The travel links between London, Oxford and Cambridge need to vastly improve if the UK's “golden triangle” is to rival Silicon Valley, according to report out today.
The report, which comes ahead of chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday, claims the poor travel network in parts of south east England is holding back Boris Johnson’s vision of a bio-tech cluster, similar to Shoreditch's Tech City, between England's leading universities.
It suggests that train journey times between Oxford and Cambridge should be reduced from 2-3 hours down to 40 minutes within 10 years.
“Drawing lines between places on a map does not make them connected,” said one of the report’s authors David Cleevely, a businessman and telecommunications expert.. “We need to connect people and ideas and back this with infrastructure to match.”
He and his fellow Cambridge-based authors – Hermann Hauser, a founder of the UK’s semiconductor industry, Sherry Coutu, a leading angel investor, and Andy Richards, chairman of several biotechnology companies – pointed out that Cambridge is home to twice as many startups per head than any other city in the EU, therefore making it the continent’s leading tech cluster.
There are 744,000 people working in technology across the south east region of England, according to a report commissioned by Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor, in June this year. The figure is 7.5 percent less than in California, home to tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley.
But poor connectivity between cities in south east England is preventing Britain from competing with Silicon Valley.
“Unlike their counterparts in Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Oxford, London, and their neighbours exist in relative isolation,” wrote the authors.
“As well as connecting people and ideas within a single city, we need to be thinking about connecting nearby cities with a modern and effective infrastructure,” they said. “We do not have the concentration of humming, continuous, multidirectional, and mutually reinforcing corridors of innovation, spilling-over with people, ideas, investors and promise. That is what it would look like if the fabled ‘golden triangle’ were a reality,”
The report suggested Kings Cross as a suitable connecting hub to link up the cities of the golden triangle.
It also recommends that more startup hubs like London’s Google Campus are established.
“Hubs don’t need to be in fixed places; let’s have special carriages on trains designated as informal meeting places, and start with Oxford-London and Cambridge-London,” the authors added.
Other interesting ideas include putting giant interactive screens into train stations so that people in the tech sector can "bump into" each other, even if they're in different cities.
“Walking past such a screen, you might see someone you know (and had been meaning to have a chat with). You attract their attention – wave and say hello,” the authors speculate. “The system should then allow you to talk as if you had met in the street or cafe, and to transfer that conversation seamlessly to your own smartphone or tablet.”