Labour’s innovation chief has promised to “get the planning system sorted” to tackle a lab space shortage.

Visiting Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst on Tuesday, January 30, MP Peter Kyle warned life sciences firms “can’t get past the first step” when they develop new medicines and technologies in places where labs are full up.

Stevenage is the largest cell and gene therapy cluster outside the United States.

The Labour frontbencher said: “To solve the challenge that we face as humanity, as people, as communities and a country, we need innovation to come through. We also need economic growth to invest in it.”

The Comet: Peter Kyle (left) was joined on his visit by Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary.Peter Kyle (left) was joined on his visit by Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary. (Image: Will Durrant/LDRS)

Mr Kyle visited three labs at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, a building which houses fledgling pharmaceutical firms, including cancer research labs.

He said: “Having had an enormous period listening to people doing scientific research on the front-line in life sciences, companies who are trying to commercialise it, people working in the NHS who are delivering it and the universities which are playing a key role in where some of this innovation and research are coming from, they want to make sure we can get things like the planning system sorted, because there is a shortage of lab space.”

He added his party has plans for a new Regulatory Innovation Office to “expedite innovation through” if it aligns with national priorities, including “health of the nation” and “economic growth”.

The Comet: Mr Kyle said that Stevenage's life sciences success hasn't happened by accident.Mr Kyle said that Stevenage's life sciences success hasn't happened by accident. (Image: Will Durrant/LDRS)

Mr Kyle said local authorities like Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council, councillors and MPs have a role to play in the innovation sector.

“If we get all the constituent parts right, you can find places like this which fit into the local area, which provide great jobs, great opportunities,” he said.

“These sorts of places don’t happen by accident.”

Dr Sally Ann Forsyth, Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst’s chief executive, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “What we do is create an innovation supply chain with academics, start-ups, scale-ups, manufacturing, and of course it’s all about the patient.

The Comet: Mr Kyle was shown around three different laboratories on his visit.Mr Kyle was shown around three different laboratories on his visit. (Image: Will Durrant/LDRS)

“What we do is we ‘wrap-around’ that really supportive environment with access to free facilities and lab equipment for little companies which have no time and no money.

“They might need lots of coaching, lots of mentoring, and introductions into finance.

“A lot of companies can get their products to prototype stage. They are fantastic scientists and they understand how to do that.

“But what we specialise in here is taking them to that next stage, around a commercial core. What we would like to do is the business training around that.

“We’re looking at a Centre for Commercialisation.

“I’m really impressed by the cooperation in Hertfordshire – from schools, to sci-tech, to colleges and universities. Everyone is moving in the same direction and is supportive.”

According to property firm Knight Frank, businesses are seeking 2.2 million square feet of lab space in the “Golden Triangle” between Cambridge, London and Oxford – almost 32 times the size of the pitch at Stevenage FC’s Lamex Stadium.

But figures released last August show there is only 380,000 sq ft available.

Earlier in 2023, Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak launched a £370million funding boost as part of a “bold new plan” for the UK’s science and innovation sector – including £50m for lab creation.

He said in a statement: “The more we innovate, the more we can grow our economy, create the high-paid jobs of the future, protect our security, and improve lives across the country.”