Our region

The Heartland is a world-leading economic area, founded on science and technology innovation, powered by a network of world-leading universities and research centres. And it has the potential to achieve even more.

30633 Opportunities Mapping - Places of Strategic Importance.jpg

More than one in 10 of the UK’s knowledge sector jobs are located in the region’s cutting-edge science parks, research institutions, businesses and incubators, creating an ecosystem of innovation and capability that is globally renowned. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge continue to be ranked in the top three universities in the world.

A significant part of the Heartland has been identified by the Government as a national economic priority – the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. This designation builds on the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2017 report: Partnering for Prosperity – a new deal for the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford Arc.

Its economic success benefits not only the region’s residents, but the UK more widely, with the Heartland being a net contributor to the Treasury.

With the right investment in infrastructure in the right places and at the right time, the region can do even more: our Local Enterprise Partnerships have identified the potential for our economy to grow by more than 70% by 2050.

Economic growth on this scale alongside the need to reach net zero carbon will not be realised without a step change in the way our communities are planned and the way our infrastructure is delivered (including the level of investment).

Success Cannot be Taken for Granted

As the National Infrastructure Commission highlighted, our continued economic success cannot be taken for granted.

Businesses continue to face a number of challenges:

  • In significant parts of the Heartland, productivity levels remain consistently below that of our global competitors, a consequence in part of increasing congestion on and reduced resilience of the transport system
  • Investment in enabling and supporting infrastructure takes longer to secure and deliver than planned, acting as a constraint on new economic opportunities developing as planned in a timely and cost-effective manner
  • The funds currently available to invest and maintain the existing infrastructure asset fail to keep pace with identified needs (including those as a consequence of planned growth), increasing the vulnerability of the transport system to disruption by incidents and extreme weather events.


In 2017 total C02 emissions in the Heartland stood at 28,834kt in 2017, equivalent to 8% of the UK total. In addition, CO2 emissions have fallen at a slower rate than the national average – 17.4% compared to 21.7% between 2012-2017.

Transport-related emissions are a particular challenge, rising 10% between 2012-2017, compared to 5% nationally. In 2017 transport emissions equated to 47% of the Heartland’s total carbon dioxide emissions, compared with 37% nationally. And with transport emissions increasing at a faster rate than elsewhere (9.4% between 2012 and 2017 compared to the UK average of 4.9%) there is a clear need for action.

A Quality Environment

The Heartland is blessed with a highly attractive environment – built and natural, urban and rural– which helps make it an attractive place for investment and delivers a desirable place to live and work. The full extent and quality of the Heartland’s environment is captured in the baseline underpinning the Integrated Sustainability Appraisal (ISA).

Over 10% of the region is designated as being part of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Chilterns on its own comprises 6% of the region’s total area. The region also has a valuable historic environment, including a wealth of historic assets including Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site.

Rural population

The Heartland is home to 5.1m people, approximately 9% of the total population of England. And whilst the region has a number of centres of significant economic activity, it also has a large number of small and medium sized market towns and large rural areas resulting in a diverse range of transport needs, opportunities and challenges. As a result, around 35% of the region’s population live in small market towns and rural hinterlands, significantly above the national average.


Whilst overall the region is an economic success, there are significant areas of social inequality and deprivation, where opportunities for individuals to realise their full potential are limited.

Over 812,000 people in the region live in the top third most deprived local authority areas of England – accounting for 15% of the region’s population. The implications of failing to address inequality are only too evident: within Oxford for example, life expectancy amongst young adult males varies by 15 years across the city.

Heartland in Context

Released alongside the Draft Transport Strategy in 2020, Heartland in Context provides details on the economy, environment, people and transport system of the Heartland.