Knowledge corridor. Silicon arc. Brain belt. The National Infrastructure Commission has hit the headlines with its bold vision of how Britain’s economic prosperity over the next quarter of a century could be propelled by the new technologies which are booming across the Oxford to Cambridge corridor.
The Commission’s report makes compelling reading for everyone who is concerned about rebalancing the UK economy. The Oxfordshire local authorities, the business community, and our universities will be studying the NIC recommendations in detail and we look forward to being able to engage with the Government very soon on how we can work together to implement them.
We all recognise the economic potential of the 130-mile corridor that links Oxford and Cambridge over the next thirty years, and there is a common ambition to grow our knowledge-based economies across the arc. There is no doubt that we have the capacity to compete on a global stage with areas such as Silicon Valley and Boston in the US, and at the same time to ensure that we protect the area’s high-quality environment, and secure the homes and jobs that will be needed.
Harnessing the region’s economic potential will benefit local people through job opportunities and new social and community facilities. Oxfordshire can already be proud of the rapid economic growth that we have seen since the turn of the century. We can boast about being the home of the world’s best university and having already developed concentrations of cutting-edge innovation, in particular at the Harwell, Culham, Magdalen and Begbroke science parks. The county is already world-leading in medical and biotech research, in the motorsport cluster in the north of the county, in satellite technology and in robotic vehicles.
The recommendations are building on strong growth across the whole Oxford-Cambridge arc, and they set out the opportunity for the UK to create a fourth economic powerhouse which will rival those in London, the Midlands and the North. Economic growth is achievable, but it must be matched by investment in infrastructure, and in particular in more high quality affordable homes for the people who will be taking jobs in these new industries. New homes must be supported by good schools and health services and by protecting and enhancing the beautiful natural environment that we enjoy in this county as elsewhere in the arc.
It will be important to improve transport links, and to tackle the levels of congestion and pollution so that Oxfordshire is an easier and more pleasant place to travel around. Strategic schemes, such as the East-West Rail line that will connect Oxford and Cambridge via Milton Keynes are certainly needed, but so too are more localised projects, such as the opening of the Cowley Branch Line by end 2019, and major improvements in cycling provision through segregated lanes.
In Oxfordshire we’re already working up plans that will help to realise the NIC vision. All six councils have joined forces with the Local Enterprise Board and the universities to form an Oxfordshire Growth Board. We have already published the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy that identifies the county’s infrastructure needs up to 2040. The Board has also recently agreed to develop a joint strategic spatial plan for the county that will provide an integrated planning framework to support growth and protect the environment. And it has endorsed plans to develop a ‘Living Lab’ within the county to test and measure the impact of a variety of innovative approaches to improve health, mobility and energy generation.
Our aim is to ensure that the development of the local economy is properly planned, is sustainable, maintains the high quality natural environment which makes this such a great place to live, and works in the interest of existing and future residents, and the country as a whole.
Cllr Bob Price is Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board and Leader of Oxford City Council