Board backing for ARU Peterborough ‘Living Lab’ public science centre and second teaching building

Plans to build a second teaching building and interactive public science centre at Peterborough’s new university have moved forward.

The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Board approved the full business case for the third phase of ARU Peterborough when it met last week.

The phase will feature the Living Lab – a publicly accessible science centre designed to stimulate and inspire more people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sectors, including through the university’s curriculum and courses.

Broadening Peterborough’s cultural offer by creating a distinct ‘University Quarter’, the Living Lab will provide a window into the city’s net zero carbon future and will host events, exhibitions and flexible learning, including festivals of ideas, immersive displays, forums and evening classes.

The Board decision means work can continue to meet the timeline of the phase 3 project, which is to be ready for the start of the academic year in September 2024. The second teaching building will offer space for 1,750 more students, who will study in mainly STEM fields.

ARU Peterborough is being developed in phases over the next ten years and is a partnership between the Combined Authority, Peterborough City Council and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

Based at Peterborough’s Embankment site, the university’s first teaching building is on track to open in September this year. The adjacent second phase is a research and development and business innovation centre – a joint venture between the Combined Authority and Peterborough business Photocentric. Building works started in October last year and are planned to complete in December this year.

Funding is in place to deliver phase three, with £20 million of the £28 million cost secured through Peterborough City Council’s successful bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund.  The rest of the funding comes from Peterborough City Council contributing land worth £2 million, Anglia Ruskin University investing £4 million and the Combined Authority’s Business Board contributing £2 million.

ARU Peterborough aims to address skills deficits in the city and surrounding region, in what is described as a higher education ‘cold spot’. It aims to have a transformative and regenerative effect on the city and its surrounds, driving up aspiration and improving social mobility and prosperity, resulting in fewer inequalities and greater health and wellbeing.

The university is developing the curriculum in collaboration with local employers, to ensure that students are equipped with skills demanded in the economy. As well as this, the phase 2 research and development and incubator space will support start-up and growing tech businesses. This aims to create a homegrown business innovation ‘ecosystem’ which further drives up the demand for skills coming out of the university.

The business case included setting out the economic impact and educational need of the third phase.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson said: “I’m pleased this third phase business case has won the backing of the Combined Authority Board and we can continue progress with this important addition to the campus. As well as additional capacity, the Living Lab will, I hope, inspire local people in the power of learning.

“To have three phases fully funded in a relatively short time span is great progress. We are moving at pace because the skills divide in this region is a major cause of the inequalities which hold back everyone’s prosperity and harm people’s health and wellbeing. ARU Peterborough is a key part of the solution to some of our most important social and economic challenges. In just eight months we will have the first students starting their courses and we can start to see the benefits of this transformative project.”

Austen Adams, chair of the Business Board, said: “This business case has already received the support of the Business Board and it is welcome that this third phase can move forward. Our economy needs long term, strategic investment in its skills base, which is rooted in the needs of local enterprise. That’s what ARU Peterborough is here to deliver, and this third phase will only increase the university’s capacity and its ability to make an impact.”

Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “The university will be opening later this year and will really address the skills gap we currently have in this city, helping our residents to become career-ready. The Living Lab really accelerates this. The decision by the board will help many thousands of residents get into STEM careers and improve the prosperity of themselves as individuals and also the city as a whole.”

Professor Ross Renton, Principal of ARU Peterborough, said: “We are incredibly pleased that the Phase 3 plans have received approval from the Combined Authority’s Board. This building will provide additional teaching capacity, with cutting edge technology, for our students, outstanding facilities for the local community, and help to create a vibrant campus for ARU Peterborough.

“We passionately believe that universities should be spaces that the whole community can benefit from and enjoy. Phase 3 will be at the heart of Peterborough’s exciting new University Quarter, with the Living Lab offering a unique, hands-on science space that will be a fabulous asset to the city and the wider region.”

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