CaMKOx: The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor
Some 50 miles outside London stands a unique line of towns and cities with remarkably productive economies. The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor (CaMKOx) boasts four of the UK’s fastest growing and most productive places. They host a highly skilled labour force, cutting edge research facilities and technology clusters that compete on the world stage, bookended by two world-class universities. The combined region has the potential to be one of the biggest economic and property development schemes the UK has ever seen.
According to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the area has experienced comparatively high population growth, from 2.7 million people in 1990 to 3.3 million today, an increase of 22%. Milton Keynes alone has doubled in size since 1981, nearly five times faster than the average rate of expansion in England – though this is perhaps not that surprising, considering its history as the UK’s largest new town. Over the same period, Northampton grew by 34%, double the national average.
Figure 1: The CaMKOx corridor in numbers
Source: National Infrastructure Commission, Times Higher Education World University Rankings
The scope of opportunity in this region is substantial: the corridor has the potential to be an economic supercentre on a par with other European capital cities and has been earmarked by the UK Government as the benchmark for future economic, urban and infrastructure growth and development. While on an individual basis the towns and cities within the corridor don’t yet have the muscle to square up to Britain’s biggest cities, together they look extremely well placed to become a powerful new city-region, especially given their relative wealth and proximity to London.
However, there are challenges ahead. They have undisputed high-growth potential, but the labour force needed to realise this can only be unlocked by investment in homes. And it was this potential that led the NIC plan for infrastructure to set its sights on the development of a Knowledge and Life Science corridor of expertise. Crucial to this plan is the development of East-West rail links, which build on the work of the East West Rail Consortium and aim to connect this group of disparate stations, enhancing their already strong connections with London. The rail line is targeted to open in full by 2030.
Figure 2: Reconnecting Oxford and Cambridge by rail
Source: East West Rail
Investments in infrastructure such as this will pave the way for further economic development in the region. However, to achieve this potential, there will need to be wider development within the built environment. The NIC suggest that to accommodate the 1.4 million to 1.9 million new residents anticipated to move to the region, between 782,000 and 1,020,000 new homes could be needed by 2050. But current development plans, if successful, may deliver just 230,000 of these. No wonder then that this region is a firm favourite for a string of well-connected new settlements and urban extensions along the rail line, and that proposals to build a single, very large new city that runs all the way through the Corridor to a scattering of new villages are being mooted. As we write elsewhere, maybe a garden city or two is the answer?