Unlocking Opportunities in Cambridgeshire

Alison Wring
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of the long term economic plan for the East of England, I explore the significance for Cambridgeshire and the surrounding region.

This is a very exciting time for the region where I live and work. The much-needed economic plan for the East of England was launched in February 2015, spearheading initiatives that should make a big difference to local opportunity and prosperity.

The economic plan plays to the region’s strengths, and has six elements:

  • Delivering economic growth

  • Creating jobs

  • Investing in transport

  • Boosting science, technology and defence

  • Supporting the rural economy and energy

  • Backing house building, education, culture and tourism

This is welcome news for the region, where there is huge potential for further economic growth. The city of Cambridge and its surroundings has already become an international centre for business, science, technology, education, medicine and research. Against the backdrop of the University of Cambridge, there’s a global reputation for innovation and excellence.

The Cambridge phenomenon continues to attract an impressive array of businesses to the region, but it’s not always the most practical place to live. Cambridge itself is a small city, with a historic centre owned by colleges, and a lack of post-industrial brownfield land – there’s a lot of pressure on housing stock. One of the region’s main barriers to economic success is lack of housing and good transport.

The Cambridge phenomenon continues to attract an impressive array of businesses to the region...

Improvements got under way with the Greater Cambridge City Deal, which was signed by central government and local representatives in 2014. This secured additional funding for investment in transport infrastructure to support high quality economic and housing growth.

It was great to see a £180m list of priority transport schemes agreed in January 2015, as part of the City Deal. The focus is on tackling the worst congested roads in Cambridge, freeing up bus services and improving life for residents, cyclists and pedestrians.

The new economic plan for the East of England now pledges a further £4.2bn of investment in transport, boosting road and rail connections across the East – including widening the study into the East-West rail line, looking at the case for electrifying the rail line from Felixstowe to Birmingham, progressing the new East Anglia rail franchise, and making road improvements, including the A11 and the A47. These measures will help commuters, businesses and tourists.

High demand for housing is set to continue. New homes are needed for people on the full range of incomes, creating sustainable communities with appropriate infrastructure and services. The economic plan pledges support for the construction of over 15,000 new homes, expanding the provision already under way in Waterbeach, Northstowe, Ely, Alconbury and St Neots.

Employment has already grown faster in this region than any other English region outside London...

The long-term economic plans will create employment and growth. Employment has already grown faster in this region than any other English region outside London, and the government promises that 250,000 more jobs will be created in the next five years.

I’d like to see some of these jobs addressing the notable construction sector skills shortage. We’re anticipating this growing volume of work around the built environment, in a region which is already using its resource on existing projects. I hope that local colleges will step up to the challenge of addressing these gaps – but there will need to be a lead from industry too. Our parent company Atkins already leads the field with apprenticeship initiatives in the engineering and consultancy professions, but there’s scope for more industry and training provider input for the manual trades.

As head of Faithful+Gould’s Cambridge office, I lead an excellent team who work on a wide range of projects throughout the East Anglia region. One of the most exciting is North West Cambridge, the largest single capital development project that the University of Cambridge has undertaken in its 800-year history. The University is investing £1bn to meet its long-term growth needs.

In the wider surrounding area, we’re working on projects such as the Alconbury Weald Enterprise Campus, a residential-led mixed-use development north of Huntingdon. Increasingly we’re working on proposals for new towns – Northstowe for instance - and we see this as a specific area of growth for our business.

These illustrate our experience in supporting the development of large masterplans. We help both private and public sector organisations, to develop business cases, exploring the risks and opportunities associated with each element of significant programmes of work. Often we help clients develop plans the most cost effective contribution to surrounding infrastructure - typically in the form of meeting their Section 106 and Section 278 requirements.  We are also providing cost advice for Cambridgeshire County Council on any new schools that form part of Cambridgeshire’s masterplans.

The region is poised for great progress – it’s a compelling business destination which has so much to offer.

The region is poised for great progress – it’s a compelling business destination which has so much to offer. I hope that we’ll see this government and future governments continue to deliver their share of the investment needed to fulfil the potential. And at Faithful+Gould, we’re excited to play a part in transforming local success into national importance.