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Cambridge to Oxford expressway

Earlier this month I attended a key note seminar on developing the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford Corridor. Or CAMKOX for short, according to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The project is to deliver 1.1 million jobs and 1 million new homes for 1.9 million people. The NIC’s vision is set out in its report published last month, which includes references to leadership and governance. However, after the seminar’s initial morning session, I was left with a feeling of “who would truly lead and show direction on this vast undertaking?”

It was explained that there would need to be public / private partnerships, some government intervention but, centrally, “local stakeholders working in the national interest”. Could this multifaceted vision of leadership, relying largely on local stakeholders, deliver new garden towns and cities connected across many local authority areas?

In the break, delegates that I spoke to were of the view that such ambitious visions could not be delivered without strong high-level leadership, probably from central government.

The second session of the morning began with a fresh batch of speakers, one of whom picked up the baton of local governance. The Leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council came forward with a bold address. He immediately sought to deal with any concerns around local self-interest declaring that leadership requires a wider perspective and that politicians should not just be protective of their own patch.

His main message: “Housing and economic growth will happen. Taking control of it is key.” These were encouraging words for the audience and had a sense of purpose. The words also reflect  action with the agreement to form a governance group of local authorities to act as a single point of contact for Government.

Directives from central Government can cause resistance and it will take a blend of central direction and local leadership to deliver the vision and ambition of the CAMKOX arc. If the will is there, and it appears that it is, then local leadership will be key to realising the real potential and smooth delivery of the arc. For that, you need local engagement. No, more than that, you need local empowerment.

Rob.