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NIC: Bring forward £100m to complete East West Rail western section by 2024

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has dubbed East West Rail’s Oxford to Cambridge Expressway a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to create Britain’s own Silicon Valley, and called on the government to bring forward £100m to ensure the western section is complete before the end of CP6.

The interim report into the proposed East West transport link called the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor ‘a national asset’ which improved connectivity and could be transformed into a world leading science and tech hub.

However, the NIC noted that without sufficient and suitable housing, the area will not fulfil its vast potential due to its slow, unreliable transport and unaffordable cost of living.

Releasing the report, NIC deputy chair Sir John Armitt said: “To succeed in the global economy, the UK must build on its strengths. The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be Britain’s Silicon Valley – a globally recognised centre for science, technology and innovation. But its future success is not guaranteed.

“This area can become greater than the sum of its parts with better strategic planning which radically improves its transport connectivity whilst securing the tens of thousands of new homes it so desperately needs. East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway can be a catalyst to bring the region together to deliver the housing and connectivity it will need to compete with the best in the world.”

The NIC was asked in March 2016 to consider how to maximise the economic potential of the Cambridge – Oxford corridor while protecting its environment, and has now proposed a connected strategy linking housing, jobs and infrastructure.

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor faces a chronic undersupply of homes exacerbated by its poor transport links. Cambridge and Oxford were recently found to be two of the least affordable cities in the UK, and the area as a whole has consistently failed to build houses.

The NIC recommended that the government should bring forward £100m to help East West Rail with the link’s initial western section, which aims to halve journey times between Oxford and Bedford before 2024. The commission also called on the project to integrate construction of the East West Rail western section with work on HS2. It should then begin developing detailed plans for completing the link to Cambridge, specifically considering the need for new housing.

The report also advised that local authorities and enterprise partnerships work together to develop a ‘strategic vision’ across the corridor, as well as proposals for joint governance arrangements. The NIC will later work with stakeholders to help put the strategy in place.

Martin Tett, chairman of the regional partnership England’s Economic Heartland, welcomed the report, saying: “It is good to see that the potential of the Heartlands has been recognised. Britain needs a strong economy built around the successes of the high tech, innovative centres of Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

“We would urge the Chancellor to now help unlock this potential by investing in schemes like East West Rail and the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway. I would urge this to be fully recognised in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement next week."

The Heartlands’ current economy is estimated to be worth £92.5bn. This can potentially grow by an additional £163bn by 2050 - a 176% increase - if the area follows the NIC’s integrated plan.

Last week, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, confirmed support for the project, which has experienced uncertainty over delays due to pressure on the national rail budget.

It was also noted that the East West Rail Consortium would work closely with the DfT and Network Rail, and expected a clear delivery programme by January 2017. The project was originally due to be completed in 2017, then 2019, before being pushed back to CP6 following the Hendy Review.

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Huguenot   16/11/2016 at 17:50

This support is all to the good. But why can't Bicester-Bedford be completed before 2024? Even if the work proper can't start until 2019 (i.e. CP6), it shouldn't take another 5 years. The formation between Bicester and Bletchley is all in place; both ends of this section are already signalled; and the distance is less than 20 miles. (Bletchley-Bedford is of course already a working railway.) It's a simple job - 2 years' construction should do it.

Lutz   16/11/2016 at 19:58

I am very surprised that some of the people involved in the NIC would lend their names to such flowery phraseology; it does not do much to build confidence in the organisation if it is going to publish statements like this, and impinges on the assessment of those involved.

John Grant   18/11/2016 at 13:48

The Oxford to Cambridge Expressway is actually a proposal for a motorway.

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