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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 one million homes planned for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc without intensive government efforts, warns the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

In his Autumn Budget, the chancellor unveiled £20m extra funding for the central section of the East West Rail line in the area, a new ministerial champion and a private sector chair to be appointed to offer advice.

One million homes are planned for the Growth Arc, spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford, but the NIC says concerted government involvement and leadership is needed to successfully integrate the housing and transport schemes into the area.

It said that unlocking these rail and housing opportunities was key for the area, but that the Budget announcements “while welcome will not achieve that on their own.”

Leadership from central government and local leaders would be needed to “make maximum possible use of the opportunities” and the NIC said it would monitor progress clearly.

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.

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.”

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.”

Last week, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) published a report estimating that the plans for one million houses would “concrete over an area of countryside the size of Birmingham.”

The NIC responded by arguing that the area’s economic future “can be secured while protecting the environment.”

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Image credit -  NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images


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