£3.5bn Expressway project seen as vital to building of one million homes in the Oxford-Cambridge arc

The transport secretary has cancelled plans for a £3.5bn “expressway” which had been seen as a vital part of the government’s plans for one million homes in an “arc” between Oxford and Cambridge.

Grant Shapps said a review of the road scheme, which the National Infrastructure Commission has said is necessary to ensure the planned homes in the so-called Ox-Cam arc can be built, had shown the project was “not cost-effective”.

However, Shapps said the move did not signal any reduction in the government’s ambition for the Ox-Cam arc, and added that his department will instead work up targeted, localised road improvements in the region, on top of the £750m already committed to the East West Rail scheme.

Aerial view of Milton Keynes

Source: Cranfield University

The road had been proposed to run south of Milton Keynes

Without quoting figures, Shapps said: “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.”

A final route for the Expressway project, which was not supported by many of the local authorities it travelled through, had not been chosen and therefore it was not clear exactly how many homes the scheme would unlock.

However, the National Infrastructure Commission has said that plans for one million homes in the Ox-Cam arc by 2050 were dependent upon the construction of both the East West Rail scheme and the Ox-Cam Expressway.

In February the government committed to publish a joint spatial plan for the Ox-Cam arc development next year, amid reports that work on the promised document had been subject to serious delays.

Despite concerns over the impact of the cancellation on prospective housing growth, the cancellation of the controversial project has been largely welcomed.

Rob Hopwood, planning partner at property advisor Bidwells, which works in the “arc” region, said the road link was not “an essential ingredient for economic growth” and that the promised development of East West Rail “will now let the train take the strain.”

He said: “The prospect of building miles of concrete through the Oxfordshire countryside to support carbon emitting vehicles, at a cost of £3.5bn to the taxpayer, is just not compatible with a carbon negative future, and I’m sure we will see a highly sustainable future planned for in Government’s recently announced spatial framework for the Arc.”