SE finds buyer for plant at BioCampus science park

SCOTTISH Enterprise (SE) has finally found a buyer for its manufacturing plant on the BioCampus science park at Penicuik, which has lain empty for more than a decade in a “bargain basement deal”.

Iain Mercer: 'It was a flawed building to start with' . Picture: Esme Allen

Benchmark Animal Health (BAH), which makes vaccines for fish and livestock, is paying £700,000 for the facility and a neighbouring plot.

SE spent £1.8 million building the speculative plant and a total of £4.5m on the wider BioCampus development.

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The company won’t have to pay for the site for another two years while it kits out the factory, although interest will accrue during this period.

BAH was introduced to the BioCampus by SE following its work with the nearby Moredun Research Institute, with which the company is developing vaccines for fish.

Malcolm Pye, founding director at Benchmark Holdings, which owns BAH, said he was attracted to the BioCampus because of its location near Moredun, the Roslin Institute and Edinburgh University’s vet school.

“We’ve been looking at it for a little while,” said Pye. “The building is in very good condition and Scottish Enterprise did a good job laying out the science park and putting up the first building so there really are no problems from that point of view.”

BAH expects to create 35 jobs initially at Penicuik, with the headcount eventually rising to about 70. The company makes vaccines for cattle, chickens, pigs, sheep and fish to boost animal health and food production.

Sheffield-based Benchmark already has operations in Inverness, where it owns Fish Vet Group, which provides services to fish farms and employs about 30 staff.

Iain Mercer, managing director of Almondale Investments, which owns Discovery Terrace on the Heriot-Watt Research Park, said: “I hope there are no champagne corks being popped at Scottish Enterprise because, in my view, it was a flawed building to start with.

“Having spoken to some people who had been round it, they could never get it to work. It wasn’t adaptable and wasn’t designed to suit, which is part of the reason it sat empty for over a decade.”

Mercer added: “It’s not unusual in this market to see properties that have been vacant for some time go at considerably below what you might perceive to be market value. In this case, this is a real bargain basement deal, at 15 per cent of the total development value.”

Both the BioCampus and the Edinburgh BioQuarter science park built next to the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary were last year awarded “enterprise area” status by ­finance secretary John Swinney, giving companies that set up on the sites discounts on their business rates and enhanced capital allowances.

Angel Biotechnology, the Edinburgh life sciences firm that collapsed in February, was among the companies known to have looked at the BioCampus manufacturing building.

Rhona Allison, director of life sciences at SE, said: “In a challenging economic climate, the building was sold at market value and we now look forward to the economic impact that the company will stimulate and deliver for the Scottish economy. Securing a company like BAH is central to our objectives of increasing commercial investment and creating jobs.”