Arc News

Oxford-Cambridge Arc: ‘Most people don't know what it is’

The BBC reported ‘most people aren't aware of the Arc and the regular person in the street doesn't understand what it is’.  The consultation questions were worded ‘in quite a complex way’ and there was not enough detail in the plans.  It was a ‘top-down idea that was being imposed on the residents who live in the Arc’. 13th October 2021

Michael Gove suggests less housebuilding in SE England

Secretary of State for housing and communities Michael Gove suggested at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference on 4th October that that the government will move away from concentrating housebuilding in the SE of England to encourage more development in the North and the Midlands.  The new housing secretary promised to invest in the regeneration of inner city areas and said that he wanted to build more homes on “neglected brownfield sites”.  He suggested that the focus on building homes in the southeast was misplaced and that people in “generation rent” were suffering more in the north and northeast.  "If you really, really want to help those who are currently in rented accommodation and want to own their own homes, then the focus shouldn’t necessarily be geographically where it has been beforehand,” he added.  Last year, Conservative backbenchers rebelled against a “mutant algorithm” designed to drive down house prices in the southeast by building more homes in and around London. After an outcry from Tory MPs, the algorithm was amended to encourage more development in northern and Midlands cities.  "The government’s levelling-up agenda meant building more homes in regenerated city centres", he said.  The Times 4th October 2021

This statement provides us with ammunition to attack the OxCam Arc proposals.

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Vision consultation published

The Government published its consultation Creating a vision for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc in July 2021.  The document is divided into four themed sections (or ‘pillars’) of Environment, Economy, Connectivity and Infrastructure, and Place-making.  Following an introduction comprising the Arc’s history and background information, the statement summarised the results of a ‘conversation’ with selected stakeholders held in March 2021 and then asked a series of questions in an attempt to ascertain people's priorities under various topics.  For each of the four ‘pillars’ respondents were asked to rate issues as ‘Not important/ Less important/ Neutral/ Important/ Very Important’, but very few of the matters listed were going to be rated by anyone as ‘not important’!  A questionnaire that prompts the answers that everything is ‘important’ is pretty unhelpful.  So respondents should have made the most of the ‘Anything else’ questions to make their points.

Despite this drawback, we hope that as many people and organisations in the Arc as possible responded to the consultation.  It was especially important that Parish and Town Councils and other community groups did so, but the consultation was open to everyone.  This was the first real chance to influence the future of the Arc and development within it.  The consultation document can still be viewed at https://cdn.placebuilder.io/prod/2021/07/19/87/87a82cf2.pdf although the deadline was 12th October 2021.

To illustrate the dangers of not getting involved, one Parish Council said that since its local authority had an up-to-date adopted Local Plan, it didn't need to respond to the consultation.  That Local Plan nominally only lasts until 2035 and will in any case be revised well before then, whereas the OxCam Arc proposals go to 2050.  Fortunately a number of other Parish and Town Councils in the Arc did respond, in some cases at CPRE's prompting.

You can find CPRE's response to the consultation at https://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/cpre-response-oxcam-vision-consultation-2021/.

Expressway cancelled

The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, announced that the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway had been cancelled as analysis had shown that the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by its costs.  CPRE welcomes this decision which we and other campaigners have been pressing for ever since the project was 'paused' in March 2020.  However, the decision appears to have been made on purely cost grounds and not environmental ones.  We claimed that the environmental impacts would have been unacceptable, in terms of landscape, rural tranquillity, wildlife and loss of agricultural land as well as the climate change effects of increased road traffic.  The Department, in its announcement, said We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region”.  CPRE will be watching this very closely.  The Milton Keynes to Black Cat section of the road already exists and the new section of the A428 from Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet will still be built across open countryside.  18th March 2021

Reaction to Policy Paper from Bedford Mayor Dave Hodgson

Mayor Hodgson welcomed the Policy Paper’s publication but said:

“It is good that the Government acknowledges some of the issues we face locally, especially the need for more and better infrastructure; the need to protect our environment; and the need to deal with deprivation.  Sadly the document does not fully explore how these issues should be resolved.  It is crucial that infrastructure improvements need to be delivered in advance of any additional growth, as we already have an infrastructure deficit that this document does not address.”  Bedford Independent 22nd Feb 2021

Government publishes Policy Paper on Spatial Framework

​Central Government published a Paper on how it intends to go about preparing a Spatial Framework for the Arc.  This would comprise plans for new and expanded settlements, transport and other infrastructure, economic development and environmental enhancement.  Consultations on options and Strategic Environmental Assessment were promised.  Note that the Paper concentrates on how the Framework will be developed: it is not the Framework itself.  Consequently, the Paper does not identify specific locations for new or expanded settlements, although previous announcements have suggested areas for development corporations (locations where planning constraints may be relaxed).

We fear:

 

  • Loss of ‘ordinary’ countryside and tranquillity; the impact on valued landscapes (not merely officially protected ones such as AONBs); and increase in light pollution

  • Loss of productive agricultural land, needed to increase sustainable, quality home-produced food 

  • Likelihood of continued/ increased car dependency

  • Plans not coming forward from democratically-elected local authorities, who will be able to influence only the detail of implementation; instead we have a top-down approach

  • The Policy Paper talks much about ‘sustainable transport’ but does not give a commitment to widespread accessible and integrated public transport throughout the Arc

  • The proposals make it much harder, if not  impossible, to meet our biodiversity and climate change commitments

  • The level of housing proposed is far in excess of what is needed to meet natural population growth, even allowing for economic expansion.

  • The sheer amount of housing is likely to attract commuters from further afield, especially London, increasing journey distances.

While ‘sustainable transport’ is frequently mentioned in the Policy Paper, it is clear there is no real commitment to public-transport-orientated development.

The proposal is not consistent with ‘levelling up’ the UK as continually quoted by the Government.  It will largely serve to make an already prosperous area even more so.  More priority should be given to investment in the urban areas of the northern and Midland regions which are desperate for regeneration and economic development.  There appears to be no commitment to protect existing local rural communities which have their own identities from being overwhelmed (Milton Keynes is an example of this).

The indicative timetable is:

  • To develop a vision for the future of the Arc there will be a public consultation in the summer of 2021.  This has now been published.

  • Options will be developed for turning the vision into policy, based on engagement and initial evidence gathering and analysis.  MHCLG will publish these options for consultation in spring 2022.

  • MHCLG will consider responses to this consultation, and undertake spatial analysis, option testing, impact assessments and stakeholder engagement. The Government will publish a draft spatial framework for consultation in autumn 2022, with implementation of the final framework shortly afterwards.

The Policy Paper can be viewed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/planning-for-sustainable-growth-in-the-oxford-cambridge-arc-spatial-framework/planning-for-sustainable-growth-in-the-oxford-cambridge-arc-an-introduction-to-the-spatial-framework18th Feb 2021.

New settlements between Bedford and Cambridge

The housing ministry has revealed plans to ‘engage with communities’ in the spring and early summer of 2021 on the development of up to four new or expanded settlements between Bedford and Cambridge, reported Planning, 9th Feb 2021.  This should not come as a total surprise, as the Government had already suggested in the March 2020 Budget that development corporations were likely to be established for Milton Keynes, Bedford, St Neots and Cambourne, giving a clue as to where some of the new or expanded settlements might be.  What we do not yet know is whether the consultation will cover a number of options which will subsequently be narrowed down or whether the sites will already have been decided.  Do not assume, however, that west of Milton Keynes will be let off the hook.  Watch this space.

Milton Keynes Expansion Plans

​Milton Keynes Councils MK Futures 50 plans massive house expansion and population increase.  MPs Iain Stewart and Ben Everitt support new housing to meet local demand; however they believe the plans will place too great a strain on local services and infrastructure, and will damage the environment. They also believe it will undermine the basic structure of the town.  Milton Keynes Council have drawn up plans to expand the town beyond the Council’s boundaries to reach neighbouring towns. These include Buckingham, Leighton Buzzard and Northampton. The population is also set to reach 500,000 by 2050, doubling the population in 30 years.

The MPs have highlighted the need for affordable housing in Milton Keynes to be addressed before the city is expanded.  Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South, said:  “Any plans for new housing must be thought through carefully and be made in conjunction with our neighbours as part of a wider Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor. We have over 20,000 unbuilt new houses already agreed. Why are we not concentrating on building those, and then taking time to think about what additional housing might be needed in the long-term? New homes should be built to support economic growth and not simply to meet an artificial number.”  Alex Walker, Leader of MK Conservative Councillors, added: “The extent of MK Council's expansion plans are reckless and will destroy all we love about Milton Keynes.”  MK FM radio, Jan 23rd 2021.

Buckinghamshire Council withdraws from Arc Leaders' Group

Leader of Buckinghamshire Council, Cllr Martin Tett, said:

“Buckinghamshire Council, along with the Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Buckingham, have withdrawn from the Oxford to Cambridge 'ARC Leaders' Group'.  As a new unitary council, Buckinghamshire wishes to be in control of its own future economic development and housing decisions, rather than potentially have these imposed upon it by votes from other areas as far away as Corby and the Fenlands. We also wish to support our businesses develop opportunities wherever they occur, rather than be confined within an artificial geography such as the ARC.  We wish the very best to those councils who wish to remain within the ARC Leaders Group, and we will continue to cooperate with them on a case by case basis."  Oct 2020.

We support Buckinghamshire Council's decision and call upon other local authorities to follow suit in order to restore local democracy to this process.  This does not mean to say, however, that Buckinghamshire will not have unwelcome development thrust upon it by Government central planners against its will.

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Oxford - Milton Keynes - Bedford - Cambridge - Arc