Christchurch's chance to be innovation central

By Peter Griffin 31/07/2012

The blueprints for Christchurch are out and by and large, they represent an ambitious and progressive vision for the future of our second biggest city.

Interestingly, they also account for innovation and health precincts that could make Christchurch, already a major centre of excellence for electronics and high value manufacturing and with significant medical research activities, a major hub for R&D and medical research.

The innovation precinct

The proposed innovation precinct builds on EPIC (Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus) which has been funded by the BNZ and the Canterbury Business Recovery Trust and has rent-free land provided by the Christchurch City Council. EPIC will have about 30 hi-tech businesses located there in a similar move to the tech cluster taking shape on the Auckland waterfront at the Wynyard Quarter. This seems like a very good idea – having a stable of hi-tech companies located together close to the city centre. What else will form the innovation precinct? Everything is up in the air, but there are some obvious players in the mix, not least of which the yet to be established Advanced Technology Institute.

the innovation precinct’s location in the city

Here’s the vision statement from the blueprint document:

An Innovation Precinct based adjacent to the South Frame on the High Street Gateway is desirable. It will facilitate the establishment of a technology-based industry and research precinct within the central city, attracting new business and employment opportunities in high-value industry sectors. Development of the Precinct should consider appropriate opportunities to incorporate remaining heritage features of the area.

The precinct is proposed to be adjacent to the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology due to the synergies that exist and the leverage that can be obtained by linking up activities.

The innovation precinct could be expanded beyond the area that is indicated on the map, depending on demand from innovative businesses and research organisations. The innovation precinct also encompasses the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC) temporary site, known as the EPIC Sanctuary. This is a private sector initiative to bring displaced innovative businesses together in the city centre.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, CERA and CCC (including Canterbury Development Corporation), in partnership or cooperation with industry, will facilitate the creation of the Innovation Precinct, including developing a business case, and possibly securing tenants,

and contracting property developers and designers. The innovation precinct will be well designed to stimulate collaborative activity.

The Innovation Precinct could draw on skills and knowledge developed at Lincoln University and the University of Canterbury. It can also leverage the seven of the eight New Zealand science-based Crown Research Institutes that have facilities or headquarters in the region and city including institutes specialising in agriculture, plant and food research, land management and industrial research.

The health precinct

Slightly more intriguing is the proposed health precinct, which is imagined as a centre for health research incorporating Christchurch hospital, presumably the Otago School of Medicine Christchurch campus and the private sector. In fact, the private sector is the project lead on the precinct proposal, suggesting extensive partnerships between private health companies and public health and medical researchers. What sort of partnerships does CERA envisage?

the planned health precinct

According to the blueprints:

The proposed Health Precinct would include…

• Allied health – partnerships between industry and clinicians

• Medi-hotels – where patients and families can stay while receiving outpatient or specialist care

• A knowledge campus – providing clinical education and training

• A research campus – public and private research activities

• Private and public services delivering health care in and near the new ambulatory care hub

It all sounds rather ambitious – patients checking into medi hotels, researchers working with drug companies on clinical trials, medical training centres. Much of this is done already, but developing a precinct to service this type of specific activity seems like a good idea – if it can gain critical mass and attract the support of the private sector.

the proposed health precinct

Christchurch was a hub of innovation in New Zealand before the quakes – from the electronics cluster with Tait at its centre, to NZi3 and the Hit Lab at the University of Canterbury, to the software start-ups sprinkled around the city centre, it always was one of the places to be for aspiring hi-tech entrepreneurs.

The quakes have given the city a unique opportunity to build on this capability, to establish areas of the city suited to innovative research and development in the tech and health sectors. I can’t think of a better way to help revitalise Christchurch and make it a place Cantabrians – and others, want to live and work.