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Rival visions unveiled for Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor

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Four competing concepts in the international contest for ideas to boost sustainable development within the UK’s Cambridge-to-Oxford growth corridor have been revealed

The strategic visions – drawn up by Fletcher Priest Architects, Mae, Barton Willmore, and Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design – have been published in an online gallery inviting public comment ahead a final winner announcement next month,

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

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.

Proposals include a new National Park by Barton Willmore; an archipelago of linked, distinctive and compact places by Fletcher Priest Architects; a series of ecologically-rich urban campuses by Mae; and a reimagining of the 21st-century village by Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design.

The finalist proposals

Shortlisted: Barton Willmore

Shortlisted: Barton Willmore

Shortlisted: Barton Willmore

Barton Willmore developed The CaMKoX Innovation Hive Delivery Guide – not a fixed masterplan but an approach that envisages organic growth within communities, delivering not just homes but vibrant places to support innovation and business creation. A carefully guided approach to encourage communities to acquire a rich urban form and varied sense of place. Situated within a new National Park, the proposals set a new benchmark for development that enhances the natural environment.

Shortlisted: Fletcher Priest Architects

Shortlisted: Fletcher Priest Architects

Shortlisted: Fletcher Priest Architects

Fletcher Priest Architects developed the Mid-Vale Archipelago, a constellation of linked, distinctive and compact places set within a continuous landscape. They propose ‘middle sites’ between the corridor’s major urban centres that combine the best of village life with the critical mass of larger towns while preserving and enhancing landscape character. The desire for beneficial relationships between existing and new communities is central – along with a patient approach to delivery that prioritises long-term capital benefits over short-term windfall return.

Shortlisted: Mae

Shortlisted: Mae

Shortlisted: Mae

Mae developed Urcadia – an ecologically rich urban settlement for the Just About Managing, the Yes-in-my-back-yards, the Millennials, and Generation Rent in the form of a ‘New Living Campus’. Their proposal combines the intensity and density of a city with the pastoral richness of the English countryside enhanced for leisure use, health and well-being and food production. New construction technologies facilitate economic housing for a generation suffering from no realistic prospect of owning a home.

Shortlisted: Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Shortlisted: Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Shortlisted: Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design

Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design developed VeloCity, a unique region in the UK that is no longer reliant on the car, supported by an integrated road-and-rail transport strategy linked to a network of local, medium and longer distance cycle routes. Focusing on six villages situated to the south-east of one of the new stations on the Oxford to Cambridge rail link, VeloCity reimagines the 21st-century village.

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 received £10,000 each and were 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 corridor encompassing Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Oxford contributes considerably to our national economy – if we’re to continue this success we must foster places people want, and can afford, to live and work in.

’The four shortlisted entries to our ideas competition are creative, innovative and exciting. This online gallery gives people the chance to see these entries, and to have a say on how their area could be developed in future.

’I’m delighted that we’ve attracted so much attention from leading lights across design, architecture, economics and town planning, and that residents and the industry at large will now get to see what their collective talents have proposed.”

Competition organiser Malcolm Reading added: ’These are four very diverse proposals that propel us deep into the 21st century. They show that it is possible to be imaginative in responding to a raft of competing challenges and are an urgent reminder that we do need a plan and a strategy or we will be overtaken by the times – losing out economically, in terms of quality of life, or both.

’We’re delighted that this ideas competition has generated a new set of possibilities that contribute to the wider debate of how we, as a nation, want to ‘design’ our future.’

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.

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)
  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • Improved transport infrastructure is surely essential in this corridor, and 'east-west rail' is a no-brainer, despite the myopic strategic planning that has enabled construction of a busway, radio telescope array and housing on stretches between Cambridge and Bedford.

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  • I feel I must comment, as I always seem to, after Robert?!

    Please no brainer cliches. Out of the box. Blue skies.

    At last they are getting on with the obvious cross country corridor. The rumour has it that the rail line won't be electrified at opening. Couldn't afford it! Stansted is at one end, so they'll have the most elegant airport anywhere in the known world, but it should have 4 runways to work properly. And a new town for the workers required? And why did they chemically castrate Turing? Huh? For his work with others at Bletchley.

    Good that the Infrastructure people are getting off her arse. Have they got a copy of "The concise Townscape" by Gordon Cullen with Ian Nairn (1962) The entertaining urban design bible. Great annotated hand drawings, for the man in the street, as well as professionals. I don't let Nimby's say anything at meetings until they have at least skimmed it. Have you looked at it Sadie?

    No need for Heathrow if you've got Stansted, with a good line to Kings Cross and link to the CML/TGV. LB Hounslow will have another new town to the west, unless the guy that screwed the NHS for a month plonks for Howard Davies uncharacteristicly blind Airports Commission recommendations. Turning down a free runway at Gatwick, for some Tory reason.

    How long does one have to keep saying this before for they offer me six figures to expedite?! I'm not dead yet! Give me a call, and we can talk? 0775 398 5489 I'm even willing to post a number for you. (No agents please)

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