Does the CaMkOx corridor need the leadership of a new development corporation?


Pictured: Julia Foster of David Lock Associates (pointing) during planning workshop with fellow forum delegates from Hardman & Co., Oxford University Hospitals, St. John's College Cambridge and BioMed Realty.

At our recent Cambridge forum, at the University's Newnham College, we discussed the importance of low carbon transport as well as joining up planning for mobility and housing, and the particular challenges presented by the growth plan for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.

The sustainable and vital upgrade of trains serving Cambridge and the wider region including Stansted, was described by Greater Anglia's Director of Public Affairs, Jonathan Denby, who commented on the train operator's acquisition of new energy flexible rolling stock:

'There used to be a simple view between electric or diesel but we are now moving forward with bi-mode trains. These can switch modes on the move, and the beauty of these is that they are future-proofed with detachable diesel pods. You won't have to re-build the whole train to adapt to a new energy technology. You can choose to go down battery or hydrogen routes and you can take the diesel pod out. The technology and the thinking are there but we need to push further in the way we ask government to incentivise and place benefits on certain types of contracts.'

'One of the reasons we have new trains in place is because we said collectively as a region that we needed new trains. This changed the behaviours on the bidding process for all stakeholders including rail manufacturers and the funders. All of these came together succesfuly at a time of low interest rates.'

Asked whether new towns are the solution to the Oxford to Cambridge Arc's housing target, Managing Partner of David Lock associates, Julia Foster referred to the vital joining up of transport movement, services and housing planning:

'The only way you will get development targets met with complexity of movement networks and services involved across such a large area is with intervention. This demands a different level of commitment.

'We are seeing a transformation in planning across the Arc but it's a huge challenge. Local authorities are doing what they can, setting the framewowk and it works very well with Cambridge collaborating with South Cambridgeshire. However our planning system is not fit for purpose to deliver at scale.

'We have to look at new town development corporations again, and at locally led development corporations. These need to happen in a number of places, if not everywhere. Even Milton Keynes is not getting thr level of growth needed to help hit the 500,000 homes target by 2050 . Prior to the recession we built about 3,500 new homes per year but you need to build at least 5,000 per year. This was only possible with a hugely invested public sector delivery model. The private sector doing its part on projects up to 10,000, for instance at Waterbeach, Bourne and Northstowe, but above that scale you need so much more in terms of infrastructure planning when you add in education, healthcare and transport.

'Delivering at scale requires long term stewardship and governance to make places work and it's also about how land value capture gives back to the community. The current constraints on housing delivery and the fact that a few large house builders dominate the landscape, works against success. However, with a different approach we can achieve high qulaity development, with some enlightened developers and the public and private sector working together. We need this sort of collaboration if we are to get anywhere near the level of development required.'

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