National Infrastructure Commission
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New East-West transport links could provide a once in a generation opportunity for ‘Britain’s Silicon Valley’ - Armitt

The National Infrastructure Commission publishes its interim report into the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor.

In March 2016, the National Infrastructure Commission was asked to consider how to maximise the potential of the Cambridge- Milton Keynes- Oxford corridor as a single, knowledge-intensive cluster that competes on a global stage, protecting the area’s high quality environment, and securing the homes and jobs that the area needs.

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.

This interim report makes practical recommendations to that end:

  • Government should go ahead with East West Rail’s initial phase, a new link cutting journey times by more than half on the route from Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes, ensuring it is delivered before 2024; and it should invest in developing as soon as possible detailed plans for both the next phase of East West Rail (which would complete the link to Cambridge) and for a new Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.
  • Plans for these major new transport links should be drawn up with the specific intention of securing the tens of thousands of new homes this area needs.
  • Local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, key government departments and national delivery agencies, should work together to develop a strategic vision for housing, jobs and infrastructure across the corridor, as well as proposals for the joint governance arrangements required to deliver co-ordinated planning. This should include the consideration of ambitious new delivery mechanisms, such as development corporations focused on new transport hubs and interchanges. The quality of infrastructure and its impact on maintaining and enhancing the built environment of the corridor should be central to any strategic plan for the area.

In the second phase of this study, the National Infrastructure Commission will work with local and national government, and other stakeholders, to put this strategy in place.

Releasing the report, NIC Deputy Chair, Sir John Armitt said:

To succeed in the global economy, the UK must build on its strengths. The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be Britain’s Silicon Valley – a globally recognised centre for science, technology and innovation. But its future success is not guaranteed.

Transport links across the corridor are often slow, unreliable and congested, and the area is home to two of the least affordable cities in the UK, in part because it has consistently failed to build the homes it needs. These twin failings are already increasing costs for businesses and diminishing their ability to attract employees at all levels – including the recruitment and retention of globally mobile talent.

This area can become greater than the sum of its parts with better strategic planning which radically improves its transport connectivity whilst securing the tens of thousands of new homes it so desperately needs. East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, can be a catalyst to bring the region together to deliver the housing and connectivity it will need to compete with the best in the world.

This is a once in a generation opportunity – we must grab it with both hands.

NIC Interim Report: In Brief

To succeed in the global economy, Britain must build on its strengths. The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be the UK’s Silicon Valley – a world renowned centre for science, technology and innovation. But its future success is not guaranteed.

The Commission’s central finding is that a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presents a fundamental risk to the success of the area. Without a joined-up plan for housing, jobs and infrastructure across the corridor, it will be left behind by 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.

A LACK OF HOUSING AND CONNECTIVITY ARE PUTTING FUTURE SUCCESS AT RISK

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor faces a chronic undersupply of homes made worse by poor east-west transport connectivity. Two of the least affordable cities in the UK lie within the corridor, and the area as a whole has consistently failed to build the number of homes it needs.

That shortage puts sustained growth at risk. It is already increasing costs for businesses and diminishing their ability to attract employees at all levels – including the recruitment and retention of globally mobile talent.

A JOINED-UP STRATEGY LINKING INFRASTRUCTURE AND HOMES

Investment in infrastructure, including enhanced east-west transport links, can help to address these challenges, but it must be properly aligned with a strategy for new homes and communities, not developed in isolation. This means local authorities working in partnership, and with national government, to plan places, homes and transport together. Current governance mechanisms are not sufficient to deliver the step-change in strategic leadership and collaboration needed.

A ONCE–IN-A-GENERATION OPPORTUNITY

Planning for East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway should be taken forward urgently. These are once-in-a-generation investments that will deliver substantial national benefits and, if designed properly, can provide the foundations for the corridor’s long-term prosperity: unlocking housing sites, improving land supply, and supporting well-connected and sensitively designed new communities, whilst bringing productive towns and cities closer together.

This corridor is a national asset, that competes on the world stage and can fire the British economy – but only with an integrated and ambitious strategy to deliver new homes, connectivity and opportunities can it realise its full potential.

In the second phase of this study, the National Infrastructure Commission will work with local and national government, and other stakeholders, to put this strategy in place.

Recommendations in full

Recommendation 1: Local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, government departments and national delivery agencies, should work together to develop an integrated strategic plan for infrastructure, housing and jobs across the corridor.

  • The plan should provide a framework for cross-corridor economic and transport strategies and for strategic spatial plans which, when combined, enable a step-change in housing provision and connectivity.
  • The plan should also ensure that options for funding infrastructure are fully integrated into the strategy.
  • The Commission will support this process as part of the second phase of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford study.

Recommendation 2: The quality of infrastructure design and its impact on maintaining and enhancing the character of the built environment should be central to any strategic plan for the area.

  • As part of the next stage of its work, the Commission will continue to work with urban planners and the design community to understand how infrastructure can enable new and expanded settlements which incorporate the highest standards of design and place making.

Recommendation 3: Local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, government departments and national delivery agencies, should work together to develop proposals for the joint governance arrangements required to deliver coordinated planning.

  • This work should build on and strengthen existing cross-corridor collaborations and should consider the potential for formal joint governance mechanisms (e.g. joint committees, combined authorities, sub-national transport bodies, or the creation of unitary authorities). These should include consideration of future devolved powers, freedoms and financial flexibilities.
  • The work should also consider the full range of delivery mechanisms capable of accelerating housing growth, including looking at the potential for new development corporations to accelerate and drive delivery.
  • The Commission will support this process as part of the second phase of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford study.

Recommendation 4: The government should commit to delivering the Western Section of the East West Rail project before 2024 (the end of the rail industry’s Control Period 6).

  • To achieve this, the government should bring forward £100m in funding to accelerate design and development, and commit construction monies as necessary to:
  • avoid abortive cost (subject to the development process demonstrating rigorous disciplines in planning, cost management and value management)
  • integrate construction of the East West Rail Western Section with work HS2.
  • To fully maximise the benefits of the project local authorities should recognise the potentially transformational benefits of East West Rail and develop and agree, working with national government, an ambitious strategy for housing development and delivery around stations and station towns.
  • The Commission will support this process as part of the second phase of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford study.

Recommendation 5: The government should commit up to £10m in development funding to continue work on the Central Section of the East West Rail link.

  • Government should provide clear guidance that a core objective for the development of this scheme should be to support the provision of new housing and connect it to local and regional labour markets.
  • Local partners and national government should work together to develop a plan for the Central Section which links development work on the East West Rail Central Section to options for local housing development. *Government should explore the potential for alternative delivery and financing mechanisms for the railway. This should include consideration of how third party contributions could be leveraged.
  • The Commission will support this process as part of the second phase of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford study.

Recommendation 6: The government should commit £27m to the end of 2018/19 to fund the next phase of development work on the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway study, allowing the detailed design process to begin as soon as possible.

  • Highways England should work with relevant local authorities to develop and assess the potential Expressway options and develop a proposal which maximises the scheme’s potential to unlock housing growth and connect it to local and regional labour markets, alongside delivering wider benefits.
  • The Commission will support this process as part of the second phase of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford study.

Recommendation 7: In order to maximise the benefits of new strategic infrastructure and to ensure that urban centres across the corridor continue to function effectively - Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships, government departments and national delivery agencies, should work together in each centre to define a set of credible, coherent and co-owned city centre transport strategies.

  • These strategies may build on existing plans, but also ensure that national and regional level schemes are properly integrated into local thinking.
  • These strategies should be consistent with partners’ wider work to develop a plan for the corridor that maximises its potential to support housing growth.
  • This should include realistic proposals on funding and financing and any consideration of any devolved powers, freedoms or financial flexibilities.
  • The Commission will support this process as part of the second phase of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford study.

 

Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/national-infrastructure-commission

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