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30.10.18

Budget promises not enough to unlock rail and housing in Oxford-Cambridge Arc

Philip Hammond’s Budget promises will not be enough to deliver the new transport links and homes needed in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc without intensive government efforts, warns the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The chancellor revealed £20m extra development funding for the central section of the East-West Rail line alongside announcements of a new Ministerial Champion and private sector chair for the area in his 2018 Autumn Budget yesterday.

But the NIC has argued that leadership from central government and local leaders would be needed to help integrate the new transport and housing schemes in the Growth Arc area spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford.

It is hoped that the East-West Rail project will allow one million homes to be built between the two cities by 2050, part of a £5.5bn development.

The NIC said unlocking these rail and housing opportunities from the East-West Rail and Oxford-Cambridge Expressway transport links was key, but that the Budget announcements “while welcome will not achieve that on their own.”

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the NIC, said: “The arc spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford has enormous economic potential, and today’s announcement from the chancellor will help towards meeting that.

“However, the Growth Arc is in desperate need of new homes and improved transport links, for the benefit not just of local residents but to the country as a whole.

“These things won’t happen without continued and concerted effort from government, and today’s measures while welcome will not achieve that on their own.

“As work continues to deliver the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and East-West Rail, I hope to see more being done to make the most of these opportunities to deliver new homes as part of new thriving communities – or the economic opportunities that the Growth Arc offer will be missed.”

Transport secretary Chris Grayling visited Launton Junction in Bicester earlier this month to see the update on the ‘Varsity Line’ which will connect Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford with Cambridge.

It was announced then that enabling works for the East West Rail (EWR) line was near competition, with Grayling saying the new rail line will “transform” travel for passengers.

The route linking the two renowned university towns, nicknamed the ‘brain belt,’ was previously heralded by the road minister Jesse Norman as enhancing “both transport connectivity and growth across the region for the benefit of the UK as a whole.”

 Image credit - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

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