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17 January 2023

Life Sciences roundtable report: How to turbo-charge construction in the Life Sciences sector

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Key Takeaways 

  • Early engagement with supply chain is crucial  
  • Suppliers should be treated as partners  
  • Two-stage development process is becoming the norm  
  • ESG should be in legislation to get sector traction  
  • Alternative materials such as timber should be assessed Insurance implications arise when using alternative materials like timber  
  • Retrofit considerations include floor-to-ceiling heights, power and external areas  
  • Planning system needs reform

As the life sciences sector continues to expand and innovate, Linesight brought together representatives from life sciences manufacturing and real estate for a closed roundtable event to discuss the key considerations required to plan, procure and develop built assets to support the sector. Below is a synopsis of the discussion, with the full report available for download. 

Managing suppliers 

One of the key challenges to tackle, the discussion found, is a lack of visibility around demand – “which can change overnight”. This has the knock-on effect of causing suppliers in this environment to be reluctant to commit to fixed-price lump sums”, said Nic Leonard, Senior Manager in Global Procurement at Charles Rivers Laboratories.  

This requires more creative thinking. 

Early engagement and collaboration with the contracting and supply sides are crucial, as is collaborative design, said Ed Hayden, Life Sciences Director at global architectural practice Scott Brownrigg. “We need to engage early and work closely with the whole supply chain to ensure the design of every element can be delivered.” 

Design options at an early stage should be managed carefully, however, added Fatos Peja, Design Principal at architecture and engineering practice HDR. “You can pick a material and by the time you present your project it may not be an option anymore, because the lead time has gone way over.” 

The developer’s view came from Will Fogden, Senior Development Manager for UK & Ireland at Kadans: “Across sectors, two-stage tendering is increasingly the norm and we are seeing more collaborative contractor input early in the design process. Whilst budget control is essential, we want to review buildability and supply chain pressures. This creates a more efficient procurement process and consistent design narrative for planning.” 

Innovative solutions  

In the current volatile market, a lateral approach is needed to deliver the right projects at the right time. This can mean, for example, considering retrofitting an existing building, even in the life sciences market where the perception that facilities are highly bespoke lead some to assume retrofit won’t work. 

Looking beyond the traditional life sciences areas of London, Oxford and Cambridge – the ‘Golden Triangle’ – was an option that needs more consideration noted Will Fogden. “There’s a natural push in alternative areas like Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow. The opportunity is there. It just needs further appetite from those people who are currently focused on the Golden Triangle to look further afield.” 

The role of ESG 

With construction being widely recognised to be responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions, the chair asked whether environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals could be a barrier to building facilities.  

Linesight’s Nigel Barnes said ESG was a consideration, but it would always be balanced against the sector’s ultimate aim of saving lives. He said carbon emissions can be controlled in the sector nonetheless, and the key is to look at the activities that will happen in the facility you are building. “Look at what it is you’re producing, and how efficient the process is, because ultimately much around the facilities you build will be determined by that process above other priorities.” 

Giles Heather, Director at Linesight noted life sciences clients still have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to decrease embodied carbon, and he explained how it’s being done: “We have built a service that can provide consistent and accurate assessments of a project’s embodied carbon count from an early design stage.  

This will play a vital part in our clients’ journey towards a robust, measurable net zero ambition. Unlocking innovation like this is key to ensuring that our industry is part of the solution to tackling the pressing social, environmental and economic challenges we face.” 

Policy and planning issues 

Some believe that the ESG agenda will only be driven more once it is embedded in regulations. That, and once sustainability “is in our DNA, just as health and safety is”, said Nic Leonard.  

Meanwhile, local government and policy could be improved to support life sciences construction projects. It was suggested some planners do not understand the life sciences sector properly.  

Better public positioning of proposed schemes – the jobs they created, the products they manufacture – could help. Giles Heather called for the “alignment gap” between government policy and planning policy to be closed.  

We also need to rethink how we use existing places, particularly those with in-built community benefits such as health facilities, life sciences and other social infrastructure. By placing community, health, sustainability and people at the heart of regeneration it will act as an enabler to deliver both homes and jobs for local people.” 

Conclusion 

Life sciences sector continues as a growth area for the UK, but it does face acute challenges which need to be overcome to ensure the UK remains a leading contributor to the continued fight for the improved health and wellbeing of the global population. The meeting concluded that providing the required facilities and real estate requirements to support the sector can be overcome through a collaborative supply chain, lateral thinking about developments and a local and central government support. And encouragingly, this growth can happen while ESG targets are met. 

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