The Oxbridge Growth Corridor is now a national priority. Linking the highly successful knowledge-based economies of Cambridge and Oxford is a government strategy (NIC, 2017) to drive economic growth across this region by policy proposals focusing on transport (road and rail) and 1 million new homes by 2050.
Building a Growth Corridor begins with roads, rail, and housing, but it includes much more. In Cambridge, an increasingly important aspect of development is planning for well-being. So how we can learn from the experiences of the city’s growth over recent decades to facilitate the Growth Corridor agenda?
‘Social Planning’ to support growth
The World Health Organisation defines health holistically in terms of well-being: "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".
It is telling that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review report (2018) considered health and well-being, despite it not being in the terms of reference. As the authors note, there are strong economic drivers for improving health and well-being, contributing alongside education and skills to productivity. They argue that insufficient attention to health, well-being, education, and skills has caused much of the economic weakness in the UK.
Bidwells’ experience of projects in Cambridge shows a growing emphasis on well-being, and on social planning elements more generally. Cambridgeshire businesses currently grapple with lack of housing near workplaces, staff travel delays and poor digital infrastructure. This leads to long commutes and corresponding poor mental health. Transport emissions lead to increased air pollution, which has health impacts. Meanwhile Cambridge growth industries demand high quality commercial space with well-being contributors like active travel, green spaces for recreation, availability of healthy food, and inclusive social events.
Planning to leave a well-being legacy
We can plan for well-being in many ways, from spatial strategies aimed at reducing commute times and facilitating digital infrastructure, to careful design of new developments. Housing, mixed use and commercial projects can promote well-being, such as facilitating active travel, and providing recreation spaces and social infrastructure. Access to cultural opportunities, greenspace, healthy food and a sense of place, all contribute to well-being. These types of high-quality developments produce good returns and are quicker to achieve consent. They are in high demand and provide a legacy in the community.
The Oxbridge Growth Corridor can be a key driver of growth for England in the 21st Century, but this needs to be facilitated by planning. Planning for well-being is a key element of ensuring that what is built is suitable for the demanding specifications of the Oxbridge Growth Corridor industries, now and in 30 years’ time.