A new government deal for the “brain belt” could bring developments of up to 150,000 new homes to Buckinghamshire.
The Prosperity Report, published on Friday (November 17) by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), an advisory government department, recommends that home building is doubled, that transport infrastructure is improved and that powers are devolved to local authorities, in the “Cambridge to Milton Keynes to Oxford Arc”.
According to the publication, these steps should be taken to maximise the prosperity of the region, as part of a project championed by the NIC since March 2016.
Aylesbury could benefit from a rail link between the town and Milton Keynes, via an upgrade of an existing freight line, and a better service into London with the promise of “faster journeys”.
Cllr Martin Tett, the leader of Bucks County Council and chairman of England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance, said: “There is much to welcome in this report. It is critically important that growth is enabled by the provision of new infrastructure.”
“However, to be truly successful this must be more than just transport and include, for example, new utilities, high speed broadband, health services, education, parks and open space and skills.”
“We also welcome the NIC’s view that the identification of areas for growth should be led by local authorities, not imposed ‘top down’. The Heartland Alliance clearly presents the base on which to build new, strategic, cross corridor planning and delivery vehicles. The Government does not have to start from scratch and risk losing the momentum already developed.”
The report also considers the “intensification and expansion” of Milton Keynes to be a key opportunity for the area, suggesting that the population could rise to half a million people.
A “new garden town west of Cambridge” supported by a new train station on the East to West Rail line could also find a home in Buckinghamshire.
Andrew M Smith, chairman of Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (BTVLEP), welcomed today’s report, saying:“Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership welcomes the publication of the National Infrastructure Commission report - especially in the context of the forthcoming publication of the Industrial Strategy white paper.
“We are delighted that the significant economic potential of the area has been recognised at a national level and that many of the infrastructure requirements needed to unlock this potential are included within the initial recommendations, in particular the advance delivery of East West Rail, the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway and improving rail links to London.
“The Bucks Growth Strategy, produced by BTVLEP, was shared with the National Infrastructure Commission and Government as part of the corridor consultation. It sets out the ambitions and opportunity for Buckinghamshire to be an integral part of economically led growth for the corridor.”
The impact on the natural environment, however, is a cause of worry for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who feel the report may lead to increased traffic and poorly thought-out housing developments.
Senior Infrastructure Campaigner Daniel Carey-Dawes explained: “Today’s report will be met with real concern by all those who care for the natural environment. There are elements of the study, which we welcome, including the joined up approach to housing, planning and infrastructure, and the promotion of East-West rail links.
“However, many areas give us significant cause for concern. This area is already under huge development pressure and these proposals will not help rebalance the economy.
“The rhetoric on sustainable growth is not matched by the reality of some of the recommendations. The proposed expressway will simply generate new traffic and encourage developers to build unaffordable homes in the wrong locations.
“Looking ahead to the Budget, the Government must ensure there is genuine consultation with all the communities affected before taking these proposals further. This cannot be another infrastructure project done to a community rather than with them.”
Winslow County Councillor John Chilver reiterated these concerns on Twitter. He added: “Decisions on the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway route are being taken in secret behind closed doors with no public consultation.”
Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Lord Andrew Adonis said: “The arc spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford attracts the brightest and best from some of the most cutting edge industries.
“But the area also suffers from a lack of available homes and an infrastructure network that is feeling the strain – pricing local people out of the market, making it difficult for businesses to recruit staff, and threatening the future competitiveness of one of the most successful parts of the country.
“A ground-breaking deal between ministers and local leaders could transform the area, helping to double the rate of housebuilding and deliver the first new towns this country has seen for half a century. With this one of the most economically important parts of the UK, it could add billions of pounds a year to the national economy.
“I urge local leaders to seize this opportunity and work together with Government.”
To read the report, head to the National Infrastructure Commission website.