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Competition: Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor

Milton Keynes Image by Thomas Nugent
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Malcolm Reading Consultants has launched a free-to-enter international contest for ideas to boost sustainable development within the UK’s Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor

The two-stage competition is open to multidisciplinary teams of urban designers, architects, planners, landscape designers and development economists, and seeks ‘forward thinking and imaginative’ proposals which place sustainable place making centre stage in the area’s future.

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: ‘The economic potential of the four cities of Oxford, Cambridge, Northampton and Milton Keynes is huge, offering real benefits to the success and prosperity of the country as a whole.

‘But the area needs to adapt and change if it has any chance of achieving this, of attracting the brightest and best and of competing on the world stage. Today, I’m calling on leaders in architecture, economics, policy-making and planning, as well as local residents, to help shape that future, and put forward ideas that will make this growth corridor an attractive place to live and work for generations to come.’

Sadie Morgan, NIC commissioner and dRMM founding director said: ‘From the dreaming spires of Oxford to punts along the River Cam, the growth corridor has so much to offer those looking to live and work there. We need to ensure that continues.

‘This is more than just good design – this is about creating a vibrant and attractive community that will stand the test of time and support the future development and prosperity of a unique part of the country. I look forward to seeing the ideas that are put forward.

Competition organiser Malcolm Reading added: ‘Transport brings prosperity and activity and creates the conditions for growth, which are all welcome outcomes. The competition offers a rare opportunity to imagine new and enlarged communities, to shape their character. This is all about creating inspirational places that encourage social and creative exchange within a high-quality environment.’

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 around 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 must first submit an outline concept focusing on either the intensification of an existing urban area or the creation of a new autonomous settlements. Four finalists will each receive £10,000 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.

The deadline for applications is 2pm, 3 August.

How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information

Contact details

Malcolm Reading Consultants
29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Tel: + 44 (0)20 7831 2998

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 370 hectares, 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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