UK Property Forums consultant Hugh Blaza is cautiously optimistic the Oxford – Cambridge Arc could be seeing a new lease of life.
Some nine months ago, the Government published its Levelling Up white paper in which its proposals for regional investment in the UK were set out.
There was dismay amongst its stakeholders and supporters that no mention of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc was made. This despite repeated undertakings to provide investment in it by previous HMG incumbents and the tasking of a phalanx of civil servants to set about how it would be delivered.
Michael Gove, responsible for the contents of the white paper, was reported to have mimed sitting on the lavatory and pulling the chain, adding ‘That’s what’s happened to the Arc’.
But he did appear to leave the door ajar, saying that it was up to the Arc stakeholders to make a compelling case as to why they should receive central Government funding over and above other, possibly more deserving, regions.
But ‘the Arc has had its day’ was the conclusion of many. Others were less pessimistic, however. They understood that, far from being a creature of Whitehall and so dependent entirely on its funding, the Arc was the answer to the question of how the already burgeoning activities of the innovation, tech and life science communities in the region could be curated in ways which would create an irresistible string of hubs for jobs, investment and – crucially – growth
And – even more crucially – how the growth could be managed in ways which favoured the environment.
Well, it looks as though the case ‘Flusher’ Gove was seeking has indeed been made. His department has announced that £2.5 million of funding will be contributed towards the formation of a pan regional governing body.
The concerted efforts of the local authorities, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), the Arc Universities Group (AUG) and transport body England’s Economic Heartland to convince HMG to open its coffers are to be applauded.
The search is now on for an independent chair for the body. In the meantime, a shadow board will continue to build the mechanisms whereby the partnership will be able to ‘champion the region as a world leader of innovation and business, acting to achieve environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth.
It will strengthen cross-boundary collaboration among its partners to focus on tackling the issues that matter to the people who live and work in the region’ (per the latest AUG press release).
The £2.5m won’t go far in helping the Arc achieve its aims, but it’s a start. The Arc’s opponents will, conveniently ignoring that the innovators in the region can’t exactly be uplifted to the ‘more deserving’ north, point out the imbalance between this crowded and relatively wealthy south – eastern corner of the country when compared to other traditionally poorer areas.
And they ask how the building needed to accommodate the growth can be achieved in an environmentally positive way, as the Arc’s proponents have consistently said it can.
They’re absolutely right to challenge the orthodoxy. We know the entire country’s infrastructure is creaking.
Roads are barely passable, either on account of traffic congestion or poor repair, raw sewage is scandalously allowed to pour into our waterways and the cost of energy is colossal.
So the work to ensure, not only that the environment does not suffer but is actually enhanced, is critical. Invest in the Arc, attract further investment into the activities going on there, many of which are targeted on improving the way we live, and the creation of a virtual circle, with spin-offs arcing across the entire country and beyond, may be assured.
But let’s hope there is no more flip-flopping from Gove and his crew. The Arc (and the entire country) deserves long-term and serious investment and support.
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