The long-term future of the Malvern Hills Science Park is under discussion with every indication of a bright future. Jon di Paolo reviews progress and asks why its success is important.

PLANS for a multi-million pound expansion at Malvern Hills Science Park have been unveiled.

Until now, every expansion of the park has been planned bit by bit. But the latest submission to Malvern Hills District Council shows an outline of the park as it will look when fully finished.

The district council is being asked to support the vision for the science park, although detailed plans will have to be submitted as each development comes up.

Nestling just outside QintetiQ's perimeter fence, the park presently consists of a long, low building clad in timber and tinted green glass. A new block is undergoing the final phase of construction next to it. At the moment, it houses 18 companies working on projects at the cutting edge of technology.

Another £3 million block is to be erected at the rear of the building and, by the time the park is complete, there will be ten more housing 600 workers.

The park acts as an "incubator" for small, high-tech firms, providing a roof under which they can develop the technologies of tomorrow. Other landlords would not gamble on such new ventures paying the rent and would want them to sign unsuitable, long-term leases.

It was set up as a way for QinetiQ, then DERA, to turn ideas unearthed during research into developments with commercial potential.

Among those currently being developed is a new generation of silicon chips with microscopic holes drilled into them. These are capable of being ingested into the body in order to rebuild bones and distribute drugs, before melting away when their job is done. Other projects include research and development of spy surveillance systems, voice recognition technology and artificial intelligence.

One such firm developing a potentially gigantic opportunity is ZBD Systems (pronounced Zebedee). Its director of technology, Guy Bryan-Brown, and his team of researchers are working hard to develop LCD displays that do not need power, with potential to apply to everything from mobile phones to palm-top computers.

"Business is booming," admitted Mr Bryan-Brown. "We're moving out of this office soon into larger premises on the park. When we started, we only had five people, now we've got 14. We're taking on an average of one every month."

ZBD Systems is typical of the many companies developing futuristic technologies with breathtaking commercial applications in the park. However, what is taking place there could have an enormous impact much closer to home than the markets in Japan, the USA and elsewhere, where the products they are working on are targeted.

Park manager Nigel Shaw explained: "The potential benefits for Malvern are immense. For example, we want to foster closer links with local schools, such as The Chase, which is only just down the road. We would like to see bright kids who grow up in Malvern stay here to live and work, rather than only coming back here to visit their parents."

Paul Walker is managing director of Malvern Instruments, a company at the cutting edge of particle science, as well as a director of the science park.

"At the moment, many of the companies are at an early stage in what they want to do," he said. "It's really when they start making money and move out of the science park that it becomes crucial for the local community.

"The Government estimates that every job of that kind supports three more jobs in other industries. The companies at the science park will move out of Malvern unless we work very, very hard to keep them here. We have to provide them with the support and infrastructure they need."

He pointed out that high-tech industries do not pollute and employ intelligent people with a lot of disposable income, which can only be a good thing for Malvern's economy.

"If businesses are allowed to move away then they will just take more and more people with them and Malvern will become a kind of dormitory town, a place where people like to stay because it's pretty and safe but go elsewhere to work and spend their money.

"Opportunities like this come along perhaps once in every 100 years and if ignorance and apathy mean we fail to take this chance, we'll not see it again."