Imagine a truly ambitious scheme where a vast tract of land across several counties is turned into a whole new region with a million new homes, over 1.5m residents and jobs for them to go to. Not something that could ever happen in the UK you might think. Except that is the broad plan for the future of the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford area. Now that the proposal for the so-called CaMkOx Arc has been out there for just over a year we will take a closer look at what has happened so far and where the plan might be heading next.
Background and area
The now defunct Regional Development Agencies devised outline proposals for linking the economies of Oxford and Cambridge with the O2C initiative in the early 2000s. However, it was not until 2016 that the then newly-formed National Infrastructure Commission or NIC began work on formulating a strategic vision for the region. Their proposals for the CaMkOx Arc, or growth corridor, were adopted as what has been called a government ‘vision’ in the November 2017 Budget.
The CaMkOx Arc is a purely notional area of around 2,700 square miles between the three main settlements and with no precise boundaries. So there is scope for its boundaries to be interpreted differently or even redrawn. Currently the population is approximately 3.3m – slightly larger than Greater Manchester – and the main settlements, particularly Milton Keynes, have some of the fastest growing populations in the UK. NIC says the proposal could see the area population grow by 1.4-1.9m by 2050 with 1m new homes provided in the region over the same period.
It is probably fair to say that governmental progress on the CaMkOx project has been, and will be, slowed by Brexit. However, the aim is to publish a corridor-wide, spatial Joint Vision Statement to 2050 with local partners during spring 2019.
The regional economy
The CaMkOx area is already home to some of the most advanced, future-facing industries in the UK with high levels of productivity
and GVA output. Key industries are research and technology, in which the region is globally pre-eminent, underpinned by the universities at Oxford and Cambridge. In general terms the regional employment rate is high, the workforce has much higher than average skill levels and benefits from some of the most highly paid jobs outside London.