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Good design is essential for good infrastructure, our recommendations will reflect the quality and character of local communities across the growth corridor – Phil Graham

NIC Cheif Executive, Phil Graham, speech to the Campaign to Protect Rural England

In a speech to the Campaign to Protect Rural England yesterday (Tuesday 6 December), National Infrastructure Commission Chief Executive, Phil Graham, has announced a new partnership with design agency 5th Studio, as he pledged to put quality design at the heart of the NIC’s work, from the existing Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford study to the coming publication of the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment.

The NIC’s Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford growth corridor study will work with 5th Studio to:

  • Meet the challenge of the lack of sufficient and suitable housing in the area in three ways.
    1. Assessing the different forms that new developments along this corridor could take (including but not limited to: brownfield development, densification of existing settlements, urban extensions and new towns and development around new transport hubs).
    2. Investigating the different forms of infrastructure needed to connect these various new developments and the effect this has on the quality of housing and the built and natural environment.
    3. Assessing the most appropriate form of housing development to meet the needs of this area, supporting housing need, jobs and growth.
  • Encourage good design in infrastructure and housing within the area, using international best practice.

Announcing the partnership as part of the NIC’s firm commitment to quality design, Graham said:

Good design is crucial in delivering good infrastructure.

Good design is about more than aesthetics. It is about delivering infrastructure which works for its users, and for everyone affected by it.

We see this most acutely in the context of our Cambridge- Milton Keynes- Oxford study, a real life example of how design and infrastructure interact.

Our preliminary report, published last month, found that, ‘a lack of sufficient and suitable housing poses a fundamental risk to the success of the area.’ Suitable’ is key. It means new housing and communities whose design recognises that each of these places is successful and attractive as somewhere to work and live in its own right. * They need to be in the locations where people want to live – too far and you are either outside the right housing markets or putting further strain on transport networks. * There needs to be a suitable mix of types and tenures to support a range of buyers and residents – from those attracted by world class job prospects to young first time buyers who have grown up in the area or post doc researchers looking to rent for a period of years. * And developments need to suit the areas in which they are located, preserving and where possible, enhancing, local character. What is appropriate for Oxford may be different from Milton Keynes, which may again be different from Bedford.

That is why we have engaged 5th studio – a leading spatial design agency with experience working across the fields of architecture, urban design, infrastructure and landscape – to help us and local stakeholders develop our thinking in this area. 5th studio are based in Cambridge and blend both experience in the area with a range of national and international commissions.

From the start, we have been clear that any sustainable solution, be it new infrastructure or new housing, within this corridor will have to respect the quality and character of local communities and of local landscapes. We will only be able to deliver the long term consensus that this area needs if it does so.

The work that we are doing with 5th Studio, will provide the starting point for a conversation about the design principles that should underpin the long-term vision for the area.

The NIC can’t solve these problems ourselves in their entirety. Our role is to work with local partners to set a strategy, not to design every aspect of the infrastructure ourselves. Good design doesn’t come from a ‘black box’ – it engages with those who use or are affected by the products and systems in question, whether that is an iPad or a new railway and the homes and communities around it.

Our role will be to provide a framework – and, perhaps more importantly, to help partners frame their ambitions. The work that we will do with 5th Studio will play a key part in supporting this. If we get it right, this project, and the design principles that have driven it, can provide a model for other areas and other infrastructure schemes.


  • NIC Chief Executive Phil Graham is delivering his ‘Making the Connections: Lessons from the NIC’s first year’ lecture to the Campaign to Protect Rural England at 1500 Tuesday 6 December
  • The NIC delivered its preliminary report into the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford growth corridor on Wednesday 16 November. The Commission’s central finding is that a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presents a fundamental risk to the success of this area. Without a joined-up plan for housing, jobs and infrastructure across the corridor, it will be left behind its international competitors. By providing the foundations for such a strategy, new east-west transport links present a once in a generation opportunity to secure the area’s future success.
  • 5th Studio is a spatial design agency based in Cambridge


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