Britain’s Silicon Valley ‘should be Green Arc’


Top academic researchers have said development of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc will require a shift from road to rail.

The Oxford University-led Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC) has developed what it said are ‘globally unique’ methods for simulating future population and housing growth, and demand for infrastructure services.

The model aims to explore how infrastructure can be provided ‘affordably, securely and sustainably’.

A major new report from the ITRC, led by the university’s Environmental Change Institute, has used these methods to analyse the Oxford to Cambridge 'arc' development plans  – some of the UK’s largest housing and transport projects.

The report’s preliminary analysis of issues of travel time, carbon footprint, water usage, housing developments, pollution and environmental impact found that while planned road developments may initially generate travel time savings, they are insufficient to prevent congestion and delays in the longer term.

It added that to address travel time, additional steps must be taken to manage demand for road travel, including through shifts to rail, and reduce congestion.


The report pointed out that while there are plans for both an Expressway between the A34 near Oxford and the A14 near Cambridge, and East West Rail linking Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Milton Keynes and Bedford, no decision has yet been made regarding the specific routes of either.

Asked byTransport Network which body should achieve the required modal shift, Dr Simon Blainey, associate professor in transportation at the University of Southampton and the project's transort lead, said: 'I think it would require intervention from a national body, probably the Department for Transport, to ensure – or at least maximise the likelihood of – mode shift from road to rail given the governance structures for the respective infrastructure schemes.

'Some co-ordination with land use planning at both a regional and local level would also help.'

Jim Hall, director of the ITRC and professor of climate and environmental risks at the University of Oxford, said: ‘The Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc is the most far-reaching housing and transport development proposed in recent decades, akin to a British Silicon Valley. One million new homes could be created by 2050, along with a new road Expressway, a new rail link and new and innovative forms of urbanisation.

‘The future of the arc is likely to be made up of a complex combination of many different development options, with differing typologies of development dependent on changes to existing urban centres or introduction of new towns or cities into the region.’

Other findings include:

  • Higher growth expansion and development of new settlements could result in up to 5.4 million and 6.1 million people respectively living in the area by 2050
  • The vision of a carbon neutral development is achievable, with the greatest challenge being how to heat new and existing buildings without using fossil fuels
  • Insulation and energy efficiency solutions in existing and new homes should be implemented first, followed by the introduction of low-carbon heat technologies
  • Water use is predicted to double by 2050, and new reservoirs and effluent reuse schemes could aid in meeting demand
  • At the eastern end, the development of new cities scenario could result in a doubling of the annual risk of water shortages
  • To preserve the Arc’s natural environment, it will be necessary to develop a ‘green arc’ vision where natural capital thinking is embedded throughout
  • The development must be carefully planned to preserve and integrate existing natural capital assets, create new green corridors for people and wildlife.

Modelling future infrastructure

The ITRC pointed out that the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) made recommendations in its 2017 report to develop the arc as a knowledge-intensive economic cluster across the heart of England.

However, local authorities and central government have lacked 'independent systemic analysis' due to the complexities of planning for such an unprecedented complex project.

The ITRC said its approach fills that gap and helps inform decision-making at all scales, adding that it is independently applying its models and analytics to explore possible futures for the area, ‘evaluating and quantifying the impact of local, regional and national choices on sustainable future options’.

Professor Hall said: ‘ITRC’s modelling will help to create a clear vision for the Arc’s grey and green infrastructure, employment and housing. The tool is highly flexible and can analyse a multitude of different scenarios at varying scales.

'This means investments in infrastructure can be properly costed, planned for long-term sustainability and resilience to natural hazards, and looked at from a systems perspective rather than on a project-by-project basis.’

The ITRC said the principle of the 'system of systems' approach it has pioneered means it is uniquely placed to model a cross-sectoral approach to this and other developments.

It added that its National Infrastructure Systems Model can also be used to identify complexities such as how failure in one network or area might impact on another – from a single power station going down to the impact of massive flooding across a city on transport, businesses and homes.

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