“The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes, and Oxford could be the UK’s Silicon Valley,” the Infrastructure Commission said in a report it published this week.
Recommendations in the report include bringing forward £100 million in funding to ensure the western section of the East West Rail project is completed by 2024, and that the government should commit up to a further £10 million in development funding to continue work on the central section, the part that would link Oxford with Cambridge.
As well as being the home to good universities, many technology companies are based in the two cities, including the UK’s biggest technology company Arm Holdings, the microchip designer headquartered in Cambridge.
Both Oxford and Cambridge universities have expertise in applied mathematics, computer science, and machine learning, and several of Britain’s best-known artificial intelligence companies started off as research projects within these institutions before being spun out. Evi and VocalIQ began at Cambridge, for example.
However, the report explains, house prices in Cambridge and Oxford are double the national average, making them two of the least affordable places to live in the UK. Britain will be left behind, the report warned, if it does not urgently invest in suitable housing and transport links between the east and west, emphasising that the two must be planned together.
The rail link between Oxford and Cambridge was closed in 1967. It currently takes two and a half hours and two changes via London to travel between the university cities. The report describes the journey as “difficult, slow and unreliable,” contrasting it to strong north-south links to and from London.
“As a result, commuting between key hubs on the corridor is almost non-existent and the area does not function as a single labour market,” the report says.
The infrastructure commission was set up by the chancellor at the time George Osborne last year, The Financial Times reported, to separate key project decisions from the five-year election cycle and party politics.