On Thursday 20 October, Copper attended the OxCam (Oxford-Cambridge) Arc Development Conference in Milton Keynes.
The OxCam Arc is a globally significant area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. It is formed of five counties – Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire – and five areas of focus: economy, place-making, connectivity and infrastructure and the environment. It is hoped that these areas of focus will help develop the region, through new transport links, housing, businesses, logistics and building communities.
While the Arc has been in progress for many years and Government support has fluctuated, there is still a huge amount of support for the concept and building new infrastructure to boost development and investment in the region. East West Rail, a new rail connection between Oxford and Cambridge, is being built as I type, which will provide a new connection for communities and businesses.
But what next for the Arc?
Ultimately, there is still an appetite for the project, whether it’s managed by central government or local and private investment.
The conference highlighted the issues around political instability but had a positive outlook, stating “investors are ready” – there’s a pent up demand to supply good quality infrastructure along the Arc.
The main issues around progress appear to centre around the planning system, government support and story-telling. While the first two can be resolved and steps are being taken to do so, story-telling featured heavily throughout the day. As one of the key speakers said, “we are not good at being proud and telling positive stories. We need to share more.” Alongside this, a need to enthuse young people and develop a skilled workforce will be important for the construction industry as a whole.
When considering the main challenge that may limit the Arc, price inflation and macro political uncertainty came top among the attendee poll, with both reaching 23%. In contrast, a lack of government support, funding concerns and net zero scored lowest at 4%, 4% and 2% respectively.
Despite the challenges, many believe infrastructure will be the catalyst for developing the Arc. In a poll of attendees, 52% said infrastructure would be the catalyst, with economic growth sitting at 30%, housing 10% and skills 7%.
Other themes throughout the day included biodiversity and transport connectivity, with sustainable development bringing risks and opportunities when it comes to improving the environment along the Arc. Social prescribing and social value are both areas that need to be woven into plans. Social value is no longer a buzzword – it covers a wide range of approaches and activities. Copper are experienced at reporting on social value outcomes and delivering tailored activities and recognise the importance of this for the Arc.
Overall, the conference signified a positive next step in the OxCam Arc’s journey but long-term thinking, a strong narrative in communities and a joined up approach is needed for continued success.
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