Connecting Oxford with Cambridge - key to the success of UK innovation

Poor transport links holding back UK’s ‘Silicon Valley’

Image credit: PA

Transport infrastructure between Oxford and Cambridge requires further investment, including new rail lines and better roads, if the area is to live up to its potential as the UK’s innovation engine comparable to the US Silicon Valley, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said.

Currently, it takes about two hours to get from Oxford to Cambridge by car and almost three hours by train. However, building a direct rail line and a proper motorway could cut journey times by up to 40 per cent.

“The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be Britain’s Silicon Valley - a globally recognised centre for science, technology and innovation,” said Sir John Armitt, deputy chairman of the NIC.

“But its future success is not guaranteed. Transport links across the corridor are often slow, unreliable and congested, and the area is home to two of the least affordable cities in the UK, in part because it has consistently failed to build the homes it needs.”

According to Armitt, the situation is discouraging international talent from relocating into the area and prevents local innovative companies from achieving their full potential.

“These twin problems are already increasing costs for businesses and diminishing their ability to attract employees at all levels - including the recruitment and retention of globally mobile talent,” Armitt said.

“This area can become greater than the sum of its parts with better strategic planning which radically improves its transport connectivity whilst securing the tens of thousands of new homes it so desperately needs.”

The NIC, an independent advisor to the UK government, urged ministers to prioritise construction of the East West Rail line, which would directly connect Oxford with Cambridge for the first time since 1967. The western section of the line, linking Oxford with Bedford via Milton Keynes, was approved in 2011 and is scheduled for completion in 2024.

According to NIC, the government should bring forward £100m in funding to speed up design and development of the western section, and commit a further £10m to continue progress on plans for the central section. The commission also said £27m would be needed for developing the Oxford Cambridge Expressway project – the first high quality road between the two cities.

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