£2 billion ‘Golden Valley’ cybersecurity campus to be built next to GCHQ

News by Andrew McCorkell

Cheltenham set to be transformed into the UK’s 'Silicon Valley to build cybersecurity capacity and bridge the skills gap in the UK.

The plans for a Golden Valley development include a £400 million campus development on a 200-hectare site next door to GCHQ as part of the first phase of Cyber Central UK, Cheltenham Borough Council has announced.

It will be home to the Cyber Innovation Centre, funnelling in innovation from GCHQ (sited next door) as well as the best of business, academia and events with million square feet of commercial space.

Chris Ensor, deputy director for skills and growth at the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, said: “We are pleased to support Cheltenham Borough Council on this new and exciting project, which will provide a rich environment for innovation and sharing ideas.

"Cyber Central will provide a rich environment where we can innovate and share ideas, both with business and academia. We hope it will also support the long term supply of talent, helping to bridge the cyber skills gap."

The council spent £37.5 million on the purchase of 45 hectares of land as part of the development of the Golden Valley Garden Community with more than 3,000 homes, with a further £180 million funding available.

Jake Moore cybersecurity specialist at ESET: “The skills gap is intrinsically linked to the supported funding from a basic level. Financially backing projects and education from the ground up is the only way we will watch the skills gap reduce, which is still desperately required. Graduate schemes, apprenticeships and employing more new starters all help in the process too.

“Cheltenham is a natural choice for a cybersecurity campus and I’m sure this will attract a lot of attention from the UK and around the world. Furthermore, many of the students will then hopefully stay in the UK and put their new skills to good use within the country.”

In June 2019 the government announced the Golden Valley Development would be part of its Garden Communities programme.

Cheltenham already has an international reputation for leadership in this sector, having the largest concentration of cyber businesses in the UK outside London.

Cheltenham borough councillor Andrew McKinlay, the cabinet member for development and safety, said: “The Golden Valley Development is a prime example of how Cheltenham Borough Council continues to demonstrate its bold vision and the kind of strong local leadership that will help to drive economic recovery, post Covid-19.

“Our investment has been the catalyst for this development, which is recognised as one of the most exciting and innovative projects anywhere in the country.

"As we look to the future, cybersecurity and sustainable living will become ever more important – and the Golden Valley Development will lead the way on this.”

The UK cybersecurity sector is currently valued at £8.3 billion, having doubled in two years and growth is expected to continue at a similar pace.

Francis Gaffney, director of threat Intelligence at Mimecast adds: “The global cybersecurity skills shortage is at an all-time high, with an estimated global cybersecurity talent shortage of just over four million people. Organisations face a daunting task in the fight against cyber threat actors and what’s become apparent is that organisations are still struggling to effectively recruit and retain qualified security professionals due to the shortage of individuals with appropriate skills, making the fight much harder.

"So, this investment into the Cyber Central UK will come as welcomed news and will do much to increase the UK’s cybersecurity capacity and capability and make it a respected entity in the global cybersecurity marketplace. Cheltenham and the South West will also offer a huge pool for resource and talent acquisition. With a plethora of cyber specialists settled in the immediate area, any organisation will be able to recruit experts from across the various cyber disciplines to establish a centre of excellence.

"It’s important however that both the government and industry take responsibility for filling the gap in order to create a prosperous and sustainable economy.

Of course, we should be focusing on encouraging the next generation, but we do also have a large workforce with transferable skills that should be encouraged to further their development.

"Government initiatives, such as the NCSC, can help by incentivising individuals to retrain and publicising the need for such skills. Likewise, many people would love to receive career guidance and direction on how to get into cybersecurity, so mentoring should be at the forefront of future plans for security leaders as we have the experience and skills that can be hugely beneficial to the up and coming generation.

"In the short term, looking to both what’s on our doorstep and international shores may be the quickest way to get the skills in, but organisations need to start thinking more strategically in order to safeguard the future and build for it.

"Fostering the right culture and investment in employees early on will be a strong competitive differentiator for those vendors seeking to stand out in a noisy market segment.”

It is hoped that this will means that timing of the Golden Valley Development will be key to economic recovery locally, regionally and nationally.

Tim Atkins, managing director for place and growth at Cheltenham Borough Council, said: “At a time of unprecedented change, the Golden Valley Development is an opportunity to put Cheltenham on a global stage and at the forefront of one of the most dynamic and exciting sectors.

“That’s precisely why Cheltenham Borough Council has stepped up to play a leading role in the development, working alongside multiple stakeholders across the public and private sector to drive sustainable economic recovery and growth.”

Sarb Sembhi, CTO & CISO of Virtually Informed and Thought Leadership Lead for the UK Cyber Security Council Formation Project (due to launch next year) described Cyber Central UK an "excellent example of why the UK is a world leader for cybersecurity start-ups," adding: "Such initiatives not only lead the way for the UK to maintain its global status as one of the safest to live and work online, but it also resonates with the aims of the UK Cyber Security Council Formation Project. It is working to make the UK cyber security profession the Gold Standard for excellence and recognised as having the most skilled and highly sought after professionals in the world."

Avison Young has been appointed to lead the search for a partner on this ambitious and exciting development, which is supported by the Department of International Trade as a project of international significance.

Developers who are interested are invited to complete and return a selection questionnaire from Avison Young by July 10, 2020. 

The partner is expected to be appointed in Spring 2021.

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