Ministers have backed plans for a new body with transport powers covering the regions of Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford.
The government has allocated £625,000 in match funding for the ’Heart of England’ region to draw up further plans for transport projects and a governance structure that will oversee integration of road and rail transport in the region.
The area includes the UK’s two most famous universities and has become known as a hub for science, technology and innovation, but has suffered from poor connectivity for a number of decades.
Transport minister Andrew Jones said in a speech at Highways England’s economic heart conference at Silverstone last week: “We know the transport infrastructure across the area isn’t good enough for a region with such incredible potential.
“You know your economy better than anyone. You know what’s needed to drive growth. Yet currently decision-making over strategic transport schemes, for example, is often centralised at a national level. So over the year ahead, we want to work with you, to support you in making a real difference to the region.
”We want England’s economic heartland to shape its future. We’re seeing the early evidence that when local areas come together to plan long-term infrastructure, they can deliver outputs greater than the sum of their parts. I’m pleased, too, that you’re giving consideration to becoming a sub-national transport body.
“It might offer significant benefits to the region. But by definition, it’s not something that should be imposed, or decided on before the hard work of analysis has been done.”
According to Mr Jones, a train journey from Aylesbury to Milton Keynes, which are 35 km apart but on different lines out of London, can take up to two and a half hours by train, while Cambridge and Luton, which are 65 km apart, can take almost two hours to travel between on rail.
A proposed east-west rail line (dubbed the Varsity line) would link Oxford with Cambridge and East Anglia with a direct service. The project will be delivered by the newly created East West Rail, which will operate separately from Network Rail.
Phil Verster was named managing director of the East West Rail project earlier this year.
East West Rail East Central West sections map