'Let's hear some ambition and positivity' about EWR plans

Ryan Fuller is the leader of Huntingdonshire District Council.

Ryan Fuller is the leader of Huntingdonshire District Council. - Credit: HDC

I’m afraid I have to disagree with the mayor of St Neots’ recent column on how ‘awful’ plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc are.

In an oversimplified mischaracterisation, the mayor seemed to conflate the wider Arc project with East-West Rail and inferred that the Arc is responsible for what he has deemed to be unsuitable developments in Bedfordshire.

The Arc itself already exists as a spatial definition for the area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. An area of economic strength which currently generates more than £110 billion for the UK economy each year, and which has the potential to become a world-leading and globally renowned centre for business, innovation and investment.

The Arc is about making sure that the area fulfils its long-term economic potential. Transport connectivity, housing affordability and environmental outcomes in the Arc area all are currently poor as a result of the movement of people outpacing the delivery of new infrastructure to accommodate them.

East-West rail is just one of the connectivity projects that seeks to address this by reconnecting Oxford and Cambridge, and the places in between.

In addition to creating new economic opportunities it will also create new housing and jobs, link communities with leisure opportunities and bring about reductions in congestion and pollution.

Improved connectivity improves productivity which in turn delivers economic growth and prosperity, better jobs and higher incomes for local people.

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This, along with the delivery of new homes in the right places and with the right infrastructure helps tackle the issue of housing affordability.

The supply of new homes across the Arc area has not kept up with demand, and wages have not kept pace with house prices meaning that home ownership is out of reach for many.

This causes difficulties for businesses in recruiting the skilled workers they need and forces people to move further away to find more affordable houses, leading to longer and more polluting journeys as people then travel even further for work.

It’s exactly this that the Arc seeks to address through a properly planned approach to the right level of growth in the most sustainable locations supported by the necessary infrastructure.

A letter in last week’s Hunts Post described St Neots Town Council’s opposition to East-West Rail as a ‘19th century attitude’, but our 19th Century predecessors had the drive to deliver the original Oxford to Cambridge railway – the Varsity Line.

That railway didn’t get any closer to St Neots than Sandy though and whilst there are some issues with the current proposals, we shouldn’t fail to grasp this historic opportunity to benefit St Neots and the wider area and fix problems that have held back too many people for too long.

Levelling up isn’t just a Government plan for the north, so come on St Neots Town Council, let’s hear some ambition and positivity about the exceptional opportunities available to our largest town.