Technology cluster looks set to move from Cambridge to King’s Lynn

Hopes are high that Norfolk can stem the brain drain that traditionally sees many high-tech jobs go to Cambridge as signs emerge of firms moving eastwards into the county.

As a shortage of commercial space in the UK's 'silicon city' centre has pushed rents higher, the EDP has learned that a technology cluster is in advanced negotiations to move to King's Lynn and relocate in the key Nar Ouse regeneration area (NORA) in South Lynn.

And West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney also revealed that the authority has recently received a spate of enquiries from hi-tech firms looking to set up in King's Lynn.

Meanwhile, in a further boost to the county's hopes of securing hi-skilled jobs, the Norwich Research Park project co-ordinator John Irving said there was a reverse in the trend for newly-formed science businesses to move to Cambridge, which comes hot on the heels of a government decision in March to invest �26m to deliver innovation from bioscience at the park.

Milllions of pounds in grants has already been spent in developing the NORA site.

But while business leaders and policy makers have welcomed the news, both insist the county must have the right conditions to harness the Cambridge overspill including investment in key infrastructure such as road and rail links and public services both in and around King's Lynn and beyond.

Tom Harrison, chairman of Morston Assets, which owns a large part of the NORA site said the three small technology businesses, employing a total of 18 people, would move into homes with offices on site and would have access to high-speed broadband, conference facilities and other business services at the newly-opened centre on King's Lynn Tuesday Market Place.

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He said firms had been attracted to the area for a number of reasons, including the fact that at up to �30 per sq ft, the cost of King's Lynn office space is around half that in central Cambridge.

'These towns that want to take advantage are not going to be able to unless they realise that they have to provide that which Cambridge provides,' Mr Harrison said. 'The science park (in Cambridge) is bursting and that is for a reason.

'Firstly there is a cluster around a knowledge base in Cambridge that attracts the businesses and that is pushing the rents up.

'Secondly Cambridge is a lovely place to live in or near. Families like it and you have to replicate that.' He said that at the Your Business Networks centre on King's Lynn Tuesday Market Place they were able to provide an extension to the Cambridge knowledge base and that local authorities had to plan for it over a number of years and ensure good health, education and public services, all of which required 'persistence'.

'It can be done and in West Norfolk there is a big partnership between the local authority, service providers, health and education. Is it perfect today? No it isn't. But we are going in the right direction', Mr Harrison added.

West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said that in the last fortnight the council had been getting enquiries from technology firms looking to set-up in King's Lynn as office space in the city is running low.

'Clearly it is very good news for King's Lynn if investment is coming,' Mr Daubney said. 'It has always made sense to me that we are just up the railway track from Cambridge. If people start working here then they start living here and their families live here.'

It comes as the government confirmed an enterprise zone in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, which aims to create up to 2,000 jobs and attract 80 businesses by 2015 and 13,500 jobs and 200 businesses over the 25-year lifetime, will be created.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, who has long-campaigned for hi-tech jobs in this county, said the King's Lynn news was 'hugely encouraging'.

'It supports the growing recognition of Norfolk to combine cutting edge world class small businesses with our famed quality of life,' Mr Freeman said. 'As Cambridge becomes increasingly congested and expensive we have a huge opportunity to make Norfolk the new home of choice for the exciting new businesses of tomorrow.

'We have the science at the NRP, we have the finance in the city of Norwich and we need to continue the investment in communications so that we can have more people working in or setting up small businesses close to home.'

He said that for every technology company relocating to Norfolk, there are many more jobs created in supporting sectors.

'This trend is good for all of us in Norfolk, not just the boffins,' he added.

North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham agreed that there was an opportunity for King's Lynn as businesses are priced out of the market in Cambridge.

'The A10 corridor for King's Lynn is just like the A11 corridor is for Norwich. It is a vital part of our future', he said.

He said that the 'forward looking' investment strategy in King's Lynn was already looking at providing more sites for IT and high technology industry.

'We want some heavy industry, but we want IT and high-tech business as well. There is an opportunity for people to see Lynn as a really good place. We have the quality of life. The historic town and the small residential villages. But it is important that we continue investing in the rail links.'

He also said that he would like to see work down on the A10 with an Ely bypass and a West Winch bypass.

John Irving, Norwich Research Park project co-ordinator, said: 'Historically the direction of travel has been in the other direction. 'Companies formed and spun out of the Norwich Research Park institutions and went to Cambridge because they felt that is where the money and the opportunity is.

'We are doing a huge number of things to reverse the flow. Our rents are pitched at two-thirds of what Cambridge rents are and we are endeavouring to make sure that money is available at the Norwich Reserach Park.'

• Tom Harrison sets out his vision for King's Lynn in The Business tomorrow.