The arc encompassing Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford is one of the most economically productive in the country, contributing some £90billion a year to the national economy. But this success cannot be taken for granted, and to secure its future better transport links and far more homes are needed – creating whole new communities in the process.
Finding innovative approaches to doing this was at the heart of the Cambridge to Oxford Connection: Ideas competition. I was delighted that we received as many as 58 different entries, each with new and creative solutions to this infrastructure challenge. After coming up with a shortlist of four, today we have announced the winner: VeloCity.
This entry represented an excellent concept for how development could be addressed at a particular scale. It is also aligned well with our recent report on the Growth Arc and the need for the new East-West Rail and Oxford-Cambridge Expressway to be among the factors helping to deliver one million homes by 2050.
VeloCity has a truly people-centred vision for the area: it offers a fresh and engaging approach for smaller scale development, led by the character of places already well-established across the arc. The proposal focused on using bicycles as the main mode of transport and, by using low-impact and low-cost cycle paths and digital infrastructure, the aim was to create a community of villages all within walking and cycling distances.
Each village would also benefit from a “big back garden”, a piece of generously-sized common land for all the community to use. Clustered around six villages near a new station on the East-West rail connection, we felt this concept was one that could be easily replicated elsewhere on the arc, supporting the delivery of a substantial number of new homes.
A key part of this will be delivering not just new housing but new, vibrant and well-connected communities, and I’m pleased that the Chancellor gave his backing to this vision in his Budget statement. The deal with Oxfordshire to deliver 100,000 homes by 2031 is an important first step towards this, as are the key milestones set out for delivering vital improvements to local transport links.
Our competition has shown the willingness and readiness of architects, urban designers, developers and the other specialist sectors to get involved in delivering the infrastructure this economically-vital area needs and deserves. I hope VeloCity’s vision – and those of the other finalists – inspire residents and professionals alike to put their minds to this infrastructure challenge, so that over the coming decades we can harness that energy and creativity to the benefit not just of the Growth Arc but of the country at large.
Bridget Rosewell is a Commissioner and was Chair of the Competition Jury for the Cambridge to Oxford Connection: Ideas Competition