Local council moves to buy Novartis' Horsham site with view to creating science park

Novartis ($NVS) is on the verge of offloading its former R&D site in Horsham, U.K., to the local council. The agreement of initial terms with West Sussex council comes 8 months after the University of Brighton backed out of a deal because it was unable to secure government funding.

West Sussex County Council plans to turn two-thirds of the almost 20-acre site into a science park, leaving the remaining third free to build houses it can sell to deliver a return on its investment. The proposal is dependent on the council and Novartis agreeing on final terms of the deal, something the latter expects to happen by the summer. In parallel to the final negotiations, the council is preparing to clear all bar one of the buildings from the site. The only building to survive the remodelling will be the 1930s art deco structure that is perhaps the defining edifice of the Horsham site.

If the deal and planning permission go through as expected, attention will then turn to whether the site can become the successful science hub envisaged by the council. "It will deliver a science and business park that will help stimulate further growth in the sector, provide high quality jobs for the county and provide support for small, innovative start-up businesses," Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, said in a statement. In its favor, the site can offer tenants proximity to Gatwick airport and decent transport links to central London. 

The council is hoping these characteristics will give it an edge over other science parks spawned in the exodus of Big Pharma companies from out-of-town R&D campuses in the U.K. Sites in Sandwich and Alderley Edge, which used to respectively be cornerstones of the R&D networks of Pfizer ($PFE) and AstraZeneca ($AZN), are already in the process of being reinvented as ecosystems of startups. Attempts to lure young companies to these locations are happening at a time when larger drugmakers are looking to locate operations near biotech hot spots such as Boston, MA, and Cambridge, U.K.

- read the release