In the latest episode of PropCast, Andrew Teacher speaks to Anna Strongman, CEO of Oxford University Development (OUD), a joint venture between Legal & General and Oxford University. OUD is bringing forward seven research and residential development sites in Oxford, a city at the beating heart of Britain’s knowledge economy. 

Strongman discusses the challenges and opportunities that come with bringing so many different development sites to Oxford, navigating the push and pull of the city’s different needs and demands.

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Oxford is a multifaceted city — a market town, innovation hub, university, and a site of picturesque and historical beauty – and Anna Strongman insists that speaking directly to locals and being respectful of such disparate and often contending worldviews is key to securing a productive future for the city.

“We’ve got to talk to the local community about actually addressing housing affordability, creating the innovation ecosystem to enable people to solve massive global issues like climate change, cancer and energy sources,” she says.

“The scientists at Oxford are trying to address these massive issues we all face and we’ve got to somehow talk about those to the local community in terms of what matters to people.”

Oxford’s importance to the UK’s economy is well understood, but the city’s need for appropriate real estate is discussed far less often.

OUD exists to maintain and enhance Oxford University’s research and educational objectives as well as to support the wider Oxford community and economy through a targeted development programme.

The joint venture between L&G and the university, which is backed by £4 billion of investment capital from L&G, focuses on four key areas: the academic estate, residential homes, infrastructure, and commercial innovation space.

“The JV partners are committed to the future of Oxford,” she explains. “They’re bringing forward their sites to deliver operational assets, which will really underpin the future.”

Working in close partnership with Oxford City Council, Cherwell District Council, Oxfordshire County Council and other stakeholders brings with it not only a great insight into the needs of the community, but also collaboration.

OUD is initiating some of the most productive changes to the city of Oxford in recent memory, including the Begbroke Science Park and The Life and Mind Building (LaMB), the latter holding precedence as Oxford University’s largest ever building project to date.

Enabled by £200 million of investment from L&G, LaMB will deliver 268,000 sq ft of research space and academic facilities. Future developments include other academic, residential and innovation spaces in Oxford city centre.

Begbroke Science Park, on the other hand, entails 2000 homes, two to three new schools, 1.5 million sq ft of new lab space alongside transport links, parks, and a large amount of public realm.

Strongman joined OUD after a more than decade-long stint at Argent, where she led on Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross – a development that is now held up as a prime example of public realm done well.

“I realised through my work at King’s Cross that public realm in itself is a civic amenity,” she notes.

A primary goal of OUD is to bring forward its developments in a way that facilitates innovation, flexibility, and open-mindedness. Strongman argues that these values should be built into the DNA of its projects.

“I think creating a genuine culture of innovation is tied to the flexibility of real estate, creating a range for bench startups through to space for bigger organisations to come,” she adds.

Real estate built in this way can support the innovative startups and spin-offs that will be crucial to ensuring Oxford’s and the wider UK’s status as a world-leader in life sciences.

“A lot of those spin outs and businesses, if they can’t find space in Oxford, they go to the States,” Strongman points out.

Given OUD’s long-term outlook, ESG has been a primary consideration. “How do you deliver high levels of biodiversity whilst ensuring that your open space delivers as much amenity as possible?” she asks rhetorically. “That comes down to practical things – can you let the dogs run around in the field that’s meant to have all the skylarks in it?”

Whilst Strongman’s role as OUD’s CEO certainly comes with its challenges, the rewards are manifold. Projects like those driven by OUD will further propel the productivity of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, ultimately setting the foundations that will transform the UK economy and, as a result, deliver much-needed economic growth.

LISTEN to this podcast via Apple, Amazon, Spotify or SoundCloud (and many other platforms) or just use the player above.