A SCIENCE park is often made up of laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare organisations brought together in a shared space.

But in recent months, the Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield, near Reading, has developed into much more.

When it was originally envisaged in 2009, the plan was to build a hub for science research and business to rival those in Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, and Warwick.

But increasingly the Thames Valley Science Park is changing from a place for science and innovation to the ‘Hollywood’ of the Thames Valley.

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This month, plans were approved to build a huge creative media hub for film production called Shinfield Studios to attract huge companies such as Netflix and Amazon.

And earlier this year, plans were approved for a TV studio to host game shows and chat shows with live audiences.

The shift in focus towards film and TV production at the science park is a fact not lost on councillors.

During discussion of the recently approved ‘Shinfield Studios’ at a Wokingham Borough Council planning committee meeting on Wednesday, October 13, Councillor Chris Bowring, the chairman of the committee, questioned whether film studios fit into the original plans for the park.

Cllr Bowring (Conservative, Wokingham Without) asked: “Can you comment on the suggestion that this is a commercial enterprise, but that’s in some way not compatible with the original intentions of the science park.”

Planning officer Christopher Howard said: “The science park was originally envisaged in the South East Plan back some time ago now which was revoked, at that time it was envisaged for science and innovation but as we can see times have moved on, that was 15 years ago at least.

“Basically we are looking to see whether or not another form of use is appropriate for the site, there is synergy in terms of the science parks policies regarding innovation, there is a degree of collaboration for it, but as evident from the build out of the science park itself, it has been quite slow, and these science and innovation parks tend to like to cluster in places like Cambridge and Oxford.”

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Thames Valley Science Park is owned by the University of Reading. The first buildings in the park were opened in 2018, and do have a focus on science and healthcare.

The Gateway Building houses a number of science-based businesses, and the Rutherford Cancer Centre in the park was opened to offer treatment to cancer sufferers.

Asked to explain why plans for the park have changed so much, a spokesperson for the University of Reading said:  “The original vision for the Thames Valley Science Park was first put forward in 2009, and promoted the Park as a way of attracting and growing businesses in the areas of science and technology, in line with the core strengths of the University of Reading.

“This included significant investment in the initial Gateway Building and creating proposals for the wider park.

“Today, plans for the Thames Valley Science Park have changed from being primarily focused on providing space for offices and science facilities – although we do already have many of these on site in our fully occupied Gateway Building – to a more mixed business development.

“This draws on other core strengths of the University, including film and television, archaeology and healthcare.

Bracknell News: An overhead view CGI of the Shinfield Studios at Thames Valley Science Park. Credit: Scott BrownriggAn overhead view CGI of the Shinfield Studios at Thames Valley Science Park. Credit: Scott Brownrigg

“The University has adapted and evolved its approach to attracting new businesses to the Science Park, reflecting changing demand for specialist spaces and creating opportunities for employment which are rarely catered for on traditional developments.

“The recently approved plans for Shinfield Studios, the nearly completed British Museum Archaeological Research Centre, the smaller science and tech occupiers in Gateway, and already open Rutherford Cancer Centre are examples of the high-quality businesses and organisations that have been attracted to Shinfield.

“We believe this mix of partnerships with science, heritage, health and creative industries will provide strong benefits, including jobs, facilities for the community, and importantly, exciting new opportunities for our students and graduates.

“The University has engaged closely with our neighbours and partners, including Wokingham Borough Council, about our plans.”