Nick Leimu-Brown (left) and Paul Goffin
Everyone in Oxford will be aware of the significant changes to our estate in recent years – with major new buildings completed and under construction and changes to our existing facilities across the University.
Many will also be aware of the issues we have with some of our older facilities, and the challenges that working in them can bring.
Our new Estate Strategy
It is in this context that we are developing the Estate Strategy 2023-28, which we first announced in September 2021.
We believe the new strategy will deliver a turning point in how we manage our academic and administrative buildings.
There has already been extensive engagement with colleagues across the University, and we are now consulting on the latest draft as we plan for approval next term.
Making better use of what we have
We have built impressive new facilities in recent years, and we should be proud of what we have achieved.
However, many of our older buildings are long overdue refurbishment, and staff and students have told us that some do not meet their needs. Many also use space and heat very inefficiently. We must address this, so our people can comfortably conduct high quality education and research in the long-term.
The draft strategy emphasises the need to refurbish and replace aging buildings to provide high quality space within the existing estate. New facilities, meeting demanding environmental standards, will be built where there is a clear need and priority, but replacement and renovation will be the norm.
We propose starting with the buildings with the highest need. Those of you who remember the Tinbergen building events of 2017 will no doubt be reassured with this focus on protecting our current assets.
A more sustainable estate
Given the University’s commitment to environmental sustainability, this is of course the central part of the draft strategy.
Environmental concerns are particularly important when we are deciding whether to demolish dilapidated buildings, or to rebuild them. Re-use is often cheaper and avoids wasting embodied carbon, but there are often limits on how we can use old structures. On the other hand, new buildings are generally more environmentally efficient, and are more flexible for the future.
We will consider each case on its merits, so that we achieve the right balance between quality, cost and environmental impact – helping us provide the space we need, and achieve net zero carbon by 2035.
Using our space more efficiently is another key theme in the draft strategy, and it includes proposals to help departments make better use of the space they already have. Eventually we hope this would enable us to release some of the property we currently lease, freeing up funding to invest in our academic mission.
Supporting teaching and research
At the heart of the strategy, of course, is the need to support the University’s world-leading teaching and research. That is why it includes proposals to move towards high-quality, shared teaching facilities, equipped with top-notch equipment, which will support our digital transformation agenda. Not only could this help transform the student experience but will also enhance staff working environments.
We will also work to ensure our spaces meet the needs of our researchers – ensuring we have both the space and technology that meet the needs of all research staff, including those who need modern lab facilities.
An estate worthy of a great university
Once finalised and approved, we are confident that the new strategy will finally put us in a position to provide an estate worthy of one of the world’s greatest universities – buildings that are comfortable and well-maintained, well-suited to their purpose, a pleasure to work and study in, and sustainable in every sense of the word – as well as giving us the flexibility to adapt when our needs change again in future.
We have very much enjoyed the engagement with colleagues on our plans, and continue to welcome feedback as we finalise our proposals.
Please email us at email@example.com with any thoughts you may have about the new Estate Strategy.