Kent entrepreneurs on a voyage of Discovery after Pfizer vacates

Cartner and Musgrave have ambitious plans for Discovery Park. Simon Creasey reports.

The most hotly debated subject in the Kent property market this year was undoubtedly the closure of Manston Airport and then its sale a few months later to business partners Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave. The sale kicked off a storm of protests locally, but just down the road from the former airport, at Discovery Park, Cartner and Musgrave, along with joint shareholder Palmer Capital, have been whipping up a different kind of storm.

Since Pfizer sold the 220-acre site in 2012, Discovery Park’s new owners have attracted just shy of 100 businesses to the park, which sits in an enterprise zone. The tenant mix includes science and technology companies
in addition to accountants, lawyers and IT specialists.

It’s a far cry from the uncertainty surrounding the park’s future in February 2011 when Pfizer announced that it was closing its European R&D home of 60 years with the potential loss of 2,400 jobs — the pharma giant later announced its intention to retain 10% of its floor space at the park, saving 600 jobs.

“We are two-thirds of the way towards replacing all the jobs that were under threat in 2011,” says Discovery Park managing director Paul Barber. “The target is to reach 3,000 employees by 2017.”

Few would bet against the park hitting this ambitious target, particularly in light of Dover District Council’s approval last month of the Discovery Park masterplan. The plan envisages 500 new homes, up to 1.3m sq ft of commercial space — encompassing B1, B2, B8, energy and education space — and up to 200 hotel beds in no more than two hotels.

That’s not taking into account the 30,000 sq ft new Sainsbury’s store that won planning approval in September this year and will generate 200 new jobs in its own right.

“What we’ve achieved so far is just the beginning of the journey,” says Barber. “We don’t want to be a successful science and technology-led business park in east Kent — we want it to be one of the best in the world.”

Thanks to sign off on the masterplan, it looks like Discovery Park is on track to achieve this bullish ambition.

Author: Simon Creasey, Property Week