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Finalists in Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor competition revealed

Milton Keynes Image by Thomas Nugent
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Fletcher Priest Architects and Mae are among four teams shortlisted in the international contest for ideas to boost sustainable development within the UK’s Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor

Barton Willmore and Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design complete the shortlist in the Malcolm Reading Consultants-organised contest open to teams of urban designers, architects, planners, landscape designers and development economists.

The two-stage competition sought ‘forward thinking and imaginative’ proposals which place sustainable place making centre stage in the area’s future and received 58 anonymous entries.

The four finalist teams will each receive £10,000 to develop detailed concepts ahead of a final judging session in October, after which an overall winner will be announced. Honourable mentions have been awarded to O&H Properties and OMMX.

The project is backed by the government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), and aims to boost the development of new housing, public realm and infrastructure within the 210km-long linear area spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Oxford.

NIC chair Andrew Adonis said: ‘Getting development right in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor is vital for prosperity in the region and the UK at large. In order to maintain and build on the area’s economic success, we need to foster attractive and well-connected places that people want to live in.

‘The challenge is urgent, but the 58 submissions to our ideas competition have shown there is a wealth of innovative thinking out there. This initiative has clearly resonated with a wide range of people, and will continue to do so as we enter the competition’s second stage.’

Malcolm Reading, competition organiser, said: ‘The corridor is one of the fastest-growing and productive regions of the UK, but there are also significant pressures – on housing, transport, connectivity, and much else – which call for imaginative, forward-thinking solutions from a broad spectrum of expertise.

‘In throwing open this opportunity to the widest range of talent, the National Infrastructure Commission has secured a diverse shortlist and demonstrated its openness to new thinking from practices with different perspectives within the design community.’

The shortlist

  • Barton Willmore – Robin Shepherd (Planning Partner); John Haxworth (Partner); Dominic Scott (Urban Design Partner); Gareth Wilson (Planning Partner); Michael Knott (Planning Director); Ben Lewis (Infrastructure Director); Peter Newton (Architecture Director); Carolyn Organ (Planning Associate); Vaughan Anderson (Urban Design Associate); Patrick Clarke (Associate Landscape Planner); Richard Webb (Associate Landscape Architect); Simone Gobber (Urban Designer); and Tom Carpen (Infrastructure Associate) – with Will Durden (Director, Momentum)
  • Fletcher Priest Architects with Bradley Murphy Design and Ron Henry (Partner, Peter Brett Associates)
  • Mae with One Works, AKT II and Planit-IE
  • Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design – Jennifer Ross (Director) – with Annalie Riches (Co-Director, Mikhail Riches), Petra Marko (Co-Founder and Director, Marko&Placemakers), Sarah Featherstone (Co-Director, Featherstone Young) and Kay Hughes

Honourable mentions

  • O&H Properties – Pippa Cheetham (Planning Manager) – with David Atherton (Partner, Peter Brett Associates), Bill Gush (Regional Director, Land & Water Group), James Russell (Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Forester, Forest of Marston Vale Trust), Espen Østbye-Strøm (Chief Operating Officer, Floodline Developments), Simon Collier (Partner, David Lock Associates), James Clifton (Architect and Planner, Canal and River Trust), Jane Hamilton (Chair, Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust) and Gareth Barker (Anglian Water)
  • OMMX – Hikaru Nissanke (Director) and Jon Lopez (Director) – with Paul Toplis (Partner, Price & Myers)

The growth corridor runs from Cambridge to Milton Keynes, encompassing Daventry and Wellingborough to the north and bounded to the south by Luton, Stevenage and the Aylesbury Vale. It is home to about 3.3 million people and a high concentration of businesses in the scientific research and development, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing, performance technology and motorsport sectors.

The growing area suffers from a major shortage of affordable housing and poor connections between its principal settlements which is thought could place a break on future economic growth if not remedied.

Launched two years ago, the NIC is an independent adviser to the government on infrastructure policy and strategy which relies on cross-party support. Key recommendations so far have included development of the East West Rail project and the planned £3.5 billion Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

The latest call for ideas aims to identify innovative approaches to help integrate new infrastructure with sustainable place-making across the region.

Participants were asked to submit an outline concept focusing on either the intensification of an existing urban area or the creation of a new autonomous settlements. The four finalists will now receive £10,000 each and be invited to draw up more detailed concepts in response to a specific site.

Judges include Adonis, Morgan, and NIC commissioner Bridget Rosewell, a former chief economic adviser to the Greater London Authority. The finalists will see their proposals feature in a report submitted to government later this year and may also be given a continuing role as the wider project develops. An overall winner will be announced in October.

Rosewell said: ‘The Commission and the jury were delighted with the quality and detail of submissions to the competition, and we would like to thank all those who offered their ideas and energies. The shortlisted teams produced particularly imaginative and stimulating responses to the first-stage brief and we look forward to seeing how their ideas and visions develop.

‘At the second stage, we will be looking for proposals that are rooted in their context and understand the local character, environment and landscape. We have asked competitors to consider how places will be integrated with infrastructure, but above all, we want to see what the proposals will mean for the lives of the people living and working in the corridor.’

Q&A: Sadie Morgan

Commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission

Sadie Morgan

Sadie Morgan

Sadie Morgan

Why are you holding an international ideas contest to re-imagine the Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor?

The Growth Corridor is an important economic region of the country, but the lack of sufficient and suitable housing is holding back the area’s potential for significant growth and global competitiveness. The competition provides a unique opportunity for architects and designers – along with planners, economists and local people – to create an innovative and exciting future vision for the area. We want to see what ideas the best minds both nationally and internationally can come up with on the shape and form of growth in this area, which will help shape the communities where people work and live for generations to come.

What is your vision for the future of the region?

The National Infrastructure Commission published its interim report on the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford Growth Corridor in November 2016, and is due to publish its final recommendations in autumn this year. It’s for the local authorities in the area to ultimately decide on plans for their areas, so the competition is not focused on specific sites, but rather on providing ideas and inspiration on how infrastructure – such as East West Rail – and housing can be integrated to create attractive places to live and work in the region. We are interested in ideas that might promote community cohesion and that respect and even enhance natural capital and local character. Quality design will be a key factor in delivering such a vision.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We are looking for a broad range of ideas from urban designers; architects; planning, policy and community specialists; landscape designers; development economists; and others with local knowledge and general insights – from the established to undiscovered talent. It’s the ideas and vision that are important rather than whether an architect or designer is established – indeed, the emerging concepts at the first stage of the contest will be judged anonymously to ensure this. Finalists will then be awarded £10,000 towards further development of their proposals at the second stage.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The Growth Corridor competition is the first of its kind that the commission has been involved in. We have no immediate plans for any further competitions, but depending on our future studies and work, we would not rule out holding them in the longer-term.

Are there any other regional-scale place making masterplan projects you have been impressed by?

Places such as the San Francisco Bay area have shown the potential for knowledge intensive clusters to operate effectively as a singular area. But the one I’m watching with interest is still being developed – Vinge will be a new city in Denmark, close to Copenhagen. Covering 370ha, it will be the country’s largest urban development project, linking a dense city centre to green space and public transport. As we look to support the Growth Corridor to further success, our competition is seeking to gauge ideas and innovation that could help this become a reality – and looking to places like Vinge to learn any lessons we can.

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