Shapps cancels Oxford to Cambridge expressway

18/03/2021
Dominic Browne

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced the cancellation of the Oxford-Cambridge (Ox-Cam) expressway after Department for Transport (DfT) analysis suggested it was not cost-effective.

Highways England had been developing potential options for a road link between Oxford and Milton Keynes but DfT officials said that following work with local partners, 'recent analysis shows that the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by the costs associated with the project'.

The scheme has been 'speculatively' valued at £3.5bn, with former chancellor Philip Hammond providing £27m in development funding for the project in 2016.

A study published the same year found on the basis of initial assessment work that the benefits of all three shceme options ‘are promising enough to take them forward to the next stage of assessment’.

However, transport officials will now instead investigate 'the need for more targeted road interventions in the area, working closely with Highways England and England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) as the sub-national transport body, to develop a study on proposals.

Behind the scenes, Highways understands that elements within EEH have always been ambivalent about the value of the road scheme and were never keen to fully support it.

The news comes after, the Government announced a £760m funding commitment to deliver the next phase of East West Rail, which will reinstate direct rail services between Bicester and Bletchley for the first time since 1968.

Mr Shapps said: 'The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is home to cutting-edge research, globally renowned science and technology clusters and some of the most productive places in the country – we want to make sure it has transport fit for such an important region.

'Our analysis shows the expressway cannot deliver such links in a way that provides value for money for the taxpayer, so I have taken the decision to cancel the project. But we remain committed to boosting transport links in the area, helping us to create jobs and build back better from coronavirus (COVID-19).

'We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region, alongside the transformational East West Rail, in which we have invested £760 million to deliver the next phase.'

Mayor Dave Hodgson, chair of England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) Strategic Transport Forum, said: 'This is a welcome announcement that provides clarity to those planning for the region’s future between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

'As our Transport Strategy sets out, delivery of strategic schemes, including East West Rail and mass transit systems, such as those being developed in Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes, alongside harnessing smart technologies and targeted investment in the road network, are all essential if we are to ensure economic growth while achieving net-zero emissions.'

EEH will start work on its Oxford to Milton Keynes connectivity study this month, he said.

'We will work with partners and government to explore the connectivity needs of this important corridor and identify the solutions required to support sustainable growth for the long-term.'

In February, the Government launched the process for developing a long-term Oxford-Cambridge Arc spatial framework, including transport policy, for local and national planning, and to inform investment decisions.

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