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Adonis unveils plans to create ‘brain belt’ powerhouse

Words: Huw Morris

A major new ‘brain belt’ linking Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could create an economic powerhouse adding up to £250 billion a year to the UK economy and paving the way to the first new towns in 50 years.

National Infrastructure Commission chairman Lord Adonis urged ministers and council leaders across the arc between Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Northampton and Cambridge to “seize the opportunity” and harness the area’s economic potential.

He encouraged them to work together to deliver new and improved infrastructure, helping to unlock opportunities to deliver one million new homes and jobs by 2050, tackling the area’s housing shortage, improving local transport connections and creating new jobs.

Currently the area generates £90 billion a year for the national economy, but this could increase to more than £250 billion a year.

“The arc spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford attracts the brightest and best from some of the most cutting-edge industries,” said Adonis. “But the area also suffers from a lack of available homes and an infrastructure network that is feeling the strain – pricing local people out of the market, making it difficult for businesses to recruit staff, and threatening the future competitiveness of one of the most successful parts of the country.”

The commission said the government need to give new momentum to key transport projects to enable a doubling of the current rate of housebuilding. These include:

  • A new East-West Rail line connecting Oxford and Cambridge, unlocking the potential for substantial new developments. This includes accelerating its delivery from Bicester to Bedford by 2023, and from Bedford to Cambridge by 2030;
  • Accelerating the development and construction of a link between the M1 and Oxford by 2030, as part of the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.

The commission said new powers should be put in place by 2020 as part of the deal, giving councils greater certainty over future investments and allowing them to fund and raise finance for major infrastructure improvements.

The government and local authorities should also have an agreed plan for new and expanded housing settlements, supported by New Town Development Corporations and new infrastructure design panels. New statutory spatial plans and investment strategies for each sub-region should be developed, as part of a 50-year vision for the arc as a whole.

RTPI chief executive Trudi Elliott said the commission had set out a model for the government and local leaders to raise their game in using planning at its most creative.

“The commission has put forward a bold and integrated vision for turbocharging an important economic area of the country and creating places where people can flourish. Critical to delivering this vision is good planning,” she added. “Planning of housing, transport and other infrastructure, and the environment in a joined-up manner is what this country needs more of.”

Image credit | Make Roads Safe