Government’s Oxford-Cambridge Arc plan to help drive £20bn investment
into region

As leading property advisor to the science and technology sector, Bidwells welcomes government moves announced this morning (18 February), that will help bring billions of pounds of funding for jobs, housing and infrastructure into the Arc’s knowledge economy. 

Key things to know

  • New planning framework to give a huge confidence boost to patient capital required to make UK global centre of innovation
  • Property investment transactions totalling £300m were completed in Cambridge in 2020 with more than 20m sq ft of space required to meet Arc region demand over next two decades
  • Bidwells and Blackstock’s Radical Regeneration Manifesto called for investment into the Arc and policy changes to stimulate growth

Bidwells estimates that up to £20bn could surge into the Arc region to create jobs and employment space, deliver transport links and build houses to support the long-term growth of the area’s world-leading knowledge economy.

Proposals to create a single planning framework for the region stretching the 58 miles from Cambridge to Oxford via Milton Keynes, which will direct investment into employment space, improved transport links and new housing, are set to be revealed this week towards a plan to create an Arc-wide growth body to oversee it.

The plan’s priority will be to dramatically improve the delivery of employment space across the region leading the response to the Covid pandemic. The Covid-19 vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and manufactured by Cambridge-based AstraZeneca, is being administered across the world but was developed in the Arc.

Demand for office and labs is fuelled by the science and technology industries, with knowledge-intensive businesses dominating the region’s real estate market. The Arc continues to preserve and create highly skilled employment opportunities throughout the Covid crisis.

The announcement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will outline a new strategic level of planning across the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. It follows the publication last year of the Radical Regeneration Manifesto, a major research report from Bidwells and Blackstock Consulting on behalf of a think tank comprising industry heavyweights such as L&G, Grosvenor, Perkins&Will, L&Q and Bruntwood.

The report sets out 16 policy recommendations to radically overhaul how planning decisions are made in the Arc, including the creation of an Olympics-style delivery body to streamline strategic planning.

Patrick McMahon, senior partner, Bidwells, said: “Ministers should be applauded for moving swiftly to recognise the critical economic need behind strategic investment into the Arc. This framework will be a vital jab of confidence into the arms of investors at a critical time. Post-Brexit,

many global investors are eyeing up Britain and wondering just how open we are for business. This is proof positive that we are.

“The Arc has led the UK’s economic response to the pandemic via its ability to preserve and create employment opportunities. Post Brexit and Covid-19, the Arc will play a crucial role in promoting Britain’s role as a global exporter of innovation.”

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning, Bidwells, said: “In our manifesto, we set out the need for clarity across the whole region on what kind of development was needed. We successfully delivered the 2012 Olympics because we avoided local political squabbling and had a clear vision for the redevelopment of east London. We need the same and this announcement goes a long way to helping that become reality.

“We’ve been encouraged in recent months by government’s approach to the Arc and it’s clear they have listened to the development industry. Bringing forward the framework at pace - as MHCLG intends to - will start to build the momentum the Arc needs but it must be a green strategy and exemplary in its approach to sustainability, particularly net zero commitments , place making and economic growth.”

Rob Hopwood, Bidwells’ planning lead on the Arc, said “The success of the Arc will be judged on its delivery and this relies on government's policies and proposals having real bite. The launch document looks to show the legal teeth we need.

“The critical part of the document is that it highlights that the framework will have considerable weight in decision-making. It will sit alongside the NPPF and makes clear that the region is now of national importance. On this basis, every local authority across the Arc will have to take account of their own plan-making documents.

“The Arc needs sustained investment and commitment from government to ensure that the injection of momentum they have administered to the Arc this morning does not end up fizzling out.”

In November 2017, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) said the delivery of strengthened transport links between Oxford and Cambridge would increase the GVA of the region by £163bn to £250bn. Bidwells’ research in 2018 suggested the NIC was underestimating the city’s potential, putting the GVA figure £400bn.

The leading property consultancy’s recent forecast of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc’s office and laboratory space requirements post-Covid found that up to 20m sq ft of new lab and office space will be needed within next two decades to keep pace with soaring demand - twice the volume of the previous 20 years.

Property transactions totalling £300m were completed across Cambridge in 2020, despite the devastating impact of Covid as growing science and technology companies continued to compete for space close to Cambridge University researchers and its spin out businesses.

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