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Oxford to Cambridge expressway project cancelled by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has cancelled the ‘Ox-Cam expressway’ today (Thursday, March 18) after analysis confirmed it was not cost-effective.

Grant Shapps (45276509)
Grant Shapps (45276509)

Highways England had been developing potential options for a road link between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

But analysis has shown that the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by the costs associated with the project.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, has repeatedly called for the proposal to be scrapped, branding it a “last-century approach to a 21st century challenge”.

He said: “After years of dither and obfuscation, the Government is finally playing catch-up on Labour policy. This is great news. The expressway has been highly controversial.

“Massive new road-building is exactly the wrong approach when we face a climate crisis. What we need is a non-diesel East-West rail-link between Cambridge and Oxford.”

Daniel Zeichner MP for Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell. (45276628)
Daniel Zeichner MP for Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell. (45276628)

The expressway proposal was subject to a legal challenge by Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), with the full support of the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN), who have welcomed today’s announcement.

The Department for Transport has said it will now investigate the need for more targeted road interventions in the area, recognising the vital role that transport investment has to support sustainable growth in the region, as noted by the National Infrastructure Commission.

It will work closely with Highways England and England’s Economic Heartland, as the sub-national Transport Body to develop a study on proposals which will also support the Spatial Framework.

The East West Rail scheme, it says, remains central to providing critical infrastructure within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, with it not only improving connectivity but also bringing new jobs and opportunities to people in the area.

Options for an East West expressway. (45276505)
Options for an East West expressway. (45276505)

In January, the Government announced a £760 million funding commitment to deliver the next phase of East West Rail.

Mr Shapps said: “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is home to cutting-edge research, globally-renowned science and technology clusters, and some of the most productive places in the country – we want to make sure it has transport fit for such an important region.

“Our analysis shows the expressway cannot deliver such links in a way that provides value for money for the taxpayer, so I have taken the decision to cancel the project. But we remain committed to boosting transport links in the area, helping us to create jobs and build back better from Covid.

“We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region, alongside the transformational East West Rail, in which we have invested £760m to deliver the next phase.”

Chair of England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Transport Forum, mayor Dave Hodgson said: “This is a welcome announcement which provides clarity to those planning for the region’s future between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

“As our transport strategy sets out, delivery of strategic schemes including East West Rail and mass transit systems such as those being developed in Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes, alongside harnessing smart technologies and targeted investment in the road network, are all essential if we are to ensure economic growth while achieving net-zero emissions.

Mayor Dave Hodgson, Chair of the strategic transport forum, speaking at the 2019 EEH conference Picture: Derek Pelling (45277391)
Mayor Dave Hodgson, Chair of the strategic transport forum, speaking at the 2019 EEH conference Picture: Derek Pelling (45277391)

“Work on EEH’s Oxford-Milton Keynes connectivity study begins in March 2021. We will work with partners and government to explore the connectivity needs of this important corridor and to identify the solutions required to support sustainable growth for the long term.”

The Government launched the process for developing a long-term Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework, including transport policy, for local and national planning and to inform investment decisions in February, so that together with local authorities and communities, it can unlock the long-term potential of the area in a sustainable way, improving arc as a place to live and work.

Rob Hopwood, planning partner at Oxford-Cambridge Arc property advisors Bidwells, said: “I welcome the Government’s decision to cancel the Oxford to Cambridge expressway. The road link was never an essential ingredient for economic growth and the Varsity Rail line will now let the train take the strain.

“Rail investment is the answer we’re looking for, not road. The prospect of building miles of concrete through the Oxfordshire countryside to support carbon emitting vehicles, at a cost of £3.5bn to the taxpayer, is just not compatible with a carbon negative future, and I’m sure we will see a highly sustainable future planned for in Government’s recently announced spatial framework for the Arc.”

Read more:

£760m funding confirmed for next stage of East-West Rail line linking Oxford and Cambridge

The vision for the OxCam Arc explained: Doubling economic output, doubling nature and building one million new homes

Central Cambridge at major flood risk by 2050, warn Greens

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