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Government reportedly abandons plans for UK Silicon Valley

The project to link Oxford and Cambridge together to create a technological powerhouse has reportedly been deprioritised

The UK government has put its plans to create a British rival to Silicon Valley on hold as it aims to focus on spending in the north of England.

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is a project aiming to connect the area between Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. Its aim is to link up the UK’s leading universities with local manufacturing and logistics sectors by investing in new road and rail links, as well as housing, to encourage economic development across the Arc.

This was a key priority of successive Consertave governments but individuals with knowledge of plans told the Financial Times that the project is no longer considered a priority by ministers. Michael Gove, the levelling-up secretary, reportedly indicated privately that the project was on the backburner. Additionally, a team focused on delivering the Arc was reportedly disbanded within weeks of Gove taking up his new role in September last year.

The National Infrastructure Commission said in 2017 that Cambridge, Milton Keynes, and Oxford are some of the most productive and innovative places, and deliver growth for the whole country. However, it outlined that the continued success of these places is not guaranteed, and without swift action to overcome the area’s housing crisis, it will fall behind international competitors and fail to attract and retain talent. The paper proposed greater investment in housing, transport, and better-connected communities to attract investment.

A new railway line between Oxford and Cambridge is still going ahead but the new east-west expressway project was cancelled in March last year.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has promised to concentrate on delivering economic growth outside London and the South-East as part of his “levelling up” agenda, with Gove reportedly taking the strategic decision to deprioritise the plan and put fragmented local councils in charge of it instead.

“In October 2021, the government completed a 12-week public consultation gathering views to shape a vision for an Arc Spatial Framework,” a spokesperson from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told IT Pro. “We are currently considering the responses to this consultation and will provide more information in due course.”

The consultation focused on delivering a planning framework for the Arc but remains unpublished.

Bev Hindle, the executive director for the Arc Leadership Group, told IT Pro that at a Leaders Plenary in January, they were told that the Arc remained a priority for the government.

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“We understand though that post Spending Review, still no formal decision is made on the degree of future government involvement in the economic partnership for the Arc,” he said. “We were asked by officials to consider leadership priorities based on a locally-led partnership model building on the work that we are currently undertaking as a group.”

Hindle added that the group has locally-led collaboration and recognises the importance and value of partnership, and cross-boundary working on matters that bring benefits to residents and businesses.

“Whilst we do this, and wait for the official publication of the response to the Arc Spatial Framework Vision Consultation, we continue our collaboration,” he added. Hindle also mentioned the group will continue to work with the Department for International Trade over the next few months to develop a joint internationalisation plan for the Arc.

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