What is the Oxford-Cambridge Arc?
The Oxford-Cambridge Arc (the Arc) is the notional area between Oxford and Cambridge, incorporating the ceremonial county areas of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. It is an economic geography area recognised by the government recognises – think of it like an Oxford-Cambridge conurbation.
Stretching for 130 miles from Cambridgeshire to Oxfordshire via Milton Keynes, the Arc contains
31 Local Authorities comprising:
- 4 county councils: Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire;
- 21 district councils: City of Oxford, South Oxfordshire, Vale of the White Horse, West Oxfordshire, Cherwell, South Bucks, Chiltern, Wycombe, Aylesbury Vale, Northampton, South Northamptonshire, Daventry, Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby, East Northamptonshire, City of Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire;
- 5 unitary authorities: Milton Keynes, Luton, Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and City of Peterborough;
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
4 Local Enterprise Partnerships:
- Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP);
- Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (BTVLEP);
- South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP);
- The Business Board of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
10 universities, including the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.
Historic assets including Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site, 205 Scheduled Monuments, 48 Registered parks and gardens, 7,321 listed buildings, and 144 Conservation Areas.
The original Oxford to Cambridge (O2C) Arc initiative was launched in 2003 by three English regional development agencies (RDAs) to promote and accelerate the development of the unique set of educational, research and business assets and activities that characterise the area and in doing so, create an “arc” of innovation and entrepreneurial activity that would, in time, be ‘best in the field’.
As with economic growth, population growth in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc has outpaced the UK as a whole, rising from 2.99 million in 1991 to 3.74 million in 2017. This represents an increase of 25% over that period compared to the national growth of just under 15%. The Oxford-Cambridge Arc also has a younger demographic profile than the UK as a whole, and the analysis forecasts that this trend will continue over the coming years. This suggests that the Arc’s employment base will continue to grow, along with its economic output and tax base.
2.1 million people work in the Arc contributing £111 billion of annual Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy per year. Employment growth has averaged 44,000 new jobs per year for the last five years and productivity is over 3% higher than the UK average. But while the arc is often spoken of as a single unified area, it still operates as several distinct economic centres. For instance, in Oxford and Cambridge, education is the largest employment sector, but in the surrounding local authorities of South Cambridgeshire, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse, the professional, scientific and tech sector dominates. In Milton Keynes and Bedford, although the scientific and tech sectors are still very productive with a high GVA per worker, the largest employment sector is wholesale and retail trade.
Central to this shared vision is the development of one million new homes across the Arc by 2050, major improvements to the East-West rail routes connecting Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge, and the provision of an east-west Expressway road. Whilst these proposals have been established, there are many remaining questions about how the Arc vision will be implemented in different places and whether goals of growth, prosperity and sustainability are achievable in practice. Delivering such an ambitious growth plan across traditional boundaries is a significant challenge and will require a long-term, cross-cutting, integrated strategic plan with collaborative governance and investment mechanisms.
The Government has designated the Oxford-Cambridge Arc as a key economic priority, affirmed its ambition for up to one million high-quality new homes across the Arc by 2050. Housing availability and affordability vary significantly; the average residential transaction value across the arc in the year to March 2019 was £373,000 but ranged from £235,000 in Northampton and 305,000 in Milton Keynes to £490,000 in Oxford and £505,000 in Cambridge according to Rightmove (Dec 2019).
East-West Rail is a major project to establish a strategic railway connecting East Anglia with Central, Southern and Western England. In particular, it plans to build a new line linking Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Milton Keynes and Bedford, largely using the trackbed of the former Varsity Line. East-West Rail is being built in phases, which will allow services to start running sooner. (https://eastwestrail.co.uk/)
The Oxford to Cambridge Expressway is a proposed grade-separated dual carriageway between the A34 near Oxford and the A14 near Cambridge, via (or near) Milton Keynes. The proposal aims to establish this route by linking existing roads and building new ones. It aims to offer time savings for some longer journeys, for example between Cambridge and Oxford the journey time by road is expected to decrease by 15 to 20 minutes on average as traffic does not need to negotiate roads in and around Milton Keynes.