Arc Universities

The Universities in the Oxford to Cambridge region are world-leading institutions for research and innovation.  But what more can the Arc Universities do together to support the region?

Professor Alistair Fitt, Chair of the Arc Universities Group sets out his vision:

Catalysing the Arc vision

There are many components of the Arc that get discussed – the Spatial Framework; the relationships between LEPs and local government; the Arc Growth Body (its prospective powers, Governance and leadership and its relationship with Local Plans). All these things are important – but they’re not really inspiring. People want to understand the lifestyle that the Arc can bring. In our universities, we want students and staff to be thinking about what the future of the Arc could be like. From diversity, sustainability, electric vehicles, ecology, solar energy and 5/6/7G; what will make the Arc a fantastic place in which to live, work and thrive?

Making the Arc politics-proof

What really is the Arc project? A new way of joining the LEPs together, a  Tory project, an infrastructure project, transport plan or levelling up component? 

It’s actually none of these. 

There is a lot of effort going into the Arc, but very little meaningful funding.  One source that the money is not going to come from, at least in the current climate, is government. The long wait for a Comprehensive Spending Review was never really going to come to much. Whereas the early signs from a new Secretary of State about the Arc are certainly not negative, there has been little  from a government that is big on political posturing, with very little legislation and strategy or long-term planning.

The Arc is a long-term project.  Ultimately this is a long-term project of 20-30 years, a timeframe that will transcend governments, leaders and the electoral cycle. We need business, private funding, and banks to step into this space with an entrepreneurial zeal that allows us all to ‘do the Arc ourselves’.  

People seem to be waiting to see whether we will receive a delivery or ‘growth’ body. In truth, the question should be why are we waiting? Why not create one ourselves?  After all, doesn’t a big infrastructure project  stand a greater chance of outlasting election campaigns with the strength of an  outside  and independent influence running it

Guiding the evolution of the Arc story 

The Arc story started with a ‘tolerable’ railway, ‘one million evil homes’ and a ‘super evil expressway.’ 

The Arc Story has moved on from its earlier narrative (homes, railway and expressway).  The Secretary of State for Transport put an end to the expressway. Plans for the railway have switched from diesel to electric.   I wish that the Infrastructure Commission report had never mentioned 1 million houses – this is not what the Arc is all about. It should be about homes for communities; for people to live and build their lives in the Arc – whereas it could come across as a commuter belt for London.

How will the story evolve? 

We have gone a long way towards putting zero carbon and sustainability to the fore. 

There is a long way to go.  There will be interesting questions to ask and answer around where the houses will be, what will the planning regime look like, what businesses will come here, and how social infrastructure such as hospitals and schools will support growth. Campaigners against the Arc are also driven by such concerns. 

I hope that we will all seize the opportunity to influence and shape the rest of the story and that we can look back to a time when we were all able to work together to create a design that works and a legacy of which we could all feel proud. 

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