Huawei graphic, 5G

Huawei to build £1bn optoelectronics centre in Cambridgeshire

Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant Huawei has been given the go-ahead to build a major R&D centre in Cambridgeshire, UK, which will focus on research, development and manufacture of optoelectronics products.

Huawei originally began searching for a location for the facility in 2007 and bought a 500-acre brownfield site 11km south of Cambridge in Sawston Village in 2018. It recently submitted a planning application to South Cambridgeshire District Council for the facility.

At the beginning of the remote meeting to decide on whether the development should go ahead, Chris Carter, delivery manager of the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service, told councillors: “Members of the committee will be aware that there has been considerable local, national and international interest in this proposal over the last week or so.

“Much of this attention has been focused on matters of security and international relations. I would like to remind members that in considering this application, the council can only consider the planning merits of the proposals and not the proposed occupier and user.”

Members must restrict their considerations to matters such as landscape impact, ecology and sustainability, transport and heritage.

CEO of Huawei Technologies R&D UK Henk Koopmans told the councillors about Huawei’s 20-years-plus history of working in the UK, describing Huawei as a “long-term, major investor and partner for the EU and the UK”. He added that the application had considered transport, ecology, heritage, visual impact, noise, and air quality issues to the satisfaction of council officers.

The plans were approved by a vote of nine to one, subject to a series of planning obligations. Huawei promised that the facility would employ between 350 and 400 people.

District councillor Peter Fane commented: “As we seem to be entering possibly the deepest recession for many years, the question of nearly 400 jobs has to be taken very seriously.”

In the first phase of the project, Huawei will invest £1bn in the construction of 50,000 square metres of facilities. Once fully operation, it will be the “international headquarters of Huawei’s optoelectronics business”.

“This investment will be a major boost for high-tech development in the region, helping to further cement Cambridge as a global innovation hub,” Huawei said in a statement. The company said that the facility would initially focus on development and manufacturing of optoelectronic devices - core technologies used in fibre-optic communication.

“The UK is home to a vibrant and open market, as well as some of the best talent the world has to offer. It’s the perfect location for this integrated innovation campus,” said Victor Zhang, Huawei VP, in a statement. “Through close collaboration with research institutes, universities and local industry, we want to advance optical communications technology for the industry as a whole, while doing our part to support the UK’s broader Industrial Strategy.”

“Ultimately, we want to help enshrine the UK’s leading position in optoelectronics and promote UK tech on a global scale.”

Huawei is in the middle of a major PR push in the UK as the threat of being completely shut out of the country’s next-generation mobile network hovers, following further US restrictions which lawmakers say could limit its ability to provide equipment to operators.

The US government, which has placed Huawei at the centre of its trade war with Beijing, has this week accused Huawei of being backed by the Chinese military. Huawei has rejected all accusations that its 5G equipment could compromise national security and maintains that it is an independent, privately held company.

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