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The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is a notional arc of agricultural and urban land at about 75km (about 50 miles) radius of London, southern England. It runs between the two English university towns of Oxford and Cambridge via Milton Keynes and other important settlements in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, at the northern rim of the London commuter belt. It is significant only in economic geography, with little physical geography in common.
The Oxford to Cambridge (O2C) Arc initiative was launched in 2003 by three English regional development agencies (RDAs), EEDA, EMDA and SEEDA. The aim of the initiative is to promote and accelerate the development of the unique set of educational, research and business assets and activities that characterise the area and in doing so, create an “arc” of innovation and entrepreneurial activity that would, in time, be ‘best in the field'.
The Arc is a major centre of the UK's high tech manufacturing and research industries. It is serviced by four international airports (Stansted, Luton, Heathrow and Birmingham), all located just outside the Arc itself. Cranfield Airport and Cambridge Airport takes executive jets. Cambridge Airport plans to operate passenger charter flights and (limited) scheduled flights. It is an important centre for aircraft maintenance.
Other major industries include agriculture, tourism, construction, entertainment, education, retail and finance. A high proportion of the population commutes daily to London. Commuting and business travel within the arc is relatively difficult: an East–West railway service will not open before 2017 and then will go only between Oxford and Bedford; similarly, the A421/A428 road spine is dualled only from Cambridge to the M1 (with a further dualled section through Milton Keynes).
The Arc has a major university sector with 20,000 workers as part of the knowledge economy: Oxford University, Oxford Brookes University, Buckingham University, The Open University (HQ Milton Keynes), Cranfield University, University of Bedfordshire, the University of Cambridge, and Anglia Ruskin University at Cambridge.
The Arc is one of the most ethnically diverse regions of the UK. Bedford, roughly central to the Arc and with a population of 100,000, is home to native speakers of over 100 languages, a figure which rivals London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. The Arc has the fastest growing population of any of the similar regions within the UK; several of the major towns, most notably Milton Keynes and Bedford, are set to expand by up to 50% over the coming few decades, while others, such as Cambourne, have been built from scratch within the last decade and other new towns such as Northstowe and Wixams are planned to be built. The rapid expansion of the population, coupled with a rise in wages locally, has fuelled some of the steepest house price rises in the UK over the period 1995-2005.
Politically, the Arc is traditionally a Conservative stronghold, with only the urban constituencies returning Liberal Democrat or Labour MPs. Oxford, Bedford and Cambridge are some of the main centres of rowing in the UK, and the region also boasts some of the UK's top rugby union clubs.
The region is well served by major radial road routes from London (the M40, M1, A1(M) and M11 motorways), as well as by the West Coast Main Line and East Coast Main Line railways. However, routes around the arc are poor, with a disjointed and overloaded road network (A428, A421/A422 and A43).
It is unlikely that the original Varsity Line railway between Oxford and Cambridge will reopen on the previous route; progress is being made with plans to create a new East West rail link by the East West Rail Consortium.
The quickest way now to travel by railway between Oxford and Cambridge is via London.