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Small schemes could give quick boost to East West corridor

Park and Ride Oxford

An ambitious long term transport strategy is needed if the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) vision for the Cambridge to Oxford corridor is to succeed, according to a new report.

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Corridor Transport Workstream Report, commissioned by the NIC, outlines the transport upgrades needed to build a knowledge based cluster of cities and support growth outside of London.

But to achieve this, the transport schemes identified, coupled with the building programme to meet the housing need, would require a step-change in the level of investment in the region.

An interim report into the overall needs of the corridor was published in November last year. That report said that to succeed in the global economy, Britain must build on its strengths saying that the corridor connecting the cities could become the UK’s Silicon Valley – a world renowned centre for science, technology and innovation.

It warned that its future success was not guaranteed and a “joined up plan” for housing and transport connectivity is needed.

The new transport-focused report, produced by consultant Arup, identifies four self-contained labour markets within the corridor – Swindon, Oxford, the central area of Milton Keynes (Northampton, Bedford, Wellingborough), and Cambridge. It looks at the transport links needed to cope with forecast growth.

The report says interaction between the four labour markets is limited because of poor quality orbital links and because local and inter-urban road traffic share the same road links, resulting in congestion.

The report adds that, although the western leg of East-West Rail from Oxford to Bedford is under construction, there is no direct rail link across the corridor. It said the best routes for travel between the cities was often via London or via interchanges to north of the corridor on congested and overcrowded routes.

The report looks at future growth areas and area where transport upgrades would create opportunities for new housing developments.

It highlights national transport schemes which could affect the corridor as the East West Rail western section, East West Rail central section – which has yet to get approval, the Oxford to Cambridge expressway road, Crossrail 2 and High Speed 2.

The report detailed the impacts of a baseline, incremental or transformational upgrades to each transport mode, across the corridor and between areas within it.

The baseline case assumes the same level of funding and investment with the same build rates as over the last 10 years. The report concludes that without substantial intervention, traffic speeds would fall, delays would increase, journey times would be less reliable,  congestion would increase. There would also be environmental damage and a loss of productive economic output. The report says that for the baseline case, commuting movements would increase by 24% by 2050 compared to 2011.

In the incremental case, where houses are built in line with targets, the report says commuting movements would grow by at least 30% in each of the four sub regions producing an overall increase of 37%. Oxford and Cambridge were projected to experience some of the highest percentage increases in housing, employment, productivity and consequently gross value added gains.

The transformational case assumes a step change in investment and housebuilding, with spending exceeding targets. In this case it says commuter movements could rise by up to 61% in the Milton Keynes area and 53% across the four regions.

Arup associate Matthew Dillon said putting together the report was an iterative process, looping between property market analysts Savills and economics specialist Cambridge Econometrics. The report concludes that, although there is a need for better long distance links between the two cities, the key to unlocking the growth faster was often in local improvement schemes.

“We see an equal role for well-targeted local schemes as the more major interventions, but the smaller schemes often realise the benefits quicker,” he said. “ We see the big regional schemes, as being justified just as much on their local benefits to allow people to commute from a station outside say, Milton Keynes, to Cambridge or Oxford just as much as the links between Cambridge and Oxford themselves.”

He said local road improvement schemes and larger long distance schemes, such as the expressway should be planned with each other in mind.

“The two needn’t be mutually exclusive,” he said. “You can have the segregation of those types of traffic. The situation where a road is built and then it is bulldozed by the expressway in a few years’ time shouldn’t exist provided the upgrades that are made are expressway ready.”

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