A potential British Silicon Valley in the south east will be left behind international rivals without a joined-up jobs and infrastructure plan, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said.
The NIC has published an interim report on maximising the potential of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor as ‘a single, knowledge-intensive cluster that competes on a global stage’.
A Transport Systems Catapult driverless pod in Milton Keynes
Its central finding is that a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presents a fundamental risk to the success of this area, while new east-west transport links would provide the foundations of a strategy for housing, jobs and infrastructure and ‘present a once in a generation opportunity to secure the area’s success’.
NIC deputy chair Sir John Armitt said: ‘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.’
The report recommends that local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, Government departments and national delivery agencies should jointly develop a strategic vision for the corridor, as well as proposals for ‘ambitious new delivery mechanisms’, such as development corporations focused on new transport hubs and interchanges.
The report’s recommendations also include Government backing for an ‘East West Rail’ link across the corridor and for a new Oxford-Cambridge road expressway.
It says plans for these new links ‘should be drawn up with the specific intention of securing the tens of thousands of new homes this area needs’.
Cllr Martin Tett, chairman of England’s Economic Heartland sub-national transport group for the area, said it was ‘good to see that the potential of the Heartlands has been recognised’.
He urged the chancellor to ‘help unlock this potential’ by investing in schemes like East West Rail and the expressway in his Autumn Statement, next week.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, also supported the NIC’s approach. He said: ‘It’s no good planning desperately-needed housing solely on the basis of land being available, if that simply puts more pressure on already constrained and congested networks. The accessibility of our homes, by road and rail, is mission critical for our economic success.’