Eastern Powerhouse launch: ‘Delay threatens vision for East of England’
The transport equation across the East of England is just one of many issues that must be addressed whatever the outcome of the OxCam Arc might be, says Eastern Powerhouse chair, James Palmer.
The Eastern Powerhouse, a business-led organisation chaired by the former regional mayor, was launched in Westminster in March. It is making the strategic argument for greater investment in the east of England. Its role is “to platform the whole of the east as a single interconnected region, encompassing its coastal towns, rural villages and world-class cities like Cambridge”.
At a regional meeting at the Gonville Hotel on Friday, Mr Palmer called for business and civic leaders in the east of England to reset their thinking about the city to drive growth and prosperity right across the eastern region, and not just points west towards the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and south along the Cambridge-Stansted-London corridor.
Speaking to a gathering of regional businesses alongside Cambridge MP, Daniel Zeichner, chairman of Chaplin Hotels, David Chaplin, and CEO of o2H, Prashant Shah, Mr Palmer said: “Cambridge is rightly seen as a national growth phenomenon and a beacon for other towns and communities in the region. We need to harness its qualities and assets as a catalyst for their growth too. Local businesses and politicians need to appreciate how the city can be a force for growth across the whole of the east”.
Cambridge has an unrivalled concentration of knowledge intensive businesses (KIBs) – the 5,000 KIBs within 20 miles of Cambridge account for nearly 30 per cent of all employees. These firms, together with the city’s institutional assets, are responsible for attracting inward investment – nationally and internationally.
This in turn raises significant strategic and spatial problems: Eastern Powerhouse says “Cambridge has limited space for housing development and employment sites” and worries that “by 2051 Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire could be the size of Sheffield”. The question is whether the city and environs can manage the strains of accelerated growth.
Transport is a big obstacle. As the number of people who work and live in the city declines, 50,000 workers have to commute along already congested transport routes at ever-declining speeds – Cambridgeshire has the UK’s slowest A-road speeds.
Says David Chaplin of Chaplin Hotels: “This is why a regional approach under the Eastern Powerhouse is so important. Without it, the region will suffer, Cambridge included. A reorientation in thinking away from ‘western’ and ‘southern’ preoccupations to embrace the region as a whole will benefit everyone in the long run.”
Despite this, there remains uncertainty over the East-West rail line and the status of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, further delays to the proposed Cambridge South station and the environmental costs of relentless development.
Says Prashant Shah, o2H group co-founder: “All of this threatens the vision for sustained high growth. Meeting these needs must be a priority for the city and the region. This can only be achieved via close cooperation between Cambridge, neighbouring authorities, the mayoral Combined Authority and national government.
“Investors, businesses and the Cambridge academic community are critical too – creating the successful global companies of the future.”
The Cambridge meeting was the second in a series taking in all the main cities across the east of England.