Download the full Radical Regeneration Manifesto to learn more.

Real estate experts Blackstock Consulting, Cambridge-based property consultancy Bidwells, and global architects Perkins and Will, have launched a new report which sets out inspirational policy ideas for a future Oxford-Cambridge Arc powerhouse.

The economic potential of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc is huge. According to government figures, the area produces an annual GVA of £100bn – more than Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol combined. However, a number of barriers blocking potential growth are evident across housing, office space and infrastructure. 

Firstly, house prices in Cambridge and Oxford have jumped by 73 and 66 per cent respectively over the last decade. This is threatening to price out talent from some of the world’s leading universities that are located in the area, such as the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Furthermore, office rents rose by 12 per cent over the last five years alone, and with major infrastructure projects such as the Ox-Camb Express, which will offer a direct motorway link between Oxford and Cambridge, being placed under review, the Arc’s long-term growth could be in jeopardy. 

These issues are already having an impact. In January, Bidwells found that the pace of local economic growth has more than halved since the Brexit vote in 2016, with annual GVA growth (a measure of economic productivity) falling from 2.7 per cent in 2015 to 1 per cent in 2018.

However, the opportunity within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc is still plentiful. Following his party’s sweeping election win, Boris Johnson announced the government’s aims to double public spending on research and development (R&D) to £18bn a year over the next five year, while also stimulating private sector R&D through more generous tax credits. The Arc, which is home to some of the UK’s most innovative life sciences and tech businesses and giants such as AstraZenaca, Apple and Microsoft, will be a main beneficiary of such policies.

 

To guarantee the Arc’s future growth, Blackstock, Bidwells and Perkins and Will have brought together a think tank of twenty-five major investors and developers, including Legal & General, Barratt Developments and Grosvenor, to propose 16 policy recommendations that the current government could adopt as long-term policies.

The manifesto is intended to offer a blueprint for future regeneration projects nationwide, while also driving forward other industry initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

The Arc is well placed to act as a case study as it has huge and established potential to grow but for this to be unlocked, restrictions and bottlenecks will have to be overcome by radical thinking. The recommendations include:

  • Creating a singular body, like the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), to fast track key development across the Arc, whether it’s homes, transport infrastructure or lab space. This could include PDR around brownfield sites meeting a particular agreed criteria and density of sites linked to transport hubs for example.
  • Update archaic planning rules enabling quicker change of use and far more flexibility over how sites can be used, given that many fast-growing businesses have no idea where they will be in two years. Alongside this, extending permitted development rights for brownfield sites and mandating that younger people partake in community engagement through the use of apps rather than just town halls. 
  • There needs to be fixed regulation that mandates zero carbon, and ideally, carbon negative, development. Passivhaus should be as standard for housing, and without this, there will be no way to really build trust and galvanise communities to become ambassadors, rather than opponents, of development in areas of natural beauty.

Since October, the report has garnered huge interest and has already:

  • Been well received by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, whom we are engaging with regularly on the subject.
  • Achieved press coverage in national, trade and regional publications such as The Times, The Telegraph, Estates Gazette and the Oxford Mail.
  • Blackstock Consulting’s managing director, Andrew Teacher, joined Ian King on the Sky News weekday business show to discuss the manifesto.
  • Featured on the front page of The Oxford Times.

Andrew Teacher, managing director of Blackstock Consulting, said: 

“It’s time to think big about regeneration to ensure the right kind of development is achieved in the right areas for the right reasons. Our thinktank brought together a wealth of expertise looking at how to address this problem – not just in Oxford & Cambridge but in England as a whole. 

“We want the Radical Regeneration Manifesto to be the start of a movement to bridge the gap between public and private for the future good of development. It’s not just about housing, it’s about infrastructure, the environment, repurposing retail, insightful use of big data, addressing archaic planning processes and engaging the younger generation whose future relies on starting regeneration now.”

Download the full Radical Regeneration Manifesto to learn more.