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Review of BEN Oxford to Cambridge Corridor Development Conference

November 12, 2019

The aim of the Oxford-Cambridge Corridor Development Conference was to discuss the key updates happening across the arc corridor from those in the know, and some of the challenges we face

By Nigel Fern

This included panels of experts and VIP speakers discussing their ongoing development plans, revealing exclusive insights and future schemes set to take place across the region. The conference, hosted by Built Environment Networking, was well attended with over 350 attendees and 15 VIP speakers, with Ron Henry chairing the afternoon session from a developer point of view.

Some of the key points we took away from the conference:

  • We have seen several different names and acronyms for the corridor, namely the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, CaMKOx etcWe clearly need to settle on a universal name that is catchy and not confusing for the general public. Evidently this will help to reach a consensus and help to continue progress made to date on the subject.
  • A lot of conversations around the corridor obviously involve the nationally significant highway infrastructure, such as the East-West Rail corridor, and Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. However, it was clear from the discussions that emphasis should not just be focused on these schemes, but also cycle and walking networks and facilities along these routes, particularly with the wider benefits this brings such as mental health. This is the one big thing the Business Case for the Cambridge Guided Busway totally underestimated – the amount of people cycling on the parallel cycleway for commuting and leisure purposes. Imagine this, an unbroken off-road cycleway stretching 80 miles between Oxford and Cambridge. I for one would like to ride this route on my bike. Just think of all the historical, cultural and touristic landmarks you would pass en route.
  • The focus for the corridor has been the Government’s requirement to deliver one million new homes in the region. This is what makes it into the media and the general public which can be a bit daunting for the existing communities along this corridor. A better emphasis is needed on the job opportunities instead and the benefits and prospects for existing people, since homes are a potential consequence of the jobs. This is not just the usual office, general industry, warehouse/distribution jobs, but focused and building upon the high tech R&D sector this region is famous for, such as Britain’s Motorsport Valley, Britain’s Silicon Valley, the Universities, Millbrook Proving Ground, to name just a few. More discussion around this will be what the existing communities want to hear.
  • One question that is apparent – is whether our current planning system is geared up to meet this corridor challenge, particularly as the corridor straddles five English Counties? There is still a lot of work to be done to speed up delivery, since it is becoming increasingly challenging to deliver sites of just a few hundred homes, let alone collectively one million homes at the moment. Is the solution to reintroduce Regional Spatial Strategies that provided regional level planning frameworks for the regions of England (with their withdrawal in 2010)?

One thing for sure is that local and international partners, stakeholders, central Government, and even the general public must come together to ensure this corridor opportunity will deliver a sustainable solution for generations to come.

The Oxford Cambridge Corridor Development 1/2 Day Conference was held on 22 January 2019 in Milton Keynes.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.

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