“In politics and rugby, one should tackle the football and not the man”
Christopher Hitchens

 

Last Wednesday was a real red-letter day for the business community in the East of England. A day when everyday considerations are put aside. That crucial couple of hours when attention and all eyes are on 30 men throwing an egg shaped ball around. I’m not talking about the Budget delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer but the 70th Steele-Bodger rugby match!

This year, Snapdragon at PLMR hosted a table at Steele-Bodger for the first time. For those in the minority who aren’t aware, Steele-Bodger is the last match played by the University of Cambridge Rugby team before they face their dreaded foes, Oxford, at Twickenham. It is also for reasons that no one has fully explained, the most important social occasion for the East of England property sector. It is a fantastic opportunity for developers, agents, architects, surveyors, traffic consultants, lawyers, accountants, hedge fund managers and of course property PR specialists to let down their hair, drink some Guinness and gossip about their industry – there was also the rugby match to watch – apparently.

This year’s match coincided with Phillip Hammond’s selfishly timed first Budget of this Parliament. So in between pints of the black stuff, the great and the good of the Eastern property world were refreshing Robert Peston’s Twitter feed. One of the proposals that caused the room to start popping the champagne corks (as if an excuse was required) was a further commitment from the Government to the proposed East-West rail link, specifically the Varsity Line – very apt given the surroundings.

Oxford and Cambridge have always been divided by academic and sporting rivalries, but the main divide today is geographic. As the crow flies, it is 67 miles from the centre of Oxford to the centre of Cambridge but by rail or by road, this is a journey of more than two hours. The proposed East-West rail link hopes to see this journey time cut dramatically. Although it was discussed almost immediately after Dr Beeching closed the original line project, the current iteration was posited by then Chancellor George Osborne in the 2011 Autumn Statement.  Linking these two centres of innovation with the capital would look to create a triangle of growth and development encompassing Cambridge, Oxford and London. There is considerable enthusiasm for the plans in business, academia and government; Lord Adonis said that “The arc spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford attracts the brightest and best from some of the most cutting edge industries”.

The Budget’s main announcement for Cambridge was a commitment for £5 million to develop Cambridge South station near Addenbrooke’s Hospital – a major part of the proposals. Mayor James Palmer welcomed the announcement and said that it was “key to the east-west corridor”. Last year at UK Property Forum in Cambridge, Lord Adonis said that for big infrastructure projects to get off the ground, all that is needed is backing from central government. With a clear commitment from May’s Government, the Golden Triangle of growth could start to take shape.

Until then, we wait with our fingers crossed to hear that next year’s Steele-Bodger match will not be interrupted by another Budget. It just makes it more difficult to analyse the complexity of the announcements and the possible implications when you’re still feeling the affects of saying yes to another pint whilst still trying to finish off the glasses of Prosecco and Rioja that have been accumulated over lunch!

We will of course keep you posted with news and information about the proposed East-West corridor over the coming months. If you would like any further details, please get in touch.