Project Cambria – how to Transform Wales into one of the Europe’s Fastest Growing Regions for less than £15 billion

Whether a nat or not suspend belief  for a second and imagine Wales and England were both sovereign nations and both leaders were holding a summit with their oldest and closest partners (in or out of Europe).

The Prime Minister of Wales is concerned, they have one of the poorest countries in Europe next to some of the richest regions of Europe, regions complaining like crazy about their housing targets and investment proposals which Wales would give an arm and leg for funding for.

‘It takes 5-6 hours to get from London to Aberystwyth‘ says the PM of Wales ‘ Yet it is shorter than the distance as the crow flies to Leeds which takes around 2 hrs’

‘It is quicker to fly to Albania, no wonder we are poor’

‘Well’, says the new English PM, who has been studying the growth of emerging nations like China and its Belt and Road Action Plan . 

‘Why don’t we invest together for mutual benefit, unimpeded trade and financial integration’

‘So for example you could get from London to Aberwyswyth in three hours, opening up large areas to economic development and paying for it with uplift in land values along the route, just as we are now doing in England.’

‘Yes’ says the Welsh PM ‘we have a Wales Spatial Plan showing arrows joining up places that are in reality very hard work to get between – lets do it’.

Six months later a team of experts produce Project Cambria – below.  A series of costed and each relatively short interventions adding up to less than £10 billion  (with a £5 billion fund for cost overunn/overoptimism bias).  The land value uplifts are estimated at over £20 blllion, time savings over £5 billion  and uplifts to the economy of wales at over 10% to GDP  (£6bn) after 30 years with an NPV to the  Economy of England and Wales of around £40 bn, with a BCR of 3.5 the treasury  greenlight it- it is excellent value for money (these are all rough estimates ).

At there next summit they sign the deal and the first contracts amongst great fanfare at a signing ceremony in Aberystwyth in the afternoon opening the new Cambria Mountains National Park – the net environmental gain of the plan and laying the foundation Stone at Llaynbrymair Garden City which would act as the Gateway to the national Park from England (by rail) creating a huge boost to Central Wale’s tourist economy.

Oh how the pundit classes had scoffed.  Spending billions on creating links through some of the lowest population density areas in western Europe, but they had taken a leaf from chinese books, by creating links through such areas they were now experiencing tiger growth as investors reliased that you could now commute from Aberwystwyth and Cambria to Birmingham in less than an hour and from Cambria to Liverpool and Manchester in less than an hour.  The economy of central Wales had been transformed.  Lampeter Garden City was promoting itself as the Welsh Vasity City and high tech hub with a target to grow to over 100,000 population and less than 3/4 hr from Cardiff.   Universities in Lampeter and Aberwystwyth were swiftly planning whole new colleges now that they were as accessible as Durham or York tied in to the Uk Economy.

This follows a political deal with Welsh Nationalists in the Welsh government so that the new Garden Cities  along the route take most of the housing, all children in them learn welsh at primary school and all villages nearby have restricted growth to welsh speakers only.

In an alternative history the English are too stupid to fund it and the Welsh get the money from the Chinese.

BBC on the Oxford-Cambridge ‘Megaplan’, where is the Government’s Engagement and Media Plan? @kitmalthouse @RHarrabin

BBC – one awaits the budget but so far the government has only connected with the highest levels of local government and LEPS – no strategy for the AECOM study (where this blog broke the story)  for ‘early public engagement on ‘realistic alternative options’ as required by the law.  Unless the MHCLG, Highways England and Homes England pull their fingers out and get in place a proper stakeholder engagement and media management plan – run by specialists in this field – they will soon have a media disaster on their hands. 

A controversial mega-development of homes, offices and roads across central England is being backed by the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling.

Up to a million new homes could be built along the Oxford, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Cambridge arc.

A new expressway would also shorten journey times from East to West.

Government advisers say the developments are needed to safeguard the booming economies of the UK’s science and technology hub.

But environmentalists argue that the mega-plan will ruin green space the size of Birmingham. And they ask if wealthy towns need to become ever more rich.

map showing Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford
Image captionUp to a million new homes could be built along the Oxford, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Cambridge arc

The plan from the National Infrastructure Commission (PDF) includes the re-opening of the previously closed Oxford to Cambridge railway. That element is supported by the government and campaigners alike.

But environmentalists are opposing the expressway, and the scale of the housing development.

They say the road will generate traffic and lead to even more congestion in the long term. They note that the preferred transport in Oxford and Cambridge is the bicycle.

Mr Grayling told BBC News: “If we don’t improve road connections in what is a busy part of the country, the existing roads will become more and more congested. There will also be local transport improvements.”

The road would improve air quality in snarled-up towns, he added.

Oxford to Cambridge Expressway route options
Image captionThe new expressway would shorten journey times between Oxford and Cambridge, developers say 

Asked whether it was possible for the UK to continue expanding transport systems in the light of climate change obligations, Mr Grayling said the government had to strive for increased growth: “We see the development of the corridor for economic and housing is essential.”

He agreed there were clearly limits as to how many new roads could physically be built, especially along the south coast. But said this didn’t yet apply to central England.

Transport experts say new roads generate more traffic, but when asked what happens if and when the expressway fills up, Mr Grayling replied: “The expressway is intended to provide relief to smaller towns that get congested.”

The Chancellor is due to respond to the expressway proposal in Monday’s Budget, but green campaigners are angry that the issue has received no formal public consultation, environmental assessment or parliamentary enquiry.

‘Growth race’

In his column, the environmentalist George Monbiot said: “In 30 years, if this scheme goes ahead, (Oxfordshire) must build as many new houses, and the infrastructure, public services and businesses required to support them, as have been built in the past 1,000. A million new homes amounts, in effect, to an Oxford-Cambridge conurbation.

“But none of this is up for debate. By the time we are asked for our opinion, there will be little left to discuss but the colour of the road signs.

“Is continued growth, in one of the wealthiest regions of the world, desirable? If it is desirable, does it outweigh the acceleration of climate breakdown the scheme will cause? When air pollution already exceeds legal limits, are new roads and their associated infrastructure either appropriate or safe? And are we really engaged in a race with other nations, in which being “left behind” is something to be feared?”

A spokesman for the National Infrastructure Commission said: “Our recommendations come with the clear condition that new schemes should not compromise the high-quality natural environment for existing and future residents, and do not need to involve any changes to existing green belt protections.

“In fact, our report made clear the need for significant investment in landscape improvements, affordable housing and sustainable transport. These changes are vital to make the most of the area’s economic potential and the contribution it makes to the wider UK economy.”