Hugh Blaza examines the green credentials of the Oxford – Cambridge Arc following the recent Arc Leadership Group’s Energy Revolution webinar.

A clearer picture of what the Arc is all about is starting to emerge.

News of the East-West Rail link and the cancellation of the Expressway show signs of how some of the transport elements of the infrastructure will be provided.

And significantly, we have had the launch of the Government’s Spatial Strategy programme, coupled with the creation of the Arc Leadership Group (ALG).

The Arc is not a creature of Government policy; it is, rather, the recognition of an organic phenomenon of innovation and excellence which is emerging from the region. And to demonstrate one vital element of what has been going on, the ALG recently broadcast a fascinating 90-minute webinar entitled Leading the Energy Revolution.

To set the context, we need to appreciate that the innovation which is taking place in the region is not only pioneering in its own right; it should, with the right direction and support, provide a vital part of the infrastructure which the Arc itself requires; a 21st Century win-win, if ever there was one.

According to Peter Horrocks, CBE, the chair of SEMLEP (the South-East and Midlands LEP), the ALG’s commitment to protecting and enhancing the environment is unequivocal.

All decisions concerning development and infrastructure in the Arc must achieve the 2040 zero carbon target. And if the means of achieving this are disseminated from the Arc to the rest of the UK and then beyond, those responsible for delivering it will have achieved something very special.

Is the prospect of new building regulations designed to ensure sustainable development pie in the sky? Not at all; politicians have made the commitment to a sustainable delivery and the Arc Spatial Framework must encapsulate them.

A few examples from the webinar illustrate how the Arc is already a reality. They also provide a fascinating glimpse of what is to come – and how.

  • Phil Hart is director of energy and power at Cranfield University. He is leading a crucial study into energy production, energy efficiency and everything between. Included are hydrogen fuel solutions (including the removal of 90 per cent of diesel use), long term energy storage, carbon capture, the ‘15-minute city’ (a vital component in reducing the need to travel with its associated emissions, not to mention improving the quality of life), transport systems and zero emissions.
  • Emma Southwell-Sander represents the Energy Tech Cluster at Harwell. Her team works with over 30 organisations dedicated to new ways of providing energy. Some of the big names (Shell, BP, BT) have not just the ways but also the means. All are seeking ways of commercialising and rolling out the new technology. The extent to which the corporate and entrepreneurial communities need to see the activities pump-primed with Government support is one of the issues on which her team is focussing.
  • Andy Gilchrist of Oxford University’s Industrial Research Partnership points out that a seismic cultural shift is required and that it has to be achieved at breakneck speed. But he detects that momentum is building; ways are being found for organisations and industry to collaborate.
  • Simon Toseland runs a renewable energy operation at Chelveston. Based on an old MoD site, it is innovating and delivering renewable generation and energy storage solutions. Already, a 30 per cent energy saving has been achieved on one of the company’s projects. Simon believes that no planning permissions should be granted unless they incorporate binding provisions for the supply of renewable and sustainable power.
  • Melanie Bryce, of SSE Networks describes some of the initiatives taking place in Oxford. Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire) has a vision to decarbonise Oxford completely. Whilst they have the people who are committed to the project, the wherewithal – from providing IT systems to stimulus packages – is needed to enable its vision to be realised.
  • Tim Clarke runs Cambridge Cleantech, an organisation which connects innovators, corporates, academics, SMEs and investors for a smarter, more sustainable future. With a link to Oxford Green Tech at the other send of the Arc it neatly represents the rationale for the concept. But as Tim points out: ‘Our future is here, but not widely distributed’.

Running through all the speakers’ comments was the overarching need for communication and collaboration. It is clear the group is relying on the ALG to use the opportunity of the Spatial Framework to pull together all the players – from the researchers to the politicians, from the investors to the developers – and sees it as a way of upgrading national policy generally.

A cultural shift away from sclerotic decision making and implementation is what is required.

And the Arc participants are more than willing to provide masterclasses to Government at every level in order to show how buildings, communities, transport infrastructure, power supplies and other installations can be delivered in ways which will prove to the world that sustainable, net zero development is not just an imperative but a reality in the making.

The potential for the Arc to acquire the reputation as the world’s leader in sustainable innovation is already there and it must not be squandered.

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