Capitalising on Oxbridge Corridor growth

Deborah Sharples Partner and Head of Property at law firm Hewitsons

Asked to identify the UK’s key economic regions, most people would undoubtedly name London, followed perhaps by the North and the Midlands. However, soon there will be another added to this list: the Oxbridge Corridor.

At present, this region is so obscure to the public that we haven’t even agreed on a name for it. Some call it the ‘Oxford-Cambridge corridor’. Others prefer the ‘Growth corridor’. Parliament uses the somewhat unwieldy ‘Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor’.

Whatever term we decide upon, this region looks set to become an economic powerhouse rivalling others throughout the UK and the world. This presents significant opportunities for many of its businesses, including those in Northamptonshire.

The Oxbridge Corridor, as I prefer to call it, encompasses the UK’s top two university cities – Oxford and Cambridge – together with a 130-mile line of other towns and cities arcing between them. Each already boasts an unusually productive knowledge economy. In Cambridge, for example, knowledge-intensive industries accounted for around a third of the 100,000 or so jobs created between 1990 and 2014. Moreover, in addition to the two major varsities, the corridor houses many renowned research facilities and educational institutions, as well as nine of the UK’s top 100 high growth tech firms.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) – tasked with making recommendations about the corridor’s development – believes the region could support another 700,000 jobs by 2050 and increase the UK’s gross value added (GVA) by £163billion. The NIC calls this a “once in a lifetime” growth opportunity.

However, there are potential obstacles in place, which is why the government has committed to heavy investment. In an interim report, the NIC explained: “This corridor is a national asset, that competes on the world stage and can fire the British economy – but only with an integrated and ambitious strategy to deliver new homes, connectivity and opportunities can it realise its full potential.”

As this refers to, the region faces a serious housing shortage, diminishing business’ ability to attract and retain employees, potentially threatening the overall vision.

To address this, the government has committed to building up to one million new homes along the corridor by 2050. This presents an excellent opportunity for those with land to sell, as well as developers of housing and associated facilities.

The NIC and the government are keen to deliver the housing and infrastructure needed while maintaining the corridor’s environmental and cultural character. In part, this is to help keep the region attractive to new employees entering its knowledge economy, preventing top talent from relocating. In a brief for a competition to find the best growth strategy for the region, the NIC said: “The need for fresh and visionary thinking is urgent: future generations, locally and nationally, depend on realising the potential of an area that is one of the engines of the UK economy – but in a sustainable, creative and intelligent way.”

“This corridor is a national asset, that competes on the world stage and can fire the British economy – but only with an integrated and ambitious strategy to deliver new homes, connectivity and opportunities can it realise its full potential.”

The housing shortage is not the only challenge this region faces. Poor transport links and other infrastructure issues worsen the problem. At present, the corridor’s towns and cities are each well-connected to the capital, but not to one another.

To tackle this, the government plans to spend up to £3.5billion on a road linking Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford – the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway. A railway connecting East Anglia with central, southern and western England – the East West Rail – is also in the offing. The government has earmarked more than £100million for the next stage of this project, which is scheduled for completion by 2024.

Such deadlines might seem far off, but businesses should already be preparing. It is important to get in from the ground floor to capitalise on this opportunity. If you don’t, others will.

For this potential behemoth to thrive, the region’s individual businesses will be key, from multi-national corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises. At Hewitsons, we have had the privilege of working with many of these organisations over the years, through our numerous specialist teams, which include Agriculture & Rural Property, Commercial, Construction & Engineering, Corporate, Employment, Planning & Environmental, Real Estate and Residential Property, among others. Our roots are deeply embedded in the Oxbridge Corridor, as we have offices in Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Northampton, as well as in London. Having personally witnessed the incredible level of innovation that the region’s businesses have to offer, I am confident that the Oxbridge Corridor can deliver.

“The NIC calls this a ‘once in a lifetime’ growth opportunity.”