The Oxford – Cambridge Arc may be low on the Government’s priority but this week UK Property Forums consultant Hugh Blaza will join other supporters of the concept to discuss the way forward now that ministers are not backing it.

For those of us who have been following the story of the Oxford – Cambridge Arc, booking a place at the prestigious Westminster Social Policy Forum’s What’s next for the Arc conference this coming Wednesday, April 27, was a bit of a no-brainer.

We might not have known it when we booked our tickets, but with speakers from central and regional government and leaders of the Arc project scheduled to appear, this will be the perfect opportunity to examine what has appeared to many to be a surprising U-turn by Government.

In 2021, the Government launched a wide-ranging consultation as part of the development of a spacial framework document for the Arc and we were eagerly anticipating the publication of plans for the next phase of the project.

Bidwells, long-standing champion of the Arc, had, with Blackstock Consulting, published Radical Capital, its second deep dive into the opportunities and challenges in the Arc. In it Bidwells explained how the many strands of ‘capital’ present in the region would create a web of possibilities way beyond the region itself.

It’s a story whose importance may have been diluted by familiarity, but is there a better example of how innovation in the Arc has benefitted the entire world than the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine? You can rest assured that it isn’t the only one.

But the need for coordinated planning, cooperation and – frankly – enlightened thinking (hold that concept for a little later in this piece…) was central to their message.

A call for a ‘supercharge’, ie the creation of ‘an Arc-wide promotion agency to continue telling the story … a central organisation leading the storytelling to different audiences … consistently reminding us of the pride we should have in our S&T success’.

And at the time one could be forgiven for thinking that the call to arms was being received loud and clear by those with the muscle to assist in the delivery.

And then along comes the Government White Paper on Levelling Up. Surely the key policy of this benighted Government would at least in part latch onto the opportunities across the Arc and see how the UK could benefit as a whole – and be levelled up as a result.

The White Paper also talks much about ‘capital’ and there is much overlap between the strengths and opportunities in the UK it identifies with those described by Bidwells.

Curious to note, in passing, how so many of these appear to have become targets of various Government departments for the chop, but I digress.

Somewhat hilariously, given the current societal fractures in the UK, the White Paper compares its levelling up agenda with the Italian Renaissance, a ‘contemporary Medici model’.

But no mention of the Arc, per se. Its opponents and deniers (who have never, it seems, truly understood what the Arc is) immediately latched onto this with some glee. But do they and the Government think the Arc is a dead duck?

Does the Government think there are no pockets of deprivation in the Arc which themselves need to be levelled up? It isn’t clear.

Maybe the Government is going to let the Arc sort itself out. Or is it implicit in the White Paper that the Arc will receive the assistance the Government had previously identified as essential for the delivery of its agenda?

Surely, the geographical stretch and the political disparities across the Arc demand some measure of coordination so that the opportunities can be delivered effectively and efficiently?

I wonder what the Medicis would have made of it? And I think we should be told. Perhaps on Wednesday, we will.

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