Construction and Infrastructure

Crucial meeting ahead for multi-million pound Cheltenham innovation centre

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 26 August 2020 10:18

Celebrations rang out this month when the much-mooted multi-million-pound mixed-use innovation centre for Cheltenham cleared its planning hurdle – but were they raising the champagne glasses prematurely? 

The innovative £5.2 million 20,000 square foot projectis designed for land in the shadow of the spa town’s oldest building, its Grade Ilisted St Mary’s Church. 

Equally impressive is that it is the result of a public-private partnership between Cheltenham Borough Council, Gloucestershire County Council, GFirst LEP, Cheltenham Festivals, CyNam and Ecotricity among others. 

When plans were revealed it drew media attention immediately for its clever modular design.

But when it became known its multi-use space would house everything from the town’s new Growth Hub headquarters to a head office for Cheltenham Festivals – office space, meeting rooms and more – the significance began to dawn. 

And in a town which finds it difficult to mention its future without speaking the word ‘cyber’ - not least because of the pending £400 million Golden Valley Development beside a certain GCHQ – the building is seen as another piece in the bigger picture. 

“It will provide a purpose-built performance, event and community venue, connect to the High Street from the Cheltenham Minster grounds and act as a pilot for developments at Cyber Central,” said Jason Pritchard, of Edge Design Workshop, the architects behind what the firm itself modestly calls Workshop Cheltenham. 

Planners gave the tweaked design for what others are calling the Minister Innovation Centre the go ahead this month – as we said above. 

The local enterprise partnership, GFirst LEP – which is backing the project with £3.114m funding won from the Government Getting Building Fund – recently parcelled the scheme up as one of five destined to create nearly 1,000 jobs county-wide. It was welcome feel-good news for Gloucestershire. 

This additionalGovernment ‘Get Building’ funding “will allow a number of enhancements to be added which include improved thermal performance of the building fabric, additional renewable energy solutions as well as an upgrade on the digital infrastructure, heating and lighting installations”, according to Edge Design Workshop. 

The project will be constructed almost entirely off site and craned into position within modular units,” said Mr Pritchard. 

It will host and facilitate a variety of initiatives that will have a positive economic, educational, cultural, social and environmental impact on the town.” 

These include flexible and affordable co-working spaces, office studios, a Growth Hub business support centre for individuals, start-ups and SMEs - particularly those in the creative sector (including digital, tech and cyber). 

There will be “a state-of the-art performance venue and events space, a dedicated Cyber Innovation Floor featuring cyber specific training rooms, a co-working accelerator and a ‘war room’ and a laboratory, education and community spaces and a café and bar. 

As for our question above about whether or not celebrations being “premature”. What on earth is not worth celebrating about the above? 

The answer is the small matter of funding. 

GFirst’s board has not yet signed-off the money for the project. That meeting is due to take place next week. Watch this space.