In this week’s autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the reintroduction of a railway line between Oxford and Cambridge, which will run for the first time since 1993.
The railway line, parts of which had been operational since 1845, was investigated by the National Infrastructure Commission in March for the potential of a “knowledge-intensive cluster that competes on a global stage” in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford “corridor”.
In Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond announced that the government “accepts the recommendation for the Oxford-Cambridge expressway” and will provide £27m in development funding for the project, along with £100m of funding for the East-West line’s western section, and £10m for the central rail station.
The railway line will have stations between Oxford and Cambridge, including at Milton Keynes, Bedford, and other towns currently part of the Stagecoach X5 route. The ‘corridor’ between Oxford and Cambridge is home to 3.3 million people, and what the NIC named “some of the most productive, successful and fast-growing cities in the United Kingdom”.
The infrastructure recommendations also include £27m of road-building, which came as part of a wider programme of road and transport investment in the Autumn Statement. The government will spend a total of £135m in the Oxford-Cambridge corridor in the 2018-19 budget, the statement revealed.
The last section of the railway line between the UK’s oldest universities, colloquially named the “Varsity Line”, was decommissioned in 1993 after faster, high-speed trains to London from Oxford and Cambridge made it faster to travel between the cities via the capital. The investment will join HS2 and other rail projects, which make up a substantial amount of the government’s infrastructure spending in this year’s statement.
The announcement came in the same week that Theresa May announced a £2bn government fund for UK university research, named the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. It will fund research into areas that the UK has the chance to “excel” at, including biotechnology and robotics.
May said the money was to ensure that British businesses remain at the cutting edge of scientific discovery and came as part of a modern and ambitious industrial strategy. She said that the new strategy was about “making the most of the historic opportunity we now have to signal an important, determined change”.
Lord John Krebs, Oxford Professor of Zoology and former principal of Jesus College, said that as he understood it, the government agency UK Research and Innovation will have “considerable discretion over how the money will be spent, having regard for priority areas”.
The investment fund for research will go some way to counterbalance money leaving UK academia as a result of the UK’s departure from the European Union, it is claimed. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said, “As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, it will also be critical to remain attractive to the international talent that science and innovation require.”
The University of Oxford took 12 percent of its research funding from the European Union last year.
Both investments impact Oxford, which forms a central part of the government’s investment strategy in both business and academic research, particularly in the sciences. According to the Prime Minister, it will help the UK become part of the “cutting edge of scientific discovery” and to have a “modern and ambitious industrial strategy”.