Government backs Oxford-Cambridge Arc to lead UK’s economic recovery

May 05, 2021

‘They agree with the underlying principles and believe the Arc will add real value’

GOVERNMENT ministers have reiterated their backing for the growth potential of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and have set an “aggressive” timeline for its delivery, a forum of business leaders has been told.

The final spatial framework – the government’s policy paper on the Arc’s development – is due to be published in 2023 and ministers remain of the view that the Arc is set to lead national recovery.

The framework will create a blueprint for the region and transform the area into a premier growth corridor and a world-leader in sustainability,  with GVA expected to double by 2050 to more than £200 billion.

The spatial framework is also set to bridge the gap between national planning policy and local planning – a radical step in planning terms, signalling an acceptance by the government of the benefits of cross-authority spatial planning, the forum hosted by Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership heard.

Speaking to the forum, Bev Hindle, executive director of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Leadership Group, and SEMLEP chief executive Hilary Chipping both called for greater business collaboration across the region, signalling the opportunities for growth across life science, aviation, green and connected mobility and innovation. 

Mr Hindle said the policy paper, which sets out the approach and timeline for developing the aspirational spatial framework, was a positive step forward. “I believe the elements of this vision are coming together and the government are repeating our ideas back to us,” he said. “They agree with the underpinning principles of the Arc, which include sustainable and digital first, and believe the Arc will add real value.”

The Arc growth is expected to deliver one million new homes and 1.1 million new jobs by 2050. But, said Mr Hindle: “We need to move away from housing, while still fundamental, as we will be creating places to live and work. It is much more about sustained economic growth.”

The government is in the process of establishing a ‘Growth Body’ for the Arc, which will be overseen by an independent chair and which will call for local businesses to collaborate. “The Growth Body will incorporate a strong business voice,” Mr Hindle said. “We are now moving away from the conversation and making things happen.” 

Hilary Chipping told MKBLP members that Milton Keynes and its surrounding areas, including Cranfield and Millbrook, will act as a test bed for Artificial Intelligence development and will play a fundamental role in driving innovation.

That is what will unleash the full potential of the Arc becoming a global innovation powerhouse, she said. “We are building on the work which is already happening.” 

Hilary Chipping

Historically, much of the life science work has been created within Oxford and Cambridge – the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is testament to this – but the Arc will promote collaboration and spin-off companies across the entire region. 

Ms Chipping said: “We are starting to see this happen already. There are huge opportunities for growth.” 

The Arc is critical to future green and connected mobility solutions, she added. Referencing the work being done at Remote Applications in Challenging Environments –  a remote handling and robotics test facility near Oxford, operated by the UK Atomic Energy Authority – and the growing need for businesses and universities to get involved in championing low carbon engineering, the Arc is at the forefront of pioneering new technologies and testing. 

Cranfield, with its unique global research airport is spearheading developments in the future of flight and working towards net zero aviation.

“The entire area is already tackling climate change and helping to solve major economic, environment and social challenges,” Ms Chipping said. “We now need more businesses to get involved.”

The environment will play a fundamental part, with the ‘Green Arc’ way of thinking integrated into all strategies to reach the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“Although the policy paper has a very clear development angle, it includes explicit commitments to delivering positive environmental outcomes across the region, including biodiversity net gain, reducing flood risk and ensuring communities have greater access to green space,” said Ms Chipping.

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