The vision for the OxCam Arc explained: Doubling economic output, doubling nature and building one million new homes
The vision for the OxCam Arc has been laid out in a new economic prospectus for the region.
In it, businesses, universities and councils within the area suggest creating an accountable body to lead efforts to double the region’s economic output by 2050.
The Oxford to Cambridge Arc covers Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire. The government has described it as a “key economic priority” owing to the area’s existing strengths in science, technology and advanced manufacturing.
A government report earlier this year suggested that with the right investment – including for research, housebuilding and infrastructure – “there is the long-term potential to transform the Arc as a whole into a world-leading economic area, acting as a testbed for innovation”.
Three Arc proposals previously put forward by the government have received significant attention: an expressway, a rail link, and one million new homes by 2050. The expressway plans are currently “paused”.
According to an economic prospectus published on Monday October 5, almost every local authority in the geographic region, alongside business representatives and universities, are working together to create a joined-up plan for the Arc. The prospectus sets out their aspirations and makes the case for further government investment. With it, the area’s economic output can double by 2050 to over £200billion, it suggests.
The area is currently home to nearly four million people and two million jobs, which generate more than £111bn worth of economic output each year.
Despite the creation of a ‘leaders group’, there is no single regional executive body which represents the Arc, and interaction with the public has been limited. The prospectus suggests setting up a “visible” and “accountable executive team”.
The document says it “sets out our plan to work with UK government to make the UK a world leader in new technology and industries in zero-carbon aviation, space, life sciences, future mobility and energy. With investment, we can better connect and realise the potential of the critical mass of assets and knowhow created by our area’s people, businesses and institutions”.
The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, said: “Government has identified the Arc as a key area for high-tech, green economic growth and investment, and I am proud that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is at the forefront of this project.
“We have already seen, through the East West Rail , A14 and A428 projects , that the government knows the importance of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economy and the certainty of return on any investment in our infrastructure.
“This prospectus is a great resource for opportunities across the Arc, and also brings the projects we are working on locally into their rightful national perspective.
“The Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro is just one example of the innovative, transformative and green projects the Arc can help promote; projects with a genuinely national economic significance alongside the infrastructure benefits that we know are necessary to fully realise economic growth across the Arc.”
Cllr Bridget Smith, The Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council and lead member on the Arc board for the environment workstream, said: “As soon as I became leader of the council in 2018 I lobbied council leaders and ministers to ensure the environment was at the centre of the plans for the Arc.
“This strand of the work was quickly established, and we have around 50 organisations and groups including the RSPB, DEFRA and The Woodland Trust actively working with us to put the environment at the heart of our ambitions and policies. The work Natural Cambridgeshire has been championing to double nature has been adopted by the Arc and will ensure we leave a lasting green legacy including more trees and access to a wide variety of well-managed green and blue spaces.”
The vision behind the OxCam Arc
- Enabling mass transit systems and encouraging active transport by creating an Arc Connectivity Innovation Fund to “generate viable, commercial business cases to then seek private/public investment”
- Accelerating the roll-out of full-fibre and 5G
- Delivering East West Rail “as soon as possible” to provide an electrified railway connection across the area
- Invest in apprenticeships and skills-based learning
- Doubling the amount of land actively managed for nature by 2050 by establishing a Doubling Nature Fund to protect and enhance the environment
- Investing in the road infrastructure “to improve connectivity between the M40 and A14 and establishing the link between Junction 13 on the M1 and the A5 in Milton Keynes. Improvement of the A34 is also essential to reduce congestion, improve safety and air quality”
- Create an Arc data lab to host a network of universities to develop a Doctoral Training Centre to “train professionals of the future”
- Create an Arc investment fund “to provide new finance, equity and investment mechanisms to support and accelerate the growth in the next generation of innovative start-up and scale-up businesses across the region”
- Establish “visible leadership”. It says: “We will create a new and accountable executive team which can drive forward our shared endeavours”
- Double the economic output. It says it will “increase productivity by intensifying our global strengths in science, technology and high-value manufacturing together and contribute to a doubling of Gross Value Added by 2050 to over £200billion”.
Call for right investment
Cambridgeshire County Council’s Conservative leader, Cllr Steve Count, said: “This economic prospectus highlights the importance of government investment in infrastructure across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc as well as the increasing significance of Cambridgeshire to our national and global economy - from life sciences, to zero carbon aviation and AI.
“As we recover from Covid-19, government support for connections like East West Rail and the Ox-Cam Expressway are crucial in unlocking the area’s potential economic growth and prosperity. Creating a connected, high tech, green economy across the Arc will bring benefits to local people across future generations.”
Jeremy Long, chairman of the Arc Local Enterprise Partnerships Group, said: “Our vision is for the Arc to be a global hub for innovation, and home to exemplary models of green development that will inspire communities around the world. The Arc’s place is at the forefront of the UK’s green recovery and this will be made possible through bold leadership that focuses on the big opportunities. The Arc’s world-leading innovation across multiple sectors can deliver prosperity for the UK. We now need the commitment from Government and international investors to make the ambition a reality.”
Professor Sir Peter Gregson, chair of the Arc Universities Group, added: “With investment, we can better connect and realise the potential of our world-class assets and the know-how created by our area’s people, businesses and institutions. We aim to be a testbed for new ways of living and working including by demonstrating net zero carbon and environmental net gain are achievable and economically beneficial. This connection will unlock the potential across our sector strengths to propel the Arc and the UK into an era of global growth at the vanguard of innovation.”
Reacting to the prospectus, Patrick McMahon, senior partner at Bidwells, said: “If central and local government is going to realise the potential of the Arc’s knowledge-based economy, a single, long-term strategic approach is going to be vital, which is why it’s great to see the Oxford to Cambridge Arc leaders group providing a unified call for real action among policymakers.
“In March, the government laid out its ambition for the UK to become a research and development powerhouse, fuelled by innovation clusters such as the Arc, by allocating £22bn worth of funding to the sector. However, the public purse is only going to be able to provide so much. Therefore, leveraging private investment from our own shores and overseas is going to be critical to the region’s long-term success.
“The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is the beating heart of UK innovation but a lack of development and investment threatens to price out new start-ups and reduce their ability to attract talent from the region’s world-leading higher education institutes. This, in addition to the glacial pace of the current UK planning system unfortunately puts the region’s long-term growth prospects in jeopardy.”
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What is in the OxCam Arc?