Government cancels Oxford-Cambridge expressway project


Transport secretary Grant Shapps has halted plans to deliver the Oxford-Cambridge expressway after analysis confirmed the project was not cost-effective

Highways England had been developing potential options for a road link between Oxford and Milton Keynes. However, following close work with local partners since 2014, recent analysis shows that the benefits the Oxford-Cambridge expressway would deliver are outweighed by the costs associated with the project.

Building on the insight already developed by Highways England, the Department for Transport (DfT) will now investigate the need for more targeted road interventions in the area.

The DfT will work closely with Highways England and England’s Economic Heartland as the sub-national transport body to develop a study on proposals, which will also support the spatial framework.

‘Expressway cannot deliver links in a way that provides value’

Transport secretary Grant Shapps, said: “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is home to cutting-edge research, globally renowned science and technology clusters and some of the most productive places in the country – we want to make sure it has transport fit for such an important region.

“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.

“We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region, alongside the transformational East West Rail, in which we have invested £760m to deliver the next phase.”

Mayor Dave Hodgson, chair of England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) Strategic Transport Forum, said: “This is a welcome announcement that provides clarity to those planning for the region’s future between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

“As our transport strategy sets out, delivery of strategic schemes, including East West Rail and mass transit systems, such as those being developed in Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes, alongside harnessing smart technologies and targeted investment in the road network, are all essential if we are to ensure economic growth while achieving net-zero emissions.

“Work on EEH’s Oxford to Milton Keynes connectivity study begins in March 2021. We will work with partners and Government to explore the connectivity needs of this important corridor and identify the solutions required to support sustainable growth for the long term.”

Rob Hopwood, planning partner at Bidwells, added: “I welcome the government’s decision to cancel the Oxford to Cambridge expressway. The road link was never an essential ingredient for economic growth and the Varsity Rail line will now let the train take the strain.

“Rail investment is the answer we’re looking for, not road. 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.”


  1. A disastrous decision. So now if a company wants to make an HGV or transit delivery to multiple destinations along the Oxford-Cambridge arc, or if you want to visit a Cambridge or Oxford science park or similar address for business reasons (highly unlikely to be near the railway stations, which were built in the nineteenth century), we will still have to chug along what is a terribly slow chop-and-change cross-country route.

    And for all the talk about “mass transit”, there’s highly unlikely to be any public transport from the railway stations to the diverse locations of modern businesses around the peripheries of these cities, so visitors by rail will be forced to mess around at either end getting multiple expensive taxis, on top of an expensive rail fare. Passenger railways are designed for mass commuting into city centres, or leisure travel. They are hopeless for business and multiple point-to-point visits, and for business-related deliveries. Why force people in the Cambridge-Oxford arc, who will remain dependent on the private car for the vast majority of commuting and private journeys for the foreseeable future, to use the train just because they want to travel east-west?

    It will take at least 10 years to build the railway, and even if the trains are electric-powered, private vehicles will increasingly be too, so that knocks out the “cars are evil carbon-emitters, trains are not” argument. I think we will come bitterly to regret forcing people into slow and expensive train/taxi journeys compared with the point-to-point efficiency and convenience of the car, all because of the green “force everyone onto public transport, irrespective of the cost in time and money for themselves and their businesses” dogmas of today’s planners.


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