The knowledge corridor from Oxford to Cambridge is of vital national economic importance; home to leading international universities and science and technology companies. The CaMkOx Arc may prove to be one of the UK’s most economically significant infrastructure ventures, but its delivery isn’t a forgone conclusion.
The scale of the plans and the economic impact potential are on a par with the completion of the M25 in 1986 and the opening of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in 1994. However, history shows us that while infrastructure development is invariably positive in the end, the paths to success are frequently complex and turbulent.
As we embark on the CaMkOx journey we should consider the building blocks critical for success and the lessons learnt from previous comparable projects.
- Certainty. Investors, homeowners, businesses and landowners all need clarity for future planning. Government has welcomed the National Infrastructure Commission’s broad proposals but now needs to provide the detail required by stakeholders. In the period since Crossrail’s initial inception investors and perhaps more significantly homeowners, businesses and commuters, wrestled with the ‘what and where’ of the scheme until the Crossrail Act was finally passed in 2008.
- Funding for delivery. To deliver certainty, the thorny issue of funding must be resolved from the outset. To attract private sector investment, the public sector must commit the necessary finance for successful delivery. Unrealistic budgets which assume too much from the private sector at the initial stages will prove counterproductive in the long run. Questions over the budget for delivery of HS2 at the outset damaged the credibility of the scheme, a position which then had to be recovered.
- A delivery body to lead and coordinate with necessary power. Regional infrastructure by its very nature is cross-border and therefore requires a cross-border delivery body with the necessary powers. The Channel Tunnel rail link, opened in 1994, saw the French and Belgian rapid rail links largely in place by 1996/7, drawing on a coordinated approach. The UK rail link did not open until 2003 and was plagued with embittered debate, mired in accusations of kitchen table route planning by Kent and south London planning authorities.
- Strategic plan and vision that ties in all stakeholders. The consensus-based planning model in the UK, based on consultation, guidelines and participation, makes major infrastructure project delivery problematic and expensive. A vision for the future offering clarity and honesty is essential. While life before the M25 is now inconceivable, the time frame and scale of the project required a strategy vision and plan to bring on board disparate stakeholders over the extended time frame. What is more, the vision for CAMKOX needs to be sold internationally to attract and compete for global talent and investment.
- Public/Private Partnership. Successful regeneration schemes across the UK demonstrate the success of the Public/Private partnership model. The public sector’s role in delivering these five building blocks will be essential in securing private sector interest and crucially investment. In an area where innovation has driven success until now, the potential for securing future investment and support is obvious. However, this innovative culture cannot be taken for granted. The public sector and delivery bodies in all their guises have sole responsibility for providing the ingredients for success in place from the outset.
Rob Hopwood spoke on the CAMKOX Arc at the Inaugural Oxfordshire Property Festival on Wednesday, April 18.
Bidwells has released its first paper in a programme of research on the plans, progress and opportunities presented by the CaMkOx Arc, drawing on Bidwells’ unique experience in the region.
You can request a copy here.