The Cambridge Phenomenon
<- Introduction ->
The Growth of High Technology Industry in a University Town
In the Sixties to Eighties many Cambridge University graduates stayed here and founded a range of
high-technology companies (mostly computer-related) and this attracted others and related developments.
This led to the tag of "Silicon Fen", due to the similarities with
Silicon Valley. There was much the same effect in "Silicon Glen" - high-tech industry near Edinburgh.
In each case a strongly-scientific university community is on hand to supply ideas and personnel.
This phenomenon was studied and published as...
This report was sponsored by a wide range of bodies to study the recent
development of small high-technology firms, the links between industry
and higher education, the role of public and private sectors in stimulating
technological and economic change, and the shift in the pattern of regional development.
- The Cambridge Phenomenon
- The Growth of High Technology Industry in a University Town
- Segal Quince & Partners
- 1985 ISBN 0 9510202 0 X
This city plan for Cambridge was published in 1950. Its starting point was to
keep Cambridge's character as a University town of international importance.
Half the team was from the newly-formed County Council Planning Department
[Town and Country Planning Act 1948] and it had the Government's backing.
The other partners were the (then) Borough Council and the University.
It was chaired by Sir William Holford, an eminent architect and planner.
It proposed halting the growth of the City and the immediately-surrounding
villages in favour of the next ring of villages, and to encourage the growth of
market towns to revitalise rural areas.
It recommended that industrial expansion in or near Cambridge be limited and
that new large-scale production activity be discouraged throughout the county.
A large area west of Cambridge was to be reserved for Cambridge
Also proposed were a number of central Cambridge developments, such as:
The plan was submitted with modifications by the County
Council to the Government in 1952 and was largely accepted in 1954, though with
Lion Yard a pedestrian precinct.
- a relief road for the centre of Cambridge
- the "slums" of the Kite be replaced by a
- new car parks at Lion Yard, Park Street and King Street
- new bus station, where Bradwell's Court was built in 1961
- a New West Road connecting Huntingdon Road, Madingley Road,
Barton Road, Chaucer Road and Trumpington Road
- instead of the planned replacement of Silver Street bridge [done in 1958-9],
build a new one at the end of a widened Mill Lane, to connect
with Silver Street alongside what is now Darwin College (this might have involved changes to Little St Mary's Lane).
This guided planning controls till the early Seventies, resulting in many cases of key
business/r&d ventures - naturals for Cambridge - being unable to set up
and going elsewhere (IBM European R&D Labs being the most famous).
Transport Planning History.
Cambridge University set up a subcommittee of the Senate in 1967 to to consider
the planning aspects of the relationship between the University and
science-based industry. The City Council supported this as it was frustrated by
the County Council's limits on housing & employment expansion (and hence income
from the rates). Local employers also supported it as they faced serious
recruitment problems due to the lack of housing. The report took over a year to
compile, with extensive consultation and debate, but represented a consensus
(all too rare here).
The report recommended careful relaxation of policies and in particular the
establishment of a science park on the edge of Cambridge.
As a result, Trinity College founded the country's first
Science Park in 1970.
The committee's recommendations were accepted in the early Seventies and have guided planning ever since.
- The presence in and around Cambridge of many high-technology companies
(computing, biotechnology, electronics & scientific instruments mainly);
- A very high proportion of young, small, independent and indigenous companies
and a corresponding low proportion of subsidiaries of large companies based elsewhere;
- A long record of high-technology company formation;
- A tendency for high-technology companies to concentrate on research, design and development rather than production;
- The many complex direct and indirect links between the companies and Cambridge University.
In 1997 it was said there's a second Phenomenon, based largely around telecommunications and biotechnology.
A new report, Cambridge Phenomenon Report Mark II, was prepared by Segal Quince Wicksteed,
funded jointly by the EU Commission, the Science Park, the St John's Innovation Centre, Cambridgeshire
County Council and CambsTEC.
It criticised the lack of support from central Government to allow growth of high-tech business
sector and in particular the lack of infrastructure developments, leading to planning pressures.
1,200 firms were surveyed to form the final part of the report, which was due to be published around October 1998
but actually appeared two years later.
Hermann Hauser, co-founder of Acorn with Chris Curry, was part of a Cambridge II initiative.
His venture capital company Amadeus (with funding from the likes of Microsoft)
is helping to start up companies.
At a dinner he, Alec Broers (C.U. Vice-Chancellor), Marcial Echenique (C.U. School of Architecture, transport planning
specialist) and David Cleeverly (Analysys) decided to try to take the City forward.
The initiative started around March 1997 and after a number of phases was due to conclude by the end of 1998.
It looked at various issues such as land use, transport systems and telephony.
The aim seems to be a new Science Park to permit expansion, with close, structured collaboration between C.U. and industry.
[At a rough guess, it may well suggest following C.U.'s grand plan for its
West Cambridge site, convenient for the M11 and A14.]
In October 1997 a related initiative was launched by the Cambridge II group with support from local
Councils and local businesses.
It aimed to inform the public of options and solicit views, culminating in a big exhibition, originally to be in summer 1998
but which was actually in the Grafton Centre between 17th & 23rd May 1999
[associated Web site: Cambridge Futures].
Packs of educational materials were supposed to go to schools to involve pupils.
Summary of the options:
- No expansion
- Denser occupation of the city
- Expanding necklace villages
- New town [as advocated by Peter Dawe]
- Use nearby low-grade Green Belt land saving higher-grade land further out
- Public transport improvements, linking with new developments
Where Wired Is A Way Of Life
by T. Trent Gegax added to the hype about Silicon Fen.
The article compares ten high-profile high-tech centres.
- 1997-98 Access to Cambridge - a transport study & strategy commissioned by the City Council
- 1998 Capacity Study - the County Council's review of where to put new housing & workplaces
(the Government believes 45,000 more homes are needed in the County by 2016)
- 1998 Central and South Cambridge Partnership (working title) - to produce a balanced framework
for the future, covering economic development as well as structural, environmental & cultural aspects;
consists of the local councils plus CambsTEC, the business community and the
Government Office for the East of England.
These 10 towns have been energized by a surge of high-tech innovation. Each has thrived thanks to some unique combination
of luck, location, brains and money.
- Austin, Texas;
- Bangalore, India;
- Boston, Massachusetts;
- Cambridge, England;
- Helsinki, Finland;
- Salt Lake City, Utah;
- Seattle, Washington;
- Sophia-Antipolis, France;
- Tel Aviv, Israel.
The statistics for Cambridge are:
The article starts (as is so typical of American ones) by being impressed by the age of the
University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor's office.
Further choice phrases:
- No. of high-tech firms: 1,159
- Anchor companies: Acorn, Cambridge Display Tech.
[Acorn? Especially since its split into various companies such as
the Cambridge part of Pace and Element 14 (since renamed Broadcom).
At least it didn't mention Ionica.]
- U.S. companies with a local presence: Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard
- Top dog: Peter Dawe, founder of PIPEX
- Hot gathering spots: CB1 cybercafe,
the Six Bells (online Internet pub)
[Another out-of-date reference - the Internet PC went from the Bells in late 1996/early 1997.
CB1 is a gathering spot - but for the leading lights of big-time high-tech?]
- Status toy: Psion Series 5 Palmtop
[Really? Why does one see so few of them then?]
- Median home price: $320,000 (£192,000)
The Information Technology journalist Guy Kewney reckons that
the Cambridge Phenomenon has another side, having just toured some of the firms.
Apparently the culture in high-tech consultancies involves a lot of internal politics - offence and defence.
This holds back growth & spin-offs.
- Cambridge, for 800 years a symbol of pure scientific thought,
is now a down-and-dirty engine of high-tech industrial development.
- While movers and shakers at the Six Bells tavern gossip about which company will next "float"
(Brit for going public), the cyber wage slaves who drink at the funky Wrestler pub are less ambitious than their Silicon Valley
brethren. "If you're moderately successful here," says programmer Bill Thompson, "you're happy with yourself."
[It's that man again! Bill Thompson, formely of Pipex, IT advisor to Anne Campbell MP, associated with the
New Media Lab & Guardian Online, now an Internet consultant according to the 1998 3-part Open University
documentary about the Web, which featured many words of wisdom from him. As of 2000 he's
described as Technical Director at Nexus, the New Labour think-tank.]
(IT Week 28-Jun-1999)
"We're fuelled by coffee, pizza and sleepless nights - it's just like Silicon Valley'"
appeared in the Guardian on 29-Nov-1999, causing much mirth.
The hype continues:
Bill Gates's choice of Cambridge as the hub of Microsoft's European operation
has sealed the town's fate: brand new start-ups and billion-dollar companies
alike are vying for the prestigious CB post code. Emma Brockes reports from
Silicon Fen, the e-volcano at the end of the M11 that's about to erupt.
The biggest worry facing employers in these circles is not that their staff will be poached or burn out,
but that they will go post-economic [no longer need to work] before they finish their 12-month contracts.
To give an example: the average age of a Microsoft employee is 34. To many of
Microsoft Cambridge's new recruits, if you haven't retired by 34, you have
failed. This is Silicon Fen, land of overnight fortunes, the British version of
an American dream.
(whatever that means). There's plenty more like this.
Hermann Hauser and Roger Needham are the focus of the article.
Cambridge, say insiders, is atop an e-volcano that is about to blow.
- Biotechnology Clusters
- August 1999 report of team led by Lord Sainsbury
- The Government at last seems aware of the national importance of Cambridge but isn't ready
with the dosh & permissions to let things flourish. Just before this was published the
Secretary of State for Environment, Transport & the Regions, John Prescott, rejected the
plans for the Hinxton Hall biotechnology cluster.
Whatever happened to the New Tory Government's promise of "joined-up government"?
<- Introduction ->