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East west rail and road projects 'key to unlocking growth'

Oxford Parkway Station

The East West Rail and Oxford to Cambridge expressway schemes must be built as quickly as possible to unlock growth, according to a new report published by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The Partnering for prosperity: A new deal for the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc report said the two infrastructure projects provided a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to unlock land for new settlements.

The 210km Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc is currently home to 3.3M people. With investment it said the arc could provide an economic and transport link, connecting towns and cities in East Anglia to the west of England and South Wales.

At present, the report said the arc was neither a joined-up transport corridor, nor a single functional economic area, and without “swift and determined” action to overcome the area’s housing crisis, it would fall behind its international competitors and fail to attract and retain the skills it needed.

But it said the change needed was not insurmountable.

Several recommendations were made in the report across a number of sections. The first said the government should commit £1bn to deliver the East West Rail line between Bicester and Bedford by 2023, it should accelerate the development of the line between Bedford and Cambridge to open it by 2030, and to deliver the missing link of the Oxford Cambridge Expressway completion by 2030.

It also said to make the new arc a success, the government should introduce fast direct services to London and work with the private sector to agree funding packages.

The report called for government and local authorities to work together, through a “robust and transparent process”, to designate locations for new and expanded towns by 2020.

A third recommendation was made for a new independent design panel to be put in place for East West Rail, the expressway and the new towns across the arc by April 2018. Among other issues it said the panel should work to scrutinise and challenge town designs, plans and delivery to make most efficient use of the new and existing infrastructure and achieve net gains in biodiversity and natural capital across the arc.

East West Rail is currently waiting for the approval of a Transport and Works Act after slashing £500M off its costs to deliver the scheme for just under £1bn.

East West Rail Consortium’s Joint Delivery Board for the Western Section chairman Mark Shaw Mark Shaw said he was “delighted” the NIC had reinforced the importance of East West Rail to enabling the region to realise its economic potential. But he said the recommendations made in the report needed to be turned into reality.

“Next week’s budget provides the Chancellor with the opportunity to allocate the monies to deliver the Western Section,” said Shaw. “But that must be seen as just the start – for the full benefit of East West Rail to be realised, work on the missing link between Bedford and Cambridge must continue at pace, and its delivery accelerated if at all possible.

“We therefore welcome the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation on the Central Section.”

The report said the new expressway could be delivered in parts, with upgrades to an existing section of road forming a new expressway between Cambridge (M11) and Milton Keynes (M1) being carried out in the current roads investment strategy (RIS1). It said a wholly new section between Milton Keynes (M1) and Oxford (M40) was being considered along side upgrades to existing roads which would form the “missing link” in the expressway.

In August this year, Jacobs was awarded a £15M, two year contract to develop options for the route.

Highways England Oxford to Cambridge expressway project lead Matt Stafford responded to the report by saying its recommendations would inform its ongoing analytical review of the corridor.

“We note today’s National Infrastructure Commission final report,” said Stafford. “Its recommendations will help inform our ongoing analytical review of the proposed broad expressway corridors and we look forward to continuing to engage with our stakeholders as we further define the project.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Perhaps the Government and local authorities should consider setting up "Science City" based upon Harwell, Culham, Milton Park and Didcot as a counterweigh to Milton Keynes and a rival to Silicon Fen in Cambridgeshire. The main rail line from London to Bristol runs through there site as does the A34 leading from the M40 to the M4 - this could be up-graded to A34(M). Oxford is a short distance away, easily reached by either road or rail and Oxford Airport could take pressure off Heathrow. Such a proposal would boost the economic case for improved links between Oxford and Cambridge. Using the New Towns Act land can be bought, very quickly, by CPO at existing use value. Better to plan the area properly (using a New Town Development Corporation) rather than allow developers to "cherry-pick" the best bits and leave the local authorities to pick up the rest and provide the infrastructure.

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