Wednesday, November 14, 2012
DONE PROPERLY, NEW SCIENCE PARK COULD MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TO NORTH WALES ECONOMY
This time, Labour has agreed a compromise with Plaid Cymru which, in exchange for passing its financial plans, will result in thousands of additional apprenticeships and a new science park involving Bangor and Aberystwyth universities.
Given the way that the new Secretary of State for Wales has hit the ground running with his announcements on Wylfa and rail electrification in North Wales, it is not surprising that Plaid has made an effort to demonstrate that the region remains important to them electorally.
Indeed, the unexpected announcement that £10 million of capital funding is to be committed to the science park has enormous potential for the economic development of the region if managed properly.
Of course, there have already been earlier attempts to connect both universities with the business community through the Technium programme that, to be blunt, failed badly.
Both the CAST building on Parc Menai and Aberystwyth Technium, which cost the Welsh taxpayer over £30million to build and operate, were closed down by Ieuan Wyn Jones when economic development minister, having generated considerable debts and having had very little impact on the local economy.
Despite this, I think that the new science park can work if its leadership and location are prioritised.
First of all, it is fortuitous that Bangor has a Vice Chancellor with an excellent record in linking industry and academia from his time in Ireland. Certainly, if he takes the lead on this project and drives it forward, then the chances of success are increased considerably.
The second issue is that of location, which may be slightly trickier. Indeed, some may argue that a largely rural area such as North West Wales is the wrong place for a successful science park.
However, my own experience of working with colleagues at Linkoping in Sweden disproves that theory.
With only 105,000 inhabitants, this former market town currently has the largest science park in Northern Europe, being the base for 250 firms employing more than 6,000 people, with the majority of those generated from the local university.
But the real question is where will this new science park be located, given that Aberystwyth and Bangor universities are eighty seven miles apart?
In my opinion, it is unlikely to be based around Aberystwyth so will it be based around Bangor itself building on current developments such as Parc Menai?
Alternatively, will Lord Elis Thomas use his considerable powers of persuasion to get his University, and his Plaid colleagues, to put it into Trawsfynydd which is diplomatically half way between Bangor and Aberystwyth but which also has the added attraction of recently being granted enterprise zone status?
However, in my opinion, there is only one viable location that will make this project a success.
The recent announcement that a new power station at Wylfa B is likely to go ahead gives Anglesey a once in a lifetime opportunity to maximise the economic benefits for the region.
If the ‘energy island’ also had a science park, then it could become one of main centres for sustainable energy in Europe, attracting companies in the sector to the region, creating hundreds of well-paid jobs and taking real advantage of the academic expertise within the local university sector.
I am also convinced that this development could attract considerable additional funding from the science and technology budget of the UK Government.
Hopefully, such joined up thinking in taking advantage of a major infrastructure and energy project could, and should, add real value to the local economy and ensure that North West Wales has a bright economic future.