Jon Silversides: Partner and Head of Commercial Agency, Carter Jonas Oxford

In March 2016 the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), led then by Lord Adonis, called for ways “to maximize the potential of the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor (CAMCOX) as a single, knowledge intensive cluster that competes on the global stage.”

Written by: Jon Silversides Photography by: Oxford Science Park photographed by Aurelien Langlais and Will Pryce

The report recognised the significance of this ‘Arc’ concluding that ‘based on current trends in development, populations and local economic growth the area could see job growth of 335,000 by 2050 increasing economic output by £85billion’. However, analysis prepared for the commission suggests that the economic potential of the region is in fact much greater than this, with potential to support a further 700,000 jobs by 2050, increasing GVA by £163billion.

Attention is now centring on five settlements revealed on March 8th, the same date as the Prime Minister’s housing statement. Here more than 130,000 new homes have been sketched on the map. The Commission wishes to capture a fair proportion of the land value uplift to contribute to infrastructure costs. “Public investment in strategic infrastructure (must) not lead to large windfall gains for landowners at the expense of new communities” said Adonis. Whilst Government policy is unlikely to be fully crystallised for a number of months if not years, the NIC report is a good guide to how things will develop between now and 2050.

Inevitably, the release of the report has resulted in further debate, principally surrounding the main infrastructure recommendations found in it. This includes the delivery of a new east – west rail line linking Oxford and Cambridge, labelled the Varsity Line, together with the accelerated delivery of an expressway, with the Government due to announce on their preferred route imminently.

Having recently joined a seminar in Milton Keynes, partly sponsored by Carter Jonas and attended by over 500 delegates, it is clear that the subject of CAMCOX ignites passion and support as well as some dissenting voices. Attendees heard and debated views from key stakeholders, local authorities, developers and consultants on core subject matters of industrial strategy, skills, housing, infrastructure and economic growth.

Predictably the debate included some cynicism as, notwithstanding the Government’s impending expressway announcement, there is still much uncertainty over the deliverability of the report’s key findings.

Despite some pessimism, there is clearly a growing momentum and a call to action in support of CAMCOX being championed from a variety of sources. This approach is only endorsed by the region’s continuing success, and its vital role as a major contributor to UK plc.

Although it is not often discussed in Oxford circles the ‘Economic Heartland’ now being talked about more widely often reflects the same geography identified in the Oxford to Cambridge arc, with its membership represented by the councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships and other stakeholders in this region.

So what are the successes of the Arc to date? Within the corridor there are numerous good news stories both present and past from Harwell in the south to the Biomedical Campus in Cambridge. Closer to our hearts are Silverstone Park and Oxford Science Park with Carter Jonas acting on both.

At Silverstone our client MEPC has spent the five years since purchase ‘pump priming’ the delivery of significant commercial stock, gaining outline consent for 2.1million sq ft, Enterprise Zone status and significant servicing upgrades. The first phase of speculative development has been completed and is now 90% occupied. We are now moving onto further speculative development with a reserved matters application for approximately 265,000 sq ft of accommodation due to be submitted shortly and hopefully beginning on site in late autumn. Silverstone, globally recognised for its motorsport, is set to become a focal point for specialist engineering and technologies that have cross over amongst the sectors not only within CAMCOX but throughout the UK and beyond.

At Oxford Science Park, our client Magdalen College has spent the past two and a half years since regaining full control re-positioning the Park as a genuine Science destination. The team has improved the look, feel and amenity offering of the Park, constructing what is widely considered to be the best quality building within the county. In the past 12 months alone we have welcomed a wide range of new occupiers including Immunocore, Evox Therapeutics, Fuel3d, Oxford Sciences Innovation and ByBox.

As demonstrated, some great work is already being done in the CAMCOX region and we must celebrate it, as only with this will momentum build. Few other areas in the UK are generating such interest and investment. The corridor has been heralded as a national asset however, for the aims of the NIC to be fully realised, compromise will be required from all local authorities as well as national and local stakeholders. Coordination, leadership and real power is essential to unlock the vast potential that our region has to offer. The question will be whether old rivalries can be put aside to achieve real change.

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