I’ve read three reports this week and they all say one thing – development in the Oxbridge Innovation Arc is needed and it’s coming. So the question is how we make the most of it and what we must do to enable quality, sustainable and enduring development?
First, I should declare an interest. I work in Oxford and live in the Heart of England, within the Arc itself. I write with a professional head on but with skin in the game too. I can imagine the potential that the Arc can deliver; at the same time, I understand the direct impact that a project of this scale and scope can have on the people and communities that might be affected by it. I believe that a joined-up approach to a scheme of this nature can be transformative for the nation (let alone the region) whilst recognising that it needs to be done well!
The reports were the Oakervee report on HS2, summarised in The Times ahead of official release. The PwC/Demos analysis of Best Places to Live, ranking Oxford at the top for the fourth year in a row. And the latest planning and property consultant snapshot, in this case by Savills.
All three highlight demand. For new homes to make living attainable and affordable in this sought-after location. For more capacity on key rail links to improve connectivity but also unlock regeneration and development. And for productivity – the Arc is, after all, predicated on leveraging the growth corridor’s assets to increase UK productivity and performance.
What else does this tell us? For me, the Arc is about a complementary and combined series of objectives and opportunities. A development and investment scenario where the whole is, by some margin, greater than the sum of the parts.
With this multiple focus comes greater complexity. A key challenge for the Arc is delivery because of the assets, entities, policies and laws all involved. Also, critically, there are the complementary challenges of resources and people. We’re talking about multiple stakeholders, a whole web of land and property assets, and potentially complex procurement and contracting arrangements because of the sheer number of companies and delivery agents that will need to be involved. And what of sustainability?
My experience in three decades in the law has been to boil things down and seek to make the complicated and potentially confusing simple. The Arc is potentially the largest project the UK has ever seen. It could bring enormous benefits to the region but only if it is done well, to optimise the economic benefit whilst protecting existing interests as best it can.
PwC/Demos says Oxford is the place to be but we all know we must deliver new homes in and near the city if we are to avoid Oxford overheating and burning itself out. The key challenge, more so than ever, is to ensure that development is done well. This is arguably the key “once in a generation” initiative that the Heart of England faces. Where we can bring advice and straight talking to help clients realise all of these goals, we will.
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