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Housing concerns for Cambridge-Oxford corridor

House credit part 3 via flickr

The success of the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford corridor is at risk without a “joined-up plan” for housing and transport connectivity, according to a new report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The NIC has today (16 November) published its interim report on how to maximise the potential for the area, while protecting the environment and securing the homes and jobs needed in the region.

The report’s central finding is that a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presents a fundamental risk to the successful development of the area. Without a joined-up plan for housing, jobs and infrastructure across the corridor, it will be left trailing behind its international competitors, according to the report.

In light of the interim findings, the NIC has made a series of recommendations:

• Government should go ahead with East West Rail’s initial phase, a new link cutting journey times by more than half on the route from Oxford to Bedford via Bletchley, ensuring it is delivered before 2024. It should also invest in the urgent development of detailed plans for both the next phase of East West Rail, which would complete the link to Cambridge, and a new Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.

• Plans for these major new transport links should be drawn up with the specific intention of securing the tens of thousands of new homes this area needs.

• Local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, key government departments and national delivery agencies should work together to develop a strategic vision for housing, jobs and infrastructure across the corridor, as well as proposals for the joint governance arrangements required to deliver co-ordinated planning. This should include the consideration of ambitious new delivery mechanisms, such as development corporations focused on new transport hubs and interchanges. The quality of infrastructure and its impact on maintaining and enhancing the built environment of the corridor should be central to any strategic plan for the area.

“To succeed in the global economy, the UK must build on its strengths. The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be Britain’s Silicon Valley – a globally recognised centre for science, technology and innovation. But its future success is not guaranteed,” said NIC deputy chair Sir John Armitt.

“Transport links across the corridor are often slow, unreliable and congested, and the area is home to two of the least affordable cities in the UK, in part because it has consistently failed to build the homes it needs. These twin problems are already increasing costs for businesses and diminishing their ability to attract employees at all levels – including the recruitment and retention of globally mobile talent.

“This area can become greater than the sum of its parts with better strategic planning which radically improves its transport connectivity whilst securing the tens of thousands of new homes it so desperately needs. East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, can be a catalyst to bring the region together to deliver the housing and connectivity it will need to compete with the best in the world.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity – we must grab it with both hands.”

In the second phase of the study, the NIC will work with local and national government, as well as other stakeholders, to help put this strategy into place.

Report in brief

Housing and connectivity

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor faces a chronic undersupply of homes made worse by poor east-west transport connectivity, according to the report. Two of the least affordable cities in the UK lie within the corridor, and the area as a whole has consistently failed to build the number of homes it needs.

The report identifies this shortage as putting sustained growth at risk – it is already increasing costs for businesses and diminishing their ability to attract employees at all levels, including the recruitment and retention of globally mobile talent.

Joined-up strategy

The report says that investment in infrastructure, including enhanced east-west transport links, can help to address these challenges, but it must be properly aligned with a strategy for new homes and communities, not developed in isolation. This means local authorities working in partnership, and with national government, to plan places, homes and transport together. Current governance mechanisms are not sufficient to deliver the step-change in strategic leadership and collaboration needed, according to the report.

Opportunity

The NIC has recommended that planning for East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway should be taken forward urgently. The report says these are once-in-a-generation investments that will deliver substantial national benefits and, if designed properly, can provide the foundations for the corridor’s long-term prosperity – unlocking housing sites, improving land supply, and supporting well-connected and sensitively designed new communities, while bringing productive towns and cities closer together.

This corridor is a national asset, that competes on the world stage and can fire the British economy, but only with an integrated and ambitious strategy to deliver new homes, connectivity and opportunities can it realise its full potential, warns the report.

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.

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