How has the pandemic affected Oxfordshire’s connectivity? And what does the future look like for digital and transport connections in the wake of Covid-19?
OxLEP assembled an expert panel to discuss the topic as part of its ongoing series of Q&As to help businesses, chaired by broadcaster Howard Bentham.
All agreed that patterns of connectivity have changed forever. Across the county, greater demand for fibre to the premises is enabling people to make the switch to working from home permanently, according to Craig Bower, Oxfordshire County Council’s digital infrastructure programme director.
WATCH THIS OxLEP Digital Q&A: ‘How critical is it for the county to remain connected post COVID-19?'
For people dependent on public transport, the challenge is “how to build back better – for example maintaining the 95% punctuality rates achieved on the buses due to lighter traffic,” said Phil Southall, managing director of the Oxford Bus Company and OxLEP Board member. “It’s really benefited key workers who rely on bus services and we remain committed to providing a service for people with no access to cars.”
Keeping people moving will involve investment in infrastructure that allows for new behaviours, said Jon Mansbridge, the Environment Agency’s funding and benefits realisation manager, who has helped raise £66.5m for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. “Improving green access and enhancing east-west routes for cyclists in Oxford is even more essential now,” he said.
Looking to the future, Craig Bower said the next step for digital is full fibre across Oxford as well as 4G and 5G. “Greater use of the 'Internet of Things' could improve County Council services, for example with interactive signage.”
WATCH: 'Introducing the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme'
Phil Southall said his company will not give up on improving rural bus services, with more creative ideas such as mobility hubs on main roads, linked to village bus services.
Joined-up planning is the key to make this and other schemes work, said Jon Mansbridge, who said that while the new flood alleviation scheme will help for the next 40 years, we need to plan 100 years ahead to let people carry on connecting.
Future-proofing is vital for broadband connectivity, agreed Craig, who encouraged businesses and residences to take advantage of any schemes that will help increase bandwidth beyond levels of 40-50MB, including the DCMS gigabit voucher scheme. “Oxfordshire needs to stay one step ahead if it is to continue to compete on the world stage for great connectivity.”