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Plans for UK rival to Silicon Valley ditched

Government said to be looking further north than the Oxford-Cambridge Arc

UK efforts to create a high-tech research and development region designed to rival Silicon Valley seem dead in the water as government prioritises other initiatives.

Oxford-Cambridge Arc had planned to create new road and rail links between the cities' universities and research centres in Milton Keynes, as well as housing and a strategic planning framework sympathetic to economic development across the region. But reports suggest levelling-up minister Michael Gove, who is supposed to spearhead economic development in regions outside London, has dropped support for the plans.

Reports claim that Gove mimed sitting on a toilet and pulling the chain when asked about the regional plans, adding: "That's what's happened to the Arc," according to one MP from the ruling Conservative Party.

In plans from 2017, the National Infrastructure Commission – an executive agency of Her Majesty's Treasury – said [PDF] that Cambridge, Milton Keynes, and Oxford "are amongst the UK's most productive, successful and fast growing cities. They host a highly skilled labour force, cutting edge research facilities and technology clusters which compete on the world stage."

The paper proposed great transport links, investment in house building, and better-connected communities across the region to aid growth and attract investment. It recommended the UK government should progress work on the East West Rail plan, the Expressway road link, and new settlements through a "single co-ordinated delivery programme."

Far from this, the Arc website is simply a collection of more local initiatives. The government is said to be focusing "levelling-up" spending further north of England.

Meanwhile, plans for the road link between Oxford and Milton Keynes were dropped in March last year following "analysis [which] shows that the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by the costs associated with the project", the government said.

Although officially still on the table, there were doubts about whether the proposed Oxford-Cambridge railway link would go ahead. According to reports, the Treasury's spending review had failed to answer vital questions about funding for the project, which proposed reopening the old "Varsity line" closed since 1967.

The region has been the birthplace of some of the UK's most globally recognised tech companies, including Arm Ltd, the omnipresent chip designer with origins in the early 1990s initially backed by Apple and Acorn Computers of BBC Micro fame. And Microsoft bases its local research facility, Microsoft Labs, in Cambridge.

The government said it still saw the Oxford-Cambridge Arc as an innovation hub and that it would "provide more information in due course" on last year's consultation, according to the Financial Times. ®

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