These opportunities have arisen following big pharma company Sanofi’s announcement in 2009 that it would cease production at its site in Dagenham later this year.
The area is no stranger to industrial shock, but factory closures typically result in land put up for sale and large-scale redundancy. Sanofi has chosen a different route after its Dagenham-based managers decided that they wanted to leave a genuine legacy for the area that could also offer a chance for investment in a quality commercial estate and science park.
The park, called Businesseast, will take in most of the 108-acre (44 ha) Sanofi site. Rather than building facilities that need long-term tenants to recoup construction costs, the company plans to retain as many of its existing premises as possible. The hope is that this will attract businesses able to repurpose them with flexible leases made possible by the smaller outlay, and pay-as-you-go support services.
Sanofi needed strong evidence that this unusual model of real estate management could provide a return before taking the idea forward. Enter Heath Business and Technical Park, in Runcorn, Cheshire.
More than a decade ago, chemicals giant Imperial Chemical Industries had planned to close its divisional headquarters at the Heath, leaving behind its offices and laboratories. The managers who ran them saw an opportunity and formed Site Operations Group in order to buy the Heath and turn it into a 60-acre (24 ha) science and business park.
The regeneration proved so successful – the Heath is home to some 150 companies today – that SOG decided to share its expertise. The company calls its approach to redeveloping vacated industrial sites Fusion, and it is working with Sanofi to apply the model to Businesseast.
Sanofi has already secured occupants for its Dagenham site with SOG’s help. An unnamed IT company is looking to build a sizeable data centre there. The local health authority is said to be considering building a clinic and, subject to planning permission, Sainsbury’s has already signed a deal to buy 10 acres (4 ha) of Businesseast for a new superstore.
The jewel in the crown for Sanofi, though, would be success with the Businesseast Science and Technology Park (BEST), focused at its existing premises.
These are accredited by the US and UK medicine regulators the FDA and the MHRA, and go through regular inspections and upgrades. This is a powerful draw for some prospective tenants, who could avoid the lengthy and expensive process of getting new premises approved.
Tim Metson, surveyor and property adviser for SOG, is working on the Businesseast project. He said: “Companies have been really interested in that aspect of the site. There’s no risk to them in achieving it because the process is already complete. A lot of the staff here are used to that quality control process, so their skills are also attractive.
“Without mentioning names [as negotiations are ongoing], contract manufacturers are interested because we have a very good sterile building, of about 100,000 sq ft, ready to go with full approvals. We’ve got pharmaceutical companies looking at it for the same reasons, as well as other linked-in industries.”