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Our infrastructure forum this week

CGI of western concourse at HS2 Curzon Station, Birmingham (Grimshaw)

Future Cities Forum is debating the growth and direction of investment in infrastructure and related developments this week with the Infrastructure & Projects Authority, looking at the future economic benefits, especially around the Oxford to Cambridge ARC, the HS2 stations proposed for the West Midlands and at Crewe, and the Northumberland re-opened railway lines.

The UK government's recent package to reopen two important rail routes closed more than five decades ago, includes the delivery of the next phase of East West Rail, which will create 1,500 skilled jobs, and reinstate direct rail services between Bicester and Bletchley for the first time since 1968. It also includes £34 million to progress plans to reopen the Northumberland line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington, which closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts.

Much is expected of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc in terms of economic revival and job creation, but there are current concerns about the management of new housing along the infrastructure route, with some experts complaining of a lack of proper planning. Cambridge at the eastern end is an over-heating 'science and R&D city', wanting to continue to attract talent but also wanting to enable both leading medical personnel as well as key workers to find affordable homes. Oxford at the western end has similar challenges, that have come on the back of global success and limited land for development.

South Cambridgeshire District Council has voted to support outline proposals for Waterbeach New Town East, a new settlement of up to 4,500 homes close to Cambridge, brought forward by RLW Estates (which is a Joint Venture between St John's College Cambridge and Royal London Asset Management and run by developer Turnstone). Waterbeach NTE moves away from prioritising cars in spaces and streets around homes at scale. It is a 20-year long LDA Design project with the masterplan reimagining residential streets with excellent connectivity. There will be a series of small neighbourhoods or 'steads' each with their individual character, but connected to the bigger landscape of the Fens. Significant improvements to public transport include a relocated railway station with longer platforms, walking and cycling routes linking home to transport hubs, the town centre, schools and workspaces.

Meanwhile PwC's 'Annual Good Growth for Cities Index' puts Milton Keynes among the best places for good economic growth, with the city scoring particularly highly on new businesses, job creation and pay. This month the Council announced that it had secured £4m of funding including £2.3 million from Government to create and test mobility services using 5G technology. The initiative will be run at Stadium MK, the home of MK Dons and builds on a £10 million investment already made by SEMLEP, industry and other academic partners. The funding will be used to create driverless shuttles and road vehicles for moving people and goods across the stadium site, autonomous surveillance vehicles and drones for enhancing security, and testing out robots as well as drones for goods delivery and hospitality use.

Our forum this week will also look at the latest infrastructure-led development and creation of place around Reading Station, a future interchange for Crossrail, connections to Heathrow, Gatwick and the West of England and Wales.

We will also discuss the investment in commercial and retail in and around stations post the pandemic in London, which has seen significant loss of commuter footfall.


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