Ambitious plans to make Scotland’s capital city a top global technology destination have been unveiled.
Edinburgh was recently named the UK’s top city for start-ups and attracts more foreign investment than any other tech cluster in the UK, outside London.
It’s already home to global tech successes like Skyscanner and now developers behind a new project in the city are creating a dedicated ‘Digital Quarter’ to further boost growth in the technology sector.
The 150-acre site, next to Edinburgh Airport, would create a unique Scottish ‘digital community’, attracting global tech firms but also developing home grown digital businesses and creating the right conditions for collaboration.
Crosswind Developments is already working with the local Edinburgh council, the city’s universities and Scottish Government agencies to develop the plans as part of a strategy to capitalise on the city’s existing position as an attractive location for global companies
The development of this strategically important, brownfield site will open up derelict land, build affordable housing, develop commercial properties and create local amenities.
The Digital Quarter would provide the kind of transport connections, offices, housing and leisure facilities that global technology companies expect when choosing where to locate, allowing Edinburgh to better compete with key existing European destinations.
The Crosswind site is based around a decommissioned runway at Edinburgh airport and is within easy reach of much of Scotland’s main population centres. Edinburgh Airport, which has more UK and international connections than any other Scottish airport, had more than 14m passengers last year.
John Watson, chief executive of Crosswind Developments, said Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, should be an ideal location for global technology jobs.
“We have world class universities producing high quality graduates. There is great access to venture capital and Edinburgh is always at the top of the list for best places in the world, to live and work but without a dedicated approach to creating the kind of environment technology companies are looking for, it’s much harder to bring that investment here,” he said. “These companies want modern, state of the art offices, world class connectivity, an environment that is attractive to its workforce with easy access to global connections and a pool of high quality graduates. “Crosswind is, perhaps, one of the best connected, undeveloped sites in Scotland with immediate access to air, rail and road transport. It will have a focus on the kind of housing, working space and leisure facilities that people demand.
“Working with others, we believe we can make this part of Edinburgh one of the most attractive locations in the world for these companies while also nurturing home grown start-ups.”
While many global technology firms are located in large cities, smaller centres are becoming popular as a smaller footprint allows shorter commutes, easier access to amenities and a better work/life balance. Cities like Amsterdam, Dublin and Berlin have all been successful in attracting the kind of firms the Digital Quarter could house.
The developers have already discussed their plans with many in the tech sector both in Scotland and abroad.
Polly Purvis, chief executive of Scotland’s tech industry body ScotlandIS said:
“Digital technologies are at the heart of Scotland’s future economic success and opportunities for close collaboration will be essential in creating the right conditions to succeed.
“State of the art locations with access to great connections, where large and small tech companies can work together, will benefit Scotland enormously, helping to expand the capacity of the eco system to support technology businesses in scaling up."
“A project like this, ideally suited to digital businesses and located in Edinburgh, the data capital of Europe, is a very welcome development.”
One such example of a Scottish company at the forefront of the rapidly growing digital sector is Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), which has developed the world’s most technically advanced vertical farming systems. David Farquhar, chief executive of IGS welcomes the potential that Crosswind brings. He said:
“Scotland’s history of innovation continues today and in the digital age this is no different. We are producing the graduates, generating the start-ups and offering the type of lifestyle that many businesses and their employees want. However, to sustain this we need to ensure that we have the working spaces, the logistics connections and the economic environment to encourage not only the graduates and the start ups to stay, but to welcome other businesses relocating to Scotland to help build out the logistics and eco-systems we need to compete globally.
“The location and approach to development from Crosswind could well tick the boxes for many digitally-driven organisations. From the small start-ups to large corporations the opportunity to be based at a highly accessible hub in a country that offers a highly educated population and a life/work balance gives Scotland the sort of potential ‘unfair advantage’ to make us far more competitive globally.”
There were 90,000 technology roles in Scotland in 2017. The Scottish Government wants to target 150,000 digital jobs in Scotland by 2021. Edinburgh hosts the largest number of tech firms in Scotland, 25% of the country’s total.
Technology firms contributed £5bn to the Scottish economy in 2016 and GVA is forecast to grow by 38% by 2024.
Crosswind, which was set up by infrastructure investment giant Global Infrastructure Partners which also owns Edinburgh Airport, operates as an independent company with its own board of directors chaired by Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer of the UK and an Edinburgh MP for 28 years.