor. This ranked Scotland’s capital joint third with Manchester among all UK cities in the period, surpassed only by London and Belfast.

The Logan report, published in August 2020, recommended that for Scotland’s tech ecosystem to develop, it needs further social infrastructure for start-ups as well as more funding, talent development and services to help start-ups scale.

A recent independent economic impact report estimates that should the Elements Edinburgh project go ahead, it will generate £460m of annual benefits to the Scottish economy and support 6600 jobs.

This article first appeared in the October/November print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here