A POWERFUL delegation from Oxford has travelled to the Fens in a bid to learn why Cambridge is now “streets ahead” of Oxford as a thriving local economy.

In a stark recognition of how far behind Oxford has fallen, local council and business leaders, together with senior university figures, embarked on a mission to learn the secrets of Cambridge’s success.

The 40-strong delegation looked at Cambridge’s approach to providing new homes, building on the Green Belt, freeing up roads and public transport investment, including Camb-ridge’s guided busway system.

The delegation included representatives from all six local councils, including the Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth and Bob Price, the leader of Oxford City Council. They were joined by Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, motor-racing company boss and former science minister, Lord Drayson, and Ian Laing, founder of Milton Park.

The drive to learn from what has been called the ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ is being led by Keith Mitchell, of the Oxfordshire Innovation Engine group.

He warned that Cambridge was now the first choice of companies planning to create jobs, with the Government also recognising Cambridge as by far the more dynamic of the two university cities.

Mr Mitchell, the former county council leader, said: “Cambridge is streets ahead of us in terms of technology, science and the promotion of economic growth and we want to find out why.

“Cambridge is far hungrier for growth than Oxford and people are beginning to know it.

“Economic growth is one of Cambridge’s great priorities and this comes from the top.

“In Cambridge, the university and colleges are major landowners, involved in development. But they put a high price on quality and creating an environment where people want to live.”

By contrast, he feared Oxford University focused on “the academic and the international”.

At the same time he said business in Cambridge-shire is better organised, with councils working more closely together, taking a sensible approach to allowing development on the Green Belt.

Sir John Bell said an independent report produced by economic consultants SQW last autumn revealed the gulf between the two cities.

“We were struck by the difference in the pace of growth. Cambridge did not have huge publishing and automotive industries, nor does it enjoy Oxford’s proximity to London. But the councils, the university and business there sat down and decided what they wanted to do and how to do it.

“It has not just been a question of concreting over a vast amount of Green Belt land, it has been about making Cambridgeshire a better place to live.

“It is not just about having more high technology but fixing the quality of life for people living there.

“Cambridge got £500m from the City Deal and they are spending it all on transport structure.

“Oxford received £50m. I think the reason for that is the Government knows Cambridge has got its act together.”

He feared there was no part of Oxford University focused on “doing anything” for the regional economy.

“Cambridge University is completely locked into that. It has a strategy. It is thinking the whole time how to grow its high-tech sector.

“Oxford University is concerned with internal issues and managing itself carefully.”

On the visit last week the Oxford delegation held talks with council officials and senior members of Cambridge’s science, business and university communities, and toured science parks.

Mr Hudspeth said: “Cambridge has moved ahead. But we must not undersell Oxfordshire.”

Lord Drayson said: “Oxford is one of the UK’s most successful regions, but it is clear the city is not realising its potential bec-ause of issues like housing, congestion and skills.

“We went to learn how Cambridge does it. For me the striking thing is that economic success was achieved while focusing on the quality of life of people living there.”

“An Oxford University spokesman said: “Oxford-shire is already a powerhouse of innovation and wealth creation — it was recently ranked amongst the world’s top five ‘hotspots’ for innovation.”