A shift in Government priorities puts the future of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc firmly into the hands of local collaborators. David Bainbridge, a director in the Savills’ central planning team, discusses the latest news.

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc has been defined as a national economic priority area, with potential to become one of the most prosperous, innovative and sustainable economies in the world.

Its success has been positioned as key to the UK’s national prosperity, international competitiveness, and ability to meet some of the challenges and opportunities the country faces over the next century.

More recently however, we have seen a shift in Government priorities, particularly as the levelling up agenda has come into sharper focus.

Published in February, the Levelling Up White Paper focuses on investment and job creation to address the disparity between the top and worst performing parts of the country. Whilst not being a simple case of north versus south, references to the Arc were and are notable in their absence.

The indication from Government, now that we have the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, is that the Arc is now considered a pan-regional partnership, in a similar vein to initiatives such as the Western Gateway, Midlands Engine and Thames Estuary. It is not expected that any top-down governance model will be imposed.

Government funding is likely to be made available for locally-led collaboration and this would be matched with contributions from each Growth Board area, in return for dedicated resource.

Despite there being an Arc leaders group and network of stakeholders interested in it, including a group to represent the universities present across it, the challenge will be in bringing together the various local authorities involved to commit to a single vision and route forward.

There are many sides to the debate, including question marks over how the growth requirement might be managed in a way that is consistent with climate change targets. Few would argue though that there are aspects of funding, particularly for infrastructure, which require definitive underpinning.

The expressway road connection from Oxford to Milton Keynes was shelved some time ago but other projects encompassed within the Arc initiative have fared better, with Government providing funding support for locations such as Milton Keynes East and Aylesbury Garden Town.

We eagerly anticipate further announcements in 2022 on the preferred route and new station locations for East-West Rail which should deliver enhanced services between Oxford and Cambridge by 2030, with or without a spatial framework for the Arc.

One thing is clear – the Arc initiative is in need of some intensive care to ensure it still has future longevity to realise the evident potential that exists across the region.

Savills’ central planning team is based in Oxford and Reading. For further information on the above, please contact David Bainbridge on David.bainbridge@savills.com or 01865 269 053.

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