UK Property Forums consultant Hugh Blaza sees East-West Rail as an essential element of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. But he argues there’s a missing element to East-West Rail. The scheme was given £760 million recently.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a great fan of the Arc.

In addition to the innovation activities of the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the activities of the companies and universities in the swathe of land between them are just as important and pioneering.

The Government has recognised that whilst the growth in activity may have been organic thus far, it needs to put its shoulder to the wheel; it’s realised that if they aren’t supported and encouraged here, the innovations will go elsewhere. And we’re not talking about elsewhere in the UK.

Developing the clusters in the Arc and providing accommodation for those who would work in it has led to demands for a million new homes. Plus the infrastructure to support them.

Not to mention the means of travelling between them. The (very 20th Century) notion of a new motorway linking Oxford and Cambridge appears to have been permanently shelved.

But in just the last few days, we’ve heard that newly created East-West Rail has been given the go ahead to join the dots. By 2025, we should be able to hop on a train at Oxford Parkway and hop off at CB1. And all points in between. Genuinely good news.

Now anyone with a passing interest will have tuned into the numerous webinars and broadcasts extolling the virtues and potential of the Arc.

The stakeholders and their supporters have all gone to great lengths to square the apparently ‘unsquarable’ circle: in spite of all the new activity, the Arc will deliver a ‘net environmental gain’.

Councillors, planners, land agents, water company scientists have all been paraded to confirm it is ‘axiomatic’ that the environment (which will by definition be affected) will change for the better.

Videos heralding the intent have been created and broadcast. The Arc leadership groups have confirmed they’ll be judged by their performance on the green issue.

To say environmentalists have treated these undertakings with a degree of scepticism would be an understatement. Which is why the announcement by East-West Rail may be the biggest own goal in the history of the Arc so far. Why? Because the trains won’t be green at all; they’ll be powered by diesel.

East-West Rail says: “We are absolutely passionate about our commitment to the environment and our aim is to be a net zero carbon railway when the line between Oxford and Cambridge is up and running.

“At present, a decision on whether the new railway will be electrified has not been made by the Government. However, the potential for electrification on East West Rail remains under active consideration.”

Not only is this a gift to the environmental lobbyists, it seriously undermines any trust in the Government’s assertions that it will adhere to its own green agenda.

But even worse, it undermines, through its lack of support, the genuine and admirable vision shared by all those committed to delivering the Arc in a way which enhances the environment.

‘Must try harder’ is the message. Let us hope East-West Rail is delivering that message to the Government in no uncertain terms.

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