How the Oxfordshire housing deal is a challenge to Cambridge

Boats © alamy b0 ry4 mweb

Oxford has great hopes for its rowing crew’s performance in this weekend’s Boat Race – but are Oxfordshire local authorities equally primed to deliver on a mammoth £215m housing deal from central government?

This weekend sees the annual battle between the UK’s oldest university towns for supremacy on the water. In recent years the dark blues of Oxford have more often than not secured the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race bragging – or braying – rights, winning seven out of the last 10 races. But Oxford’s aquatic dominance has not been mirrored in the development track record of these two uncannily comparable city regions. 

Both have dynamic economies boosted by strong university-linked investment and remain the only UK cities outside the capital where average house prices are comfortably above £400k – within touching distance of London. But while Cambridge City has been delivering on ambitious growth plans in its surrounding districts since the days of John Prescott’s Communities Plan, Oxford’s demand for new housing has largely remained unmet. Martin Curtis, associate director at public affairs consultant Curtin & Co, says: “Oxford is a real mirror of where Cambridge is. But there’s an argument it’s playing catch-up.”

Until now. This month the last of the Oxfordshire local authorities officially approved a central government “housing deal” funded to the tune of £215m in chancellor Philip Hammond’s autumn Budget. By accepting the cash, six Oxfordshire authorities have signed up to produce 100,000 homes in the county in the 20 years between 2011 and 2031 (see Oxford’s housing challenge in numbers), despite fierce local opposition to expansion plans. And even more development could be on the cards, given the area is at one end of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth arc also backed by the chancellor’s Budget. 

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