16 October 2008
By Paul Dicken
Attempts by the public sector to promote innovation in cities have been too narrowly focused on support services for science and technology, a think-tank has said.
The Centre for Cities report, Innovation, science and the city, said innovation had driven economic growth in cities. But policies have led to overlapping support services, creating 'gimmicky' science parks and innovation centres.
Cities from Bristol to Newcastle should focus instead on 'getting the basics right', such as cutting congestion, speeding up the planning process and improving the supply of affordable housing.
Hannah Brown, research manager at Centre for Cities, said: 'Even at a time of economic uncertainty, innovation is a key ingredient for business growth. But supporting innovation in Britain's cities isn't about gimmicky policy initiatives or niche business schemes.
'Instead, cities need to get the basics right – delivering good transport, better housing, faster planning decisions – to help businesses to innovate and compete.'
The report argued that the best way to support innovative businesses was to make a city a more attractive place to do business generally.
The report cites Greater Bristol as an example of congestion making a location less attractive to investors, with traffic speed in the city falling by 15.8% in seven years.
In Cambridge, another city with a competitive science and technology sector, a lack of affordable housing limited the scope of the university and industry to attract talented researchers and workers, according to the report. House prices in the city are almost ten times the average salary in Cambridge.
The report recommended that national, regional and city governments rationalise an 'already overcrowded collection of existing innovation and support services'.
The government should also let the six 'science cities' decide what to do with their status, including dropping the designation if they wish, the report said.