Milton Keynes aims to reconnect with other local cities to attract the best business talent thanks to new East West Rail links

Date: 12 Jul 2023

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That is the hope of Neil Sachdev, Chair of the East West Railway Company, who was the distinguished guest at the recent Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership (MKBLP) dinner. He spoke to members following the announcement of the route of the ‘most challenging’ eastern part of East West Rail from Bedford to Cambridge.


Plans have been reignited in recent years after the last passenger trains were withdrawn along the Varsity Line, between Oxford and Cambridge, in 1968. This left just the Bletchley to Bedford section of this grand old line open to passenger traffic until 1987 when the section between Oxford and Bicester was reopened to enable train travel from Oxford to London.


Mr Sachdev said: “Milton Keynes is growing at a phenomenal rate, and the beauty of this city is that it’s incredibly accepting of change. Infrastructure unlocks an opportunity. It unlocks opportunities for businesses and for new jobs. It also creates wealth and well-being.


“What these plans do need, however, is for a large number of people to get behind us. So, I hope that if people believe in the plans and that they’re good for our society, then get talking about it. If we don’t continue and grow that percentage then it’s a massive lost opportunity.”


This area has grown phenomenally in terms of technology with a Gross Value Added (GVA) of around 14 and a half billion pounds. Now, the challenge, once that technology evolves, is to attract and retain good-quality talent, according to Mr Sachdev.


He added: “We can grow so much of it (the talented workforce), but we need to grab the rest of it and give them the opportunity to come into a city like ours and start doing fantastic work here. Who knows? Maybe even live here.


“This is crucial, not just for Milton Keynes but for the region and super beneficial for the UK as a whole. We’re planning to spend around £5 billion to build this to bring in around 110 billion pounds of GVA. Milton Keynes is already incredibly well connected to the North and South, but it isn’t East to West.”


Beth West, CEO of East West Rail, said: “This major rail line is expected to not only boost the local economy but also slash journey times and transform rail travel for passengers around the region for generations to come.”


The ambitious plans are being cited to be reaching the planning stage by mid-next year, potentially by the end of next year, with the plans to break ground by 2025 a realistic possibility. Oxford to Milton Keynes is already around 85% built with a few small connections needing to be added. It’s hoped that we could see the benefits of that connection in just 18 months to two years.

Chair of MKBLP, Nicholas Mann, said: “There is such an opportunity here. Neil highlighted the technological talent that we have here, and I agree, it’s a particularly strong suit of ours. With fantastic resources like the IOT and MKU, they have a real digital focus, and we have such an opportunity here – we have the talent here, but we could really attract a lot more.”