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Connecting Cambridge and Oxford: Is the arc ready for the flood?

The Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford arc is never out of headlines at the moment. Whilst 2019 has begun with a tidal wave of consultations, is progress quick enough to fully realise its potential?

Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning officers may have been excused for breathing a sigh of relief last September when their respective local plans were adopted, but as we predicted, there is ‘no time to pause and reflect’.

Earlier this month the two ‘Greater Cambridge’ authorities launched a new ‘call for sites’ consultation. Rightly so perhaps, as their housing supply (by the most favourable method) is at 5.8 years in a county where the average house costs 14.6 times the yearly wage*. Hopefully the end result will include new settlements and neighbourhoods as well as smaller developments to revitalise rural communities and we are actively promoting a range of such sites.

Initially coined as the Cambridge-Oxford Arc, the major central England development is now often referred to as the ‘CaMKOx Corridor', presumably recognising that transport is fundamental to the area’s growth potential. Happily, progress on two major and welcome infrastructure projects has been made this month. Options for the ‘central section’ of the East-West Rail link between Bedford and Cambridge are being consulted on whilst the favoured route for the A428 realignment (to remove the bottlenecks at and between the Black Cat and Caxton Gibbet roundabouts) has been published. Both have the potential to link new and old settlements, stimulate housing and economic development and better connect with the existing road and rail networks.

However, at almost the same time, the National Infrastructure Commission’s Annual Monitoring Report (published on 22 February) recognised only limited progress in integrating housing delivery with new transport schemes.  

This is something of a wake-up call particularly as the report also highlights the lack of a published Vision Statement and delays to governance arrangements. Local authorities need this spatial vision if they are to make plans which deliver ‘transformational change’ by properly integrating infrastructure with housing and other development. We sincerely hope that the Government’s focus remains clear, despite other distractions.

For further information about anything covered in this comment piece please contact Jon Burgess or Nichola Traverse-Healy.

27 February 2019

*UK Price Index December 2018