Operating across four campuses (three in Brighton and one in Eastbourne) with a large estate that varies in age, quality and suitability imposes some very real constraints on the university’s ability to deliver on our stated objectives (see Vice-Chancellor's introduction).
We are developing our response to the climate emergency with plans that will take us to net carbon neutrality in our operations. We are already one of the top-ten UK universities for renewable solar power generation; with over 1500 solar panels across our estate. And we are committed to creating buildings fit for a net-zero future. The regeneration at Moulsecoomb has achieved a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ score for its new buildings and the project has also enabled us to redesign the community streetscape to promote and prioritise active travel by foot and by bike, leading to a safer, healthier and greener campus. Building on this work, we will be developing pathways to achieve net-zero status for our existing estate, combining this with opportunities for student learning, innovation and local employment. The variability of our buildings, however, represents a significant barrier to achieving our ambitions to be a net-zero carbon university.
Analysis has also shown that co-locating our schools on single campuses is not currently possible and major reconfiguration is required to achieve this. To help inform our consideration of how this can be achieved in a way which also meets our objectives around sustainability and affordability, we have undertaken work to understand the size, nature and relative condition of our estate. Two key data sets have been examined: the condition of our estate and its size and shape. This has provided us with a clear understanding of what it would cost to ensure that our estate remains safe and compliant with a range of legislation, such as fire safety, as well as upgrading facilities, such as windows and plant infrastructure.
We have called this the ‘fixing the basics’ assessment and we now know what this would cost over periods of three, five and ten years. We have then compared this to the Gross Internal Areas (GIA) of each of our campuses to produce a comprehensive picture of what it costs the University to maintain them.
This exercise has then helped us to understand what investment would be required to support strategic investment in our estate, to support co-location, to improve accessibility, to improve the student experience and to achieve our stated objectives of being a net-zero carbon university.
The pie chart demonstrates clearly that our campus at Eastbourne, whilst representing the smallest proportion of our estate in terms of space, will cost the University disproportionately more in maintenance costs over the next decade.
As such, the University has concluded that the overall estate in Eastbourne – comprising some of our oldest, least accessible, least sustainable and most expensive to maintain buildings – represents a disproportionate and significant long-term challenge for the University’s financial position and limits our ability to invest in enhancing the student and staff experience.
The University has considered six schemes to enable us to achieve our stated objectives, each of which has been discarded on the basis of cost and/or practicability as follows:
1. Co-locate combined School of Sport and Health Sciences at Eastbourne campus
Whilst there is under-utilised space at Eastbourne, it does not have the specialised facilities to support growth in student numbers in its current footprint. There are considerable ongoing maintenance costs for the existing buildings, some of which are related to the ‘listed’ status of some of the estate and which therefore present additional constraints when considering its potential adaptation to meet requirements related to accessibility and the University’s ability to meet its net-zero carbon targets.
2. Co-locate combined School of Sport and Health Sciences at an alternative site in Eastbourne
The University has given consideration to both a new site in Eastbourne and also the possibility of acquiring, or sharing existing buildings with other institutions in Eastbourne. These options would not prove viable because students would not benefit from the ability to access shared resources and services provided by co-location on one of the University’s other sites. The cost of establishing specialised facilities would also be prohibitive.
3. Co-locate combined School of Sport and Health Sciences at Falmer campus alongside existing occupants (School of Education and Social Science provision of the School of Humanities and Social Science)
The Falmer campus could not provide all of the space required to accommodate all of the School of Sport and Health Sciences provision and its associated specialist facilities alongside the current established provision. This option would also fail to meet the University’s objective in enabling the co-location of the School of Humanities and Social Science.
4. Co-locate the combined School of Humanities and Social Science at Moulsecoomb, and co–locate the School of Sport and Health Sciences at Falmer within the current footprint of the Falmer campus
The move of the School of Business and Law to Elm House, presents the opportunity for humanities and social science to consolidate and for the first time locate all staff and students in one place at Mithras House on the University’s Moulsecoomb campus.
This provides the opportunity for the school to bring all staff and students together in one building and would support the delivery of the school's academic vision. This option also releases space at the Falmer campus to provide additional space for the School of Sport and Health Sciences.
However, although this assists in regard to ‘general’ space requirements (such as office space), our analysis has shown that there is insufficient space within the current footprint of the Falmer campus for the specialist facilities required to support our sports and health sciences provision such as specialist sports and strength and conditioning facilities, clinical teaching areas, flexible health care settings and studio space.
5. Construction of new facilities to accommodate all current School of Sport and Health Sciences requirements at Falmer
With the working assumption that the School of Humanities and Social Science would move to the Moulsecoomb campus, an option would be to provide sufficient accommodation for Sport and Health Sciences by building a brand new facility on the current Falmer campus. This would represent a significant, challenging and expensive design and planning exercise followed by an equally challenging capital projects scheme over several years.
6. Consider use of neighbouring facilities in Brighton
Once again, assuming a School of Humanities and Social Science move to Moulsecoomb, a further option to enable the co-location of the School of Sport and Health Sciences at Falmer involved exploring opportunities with existing local organisations / facilities to understand whether there were shared usage opportunities associated with existing facilities. The identification and negotiation of such a facility and arrangement has not proved possible.
The University has also considered a further option.
7. Co-locate the School of Humanities and Social Science at Moulsecoomb, and the School of Sport and Health Sciences at Falmer, supported by the repurposing of the ‘Virgin Active’ space
The opportunity presented by the reacquisition of the Virgin Active Gym premises
The Virgin Active Gym is located in the heart of our Falmer campus and is part of a complex lease structure initiated more than twenty years ago.
The University was approached by the current long leaseholder British Land and was made aware of the potential opportunity for the University to consider regaining overall control of this part of its estate. This has presented both risks and opportunities for the University, the key risk being the University’s inability to influence the nature of any other potential new tenant in this facility, or their business focus.
In the light of this fundamental risk, the University’s Board of Governors has ratified the decision recommended by the University Executive Board to buy back the long lease for this site. The facility is located in the heart of our campus and as such we would be greatly affected by any change of use or tenant within this area.
Having now made this purchase, the University has the major opportunity to consider how this land and building can be used.
This option would allow the University to achieve its stated objectives resulting in the co-location of the School of Humanities and Social Science and School of Sport and Health Sciences on single campuses including the provision of the necessary specialist facilities and spaces to enable the delivery of the schools’ academic visions and the ability to grow.
Having given careful and detailed consideration to the available options, the University believes that option 7 – the co-location of the School of Humanities and Social Science at Moulsecoomb and the co-location of the School of Sport and Health Sciences at Falmer, supported by the repurposing of the space vacated by Virgin Active – presents the most viable route to achieving its stated objectives.