The Saclay Plateau Research and Innovation Cluster

Saclay Plateau was elected to illustrate the country’s scientific ingeniousness because of the relevance of its urban history and of its current equipment.
The Saclay Plateau cluster is located West of Paris across Yvelines (78) and Essonne (91) “départements”, some 20 km away from the capital.
It mainly relies on the urban poles of Versailles, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Massy and Palaiseau. It gathers 650,000 residents, spread across 49 towns, most of them being part of urban communities (Communautés d’agglomérations) : the urban communities of Saclay Plateau, “Versailles Grand Parc”, “Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines” and “Europ’Essonne”, and the community of towns of “Coeur du Hurepoix”.

The Saclay Plateau cluster, dedicated to academic and scientific excellence with un unparalleled concentration of higher education establishments and R&D centres …

Immediately after World War II, the French national centre for scientific research (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, or CNRS) settled in Gif-sur-Yvette. Founded at the same period, the French Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, or CEA) settled there in 1947.

In the 1950s, this embryo cluster benefited from a hitherto unknown academic attractiveness: the Faculty of Science (Faculté des Sciences de Paris) settled there in 1956, followed by the prominent business school HEC (1964), the Ecole Supérieure d’Optique (1965), the Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité (1975) and the prestigious higher education establishment Ecole Polytechnique (1976).

Today, the site is home to 15 R&D units and 1,500 employees and continues to welcome, at a steady pace, academic organisations eager to participate in the Saclay Plateau dynamism. ENSTA ParisTech arrived in 2012, the Institute for Molecular Science (Institut des Sciences Moléculaires) will open in Orsay in 2014, followed by ENSAE ParisTech and ESTACA (2015), Ecole Centrale (2016), AgroParisTech, Telecom ParisTech, the Institute of Neurosciences (Institut des neurosciences) and Mines-Telecom (2017), as well as the reputed ENS Cachan (2018). More than a half century after it began, Saclay Plateau still has a decade of projects ahead.

As part of this momentum, the future Paris-Saclay University will pull all its sites under one banner starting in 2014, granting the cluster a true academic and student identity, enhancing its global recognition and favouring a high quality of life for students.

In addition, the newly-created Institute of photovoltaic of the Greater Paris Region (Institut photovoltaïque) will move its offices there in 2016. A public-private partnership associating CNRS-Ecole Polytechnique with companies such as Total, EDF and Air Liquide, the institute will employ 200 corporate researchers with the ambition to propel France to a global leadership position in solar energy.

… combined with strong private initiatives that left their mark

The Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines hub is characterised by the legacy footprint of several French multinational companies such as PSA Peugeot-Citroën and Renault. Thalès settled there in 1968, then increased its presence in 2006 by adding R&D labs.

The 2000s have seen the region’s industrial transformation with Danone, Kraft Foods and EDF all building large sites in a number of the plateau’s towns between 2000 and 2010. Today, French electricity operator EDF is considering reinforcing its presence by consolidating its activities there in 2015, while Carrefour has elected the plateau to build its new headquarters, built in 2014.

Following discussions on how to leverage the cluster’s assets further, and the visit of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and EDF CEO Henri Proglio in October 2013, Sofradir (an infrared manufacturer owned by Thalès and Sagem) announced they will move their headquarters and production units to Palaiseau.

A “national interest operation”, the area calls for a better transportation network

The French state has acknowledged the importance and addressed the business densification of the area by labelling it a national interest operation (Opération d’intérêt National) zone in 2006, thus reclaiming control over urban planning from local authorities and facilitating regulatory and legal processes.
It is in this context that, under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, the Grand Paris Express automated Line 18 project emerged, with the planned construction of 7 new metro stations. However effective the plateau’s road infrastructure (RN118, A10…), it is nevertheless lacking in terms of public transportation with RER lines B and C only reaching the valleys close to the plateau.

By 2023, Massy will be connected to the CEA thanks to Grand Paris Express Line 18. The line will then be extend eastwards to Orly (to be launched in 2027) and westwards to Versailles (to be launched in 2030), allowing at the same time a number of interconnections with RER lines B and C.

Key figures 

  • Today, 11 laboratories of excellence all contribute to enriching academic curriculums and to enhancing the Plateau’s international influence;
  • Ultimately, 20% of French R&D will be based on the Saclay Plateau;
  • 10,500 researchers and 50,000 students will create a vibrant population for the future Université de Paris-Saclay;
  • Confident in the project’s success, the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has already ranked the Saclay Plateau among the top 8 competitiveness clusters globally (August 2013).

 CDT related to this cluster :

Versailles Grand Parc – St Quentin – Vélizy CDT

Paris Saclay Territoire Sud CDT